By Tim Barlow
Pete’s Dragon, oh dear, what are you doing on this list? Or more accurately, what are you doing on Craig’s list? I expect this kind of crap from me, but Craig generally holds his choices to a higher standard (Mulligan approved for Heart & Souls). But what is Pete’s Dragon doing here, this movie is simply terrible.
I can hear you few loyal readers we haven’t yet driven away, gasping at your computer screens “Say Whaaaaat?! No. Oh I know you can’t be talking about my Pete’s Dragon?! Because I loooove that movie!” (in my head, all our loyal readers are Whoopi Goldberg in Sister Act) But let me ask you: do you actually love Pete’s Dragon or just think you love Pete’s Dragon? Truth be told, I went into this re-watching pretty excited to reconnect with a treasured Disney “classic” from my youth. If asked last week for my thoughts on Pete’s Dragon, I probably couldn’t have told you any of the plot points or character names (though “Pete” would have been a great guess), but I still would have rattled off nothing but glowing praise.
But that praise would have been misguided in light of some glaring issues I went on to observe during my subsequent re-watching. For starters, despite being made 13 yrs after Mary Poppins and 4 yrs after Bedknobs and Broomsticks, this live action/animation combo of a similar style, feels clunky, dated, cheap, and decidedly worse than its forebears. The special effects, the sets, the editing, they’re all pretty lousy. Then there’s the plot, which is a tangled, overstuffed pile of crap, complete with multiple villains, a missing person suddenly resurfacing after a bout of amnesia, and a mysterious, un-diagnosed (but ultimately still resolved) fish shortage, to name just a few of the head scratchers. But perhaps my biggest issue comes from Pete’s Dragon, himself, Elliott.
Clearly there’s a dragon. Elliott is not a figment of Pete’s imagination created out of loneliness and desperation. Elliott isn’t a metaphor for Pete’s dark past as a child slave(!). Elliott is a dragon; he interacts with the world, creating all kinds of messes, while still looking out for Pete when bad guys come ‘round. BUT, the world still seems to be confused that there’s actually a dragon right up until the end of the movie. For example, in one scene Nora, who is Pete’s loving local caretaker, after just being rescued from the evil Gogans, by Elliott (THE DRAGON!), tells Pete how he can stop make-believing in Elliott because he’s not alone anymore. What?! Are you effing insane, Nora? Did you miss when the Gogans’ boat was smashed to pieces right in front of you, and they went flying into the water, and then you were suddenly not in danger anymore? Remember that recent history? What the hell?! How does a dragon (that is apparently only a dragon, and not a metaphor for lost youth) get some recognition?
Now that isn’t to say that the whole movie is garbage and there aren’t some occasional bright spots. There are. For example, Mickey Rooney plays a wonderful drunk throughout the beginning of the movie (before he spontaneously sobers up…without any acknowledgment to that in the script). In addition to Rooney’s skills at impersonating a drunk, there’s also some pretty enjoyable songs: ‘It’s so easy’ and ‘Candle on the Water’ being my personal favorites; the later even being nominated for an Oscar. (also I SWEAR my mom used to play Candle on the Water on the piano for us growing up. That’s a weird memory) There’s also some really lovable scenes between Pete and Elliott. The other day at work, I went down a Youtube spiral of watching dogs greet their owners who were arriving back home after being deployed in Afghanistan (I know these aren’t new; this is like the third time I’ve done this) Anyways, more tender, cry-worthy shit, you’ll not find. And Elliott is kinda like those dogs. It’s heart warming seeing his care and love for Pete. So yea, there’s still the occasional good thing going on here.
Regardless though, Craig, I write this now, without having read your rationale for adding this to our list. Maybe this movie still stirs it all up for you or maybe you’re also scratching your head, acknowledging that this isn’t exactly the treasure you remember burying in your youth. It’s okay, sometimes kids like stupid crap – I believe I remember Police Academy 3 making my list? But that’s not going to stop me from saying that, Pete’s Dragon, I thought I would recognize you, but it turns out, you’ve aged pretty horribly.