With the popularity of films like Mary Poppins and Song of the South, Disney proved that they could successfully mix live-action and animation. For their next such endeavor, they would once again meld the two mediums in 1977 for Pete’s Dragon, a comedic film about a boy and his invisible, fire-breathing friend.
Life is tough for Pete, an orphan living in turn-of-the-century Maine. His adopted family is mercilessly working him to the brink of exhaustion and his sole companion is a creature that only Pete can see – a friendly dragon named Elliot. Boy and beast manage to escape to the nearby fishing village of Passamaquiddy, but Pete has a hard time convincing the locals that the many mishaps that surround him are actually being caused by his unobservable buddy.
Eventually, a kind lighthouse keeper named Lampie and his daughter Nora take the boy into their home, but his original adopted family isn’t ready to lose their slave labor so easily. And that isn’t all of Pete’s problems. An unscrupulous snake-oil salesman is devising his own plans to grind up Elliot so he can create a medicinal powder.
With an all-star cast that included Shelley Winters, Mickey Rooney, Helen Reddy and Red Buttons, Pete’s Dragon was a moderate success at the box office – not the best news for a film that was the most expensive picture Disney had produced to date. A song from the film, “Candle in the Water,” performed by Helen Reddy, was nominated for an Academy Award.
Originally boasting a running time of 134 minutes, the film was soon edited down to 121 minutes. By the time it reached home video, it clocked in at 104 minutes (with “Candle in the Water” having been removed entirely.) In 1980, a version was offered that brought it back to 128 minutes, but by 1984, it was back to 101 minutes, and finally, when it made it to television, it was a shell of its former self at 94 minutes. So, while many people have enjoyed Pete’s Dragon over the years, fewer viewers have ever seen it in its entirety. Still, it is classic Disney, and has become a family favorite over the many years since its original release.
If you have fond memories of watching this delightful film, we welcome your thoughts and recollections in our comments section, as we tip our hats to this “boy and his dragon” adventure, sure to put a smile on your face.