Pete's Dragon is a live-action/animated musical feature film from Walt Disney Productions. It is a live-action film but its title character, a dragon named Elliott is animated. It is about a young boy named Pete (played by Bruce Reitherman) who enters a small fishing community in Maine in the early 20th century. His only friend is a dragon Elliott (voiced by Frank Oz and animated by The Walt Disney Company), who also acts as his sentinel. Elliot can make himself invisible and is generally visible only to Pete, which occasionally lands Pete in trouble with the locals.
Also featured in the film are Helen Reddy, Mickey Rooney, Jim Dale, Red Buttons, Jeff Conaway and Shelley Winters. The film was directed by Don Chaffey, and the songs are by Al Kasha and Joel Hirschhorn. The song "Candle on the Water" received an Academy Award nomination, and Helen Reddy's recording (with a different arrangement than the one her character sings in the film) was released as a single by Capitol Records, reaching #27 on the Adult Contemporary charts.
| Spoiler warning: The following contains plot details about|
the entire movie.
In early 20th century Maine, a "Yah Yah" boy named Pete runs away from his adoptive family, the Gogans, who mistreat him to no end. As they are looking for him, they are confronted with a dragon named Elliott, who knocks them into the mud while he is invisible. Lena Gogan (Shelley Winters) tells her boys that unless they find the “little twerp”, they will have to start working the farm by themselves, because they can’t afford another orphan.
The next morning, Pete thanks Elliott for everything he has ever done for him. They arrive at Passamaquoddy, a small fishing town. Pete tells Elliott that he needs to be invisible so that they would not scare the people. Elliott reluctantly agrees. Even still, Elliott makes his presence known by knocking over things, making footprints in wet cement, breaking fences and eggs, etc. Pete is immediately labeled bad news and is forced to hide while the town looks for him.
A man named Lampie (Mickey Rooney) drunkenly comes out of the bar and sees Pete and Elliott (who has since come out of his invisible state). When Lampie realizes that Elliott is a dragon, he runs back into the bar. No one believes that Lampie saw a dragon, especially his daughter, Nora (Helen Reddy). That night they go back to their home, the Maine lighthouse, and Lampie tells Nora exactly what he thought he saw. Nora tells him to go to sleep. She goes outside and she sees Pete go into the cave right next to the water.
Pete is really scared and upset with Elliott. He doesn’t know what to do or where to go. Nora comes into the cave and asks him if he wants to spend the night in the lighthouse. He agrees and tells Elliott to wait for him in the cave.
Nora brings Pete up to the lighthouse, and he tells her about how he is running away from the Gogans. She promises that he would be safe in the lighthouse. He sees a picture of a man and he asks who he is. Nora answers that it was her fiancée Paul and as far as they know, his ship went down and nobody has heard from him since. Pete tells her that he’ll ask Elliott about him since “he has a way of knowing things”. He explains that Elliott is his dragon, and Nora is instantly interested.
The next morning a con man and failed medical student by the name of Doc Terminus (Jim Dale), and his sidekick Hoagie (Red Buttons) come into Passamaquoddy. The town is immediately upset by his appearance, and he tries to sway them back into buying his phony medicines for a dollar apiece (while repeatedly mispronouncing the name of the town, saying things such as "Passamashloddy").
That day Nora buys Pete a new suit. That night he wants to show Elliott his suit and Paul’s picture, so that Elliott can help look for Paul. After Pete goes, Nora thanks her dad for pretending about Elliott with Pete. He is still convinced he saw it, and she tells him to be realistic. He snaps that she isn’t the one to talk about being realistic because she’s been waiting a year for someone to come back who isn’t coming back. He apologizes and goes to the hardware store, while she climbs the lighthouse to sing Candle on the Water, a haunting and romantic song metaphorically linking her love to the light.
Instead of going to the hardware store, Lampie goes to the bar and asks Terminus what he knows about dragons. The Doc takes him as a deluded drunk, but Lampie says he can prove that there is a dragon. Hoagie says he wants to see it, so Lampie takes him.
However accepting Nora is, the town is not, and the next morning when Pete goes to school for the first time (and not liking the idea), he is shunned by nearly everyone, except the kids, and especially the fishermen and the teacher. Noticing that the fishermen are overly superstitious, Nora tells them to calm down and that there is no connection between Pete and Elliott and the fishing grounds.
The teacher thinks Pete has a distracting imagination and she punishes him. To save Pete, Elliott walks through the school to the amazement of the whole town. Anxious to make a profit, Terminus is hopeful that Pete will sell him Elliott. He plans to kill the dragon and cut him up for medicines.
Doc Terminus goes to the lighthouse the next morning to find Pete and Nora painting it. He gives Pete an offer, wheraupon Pete claims that Elliott isn’t his to sell. They are chased away by Nora's foghorn. Nora and Lampie tell Pete that they want him to live with them. He agrees. And they continue to clean the lighthouse.
The Gogans are still looking for Pete, and they come into Passamaquoddy. When they mention the dragon, several people are scared, and they know that they’ve come to the right place. Hoagie realizes that after Pete, and he warns the Doc. Pete, Nora and Lampie are fishing, and the Gogans find him. They try to convince Nora that Pete is theirs. Nora, a passionate, outspoken woman, refuses to hand Pete over. Elliott, invisible, knocks the Gogans into the water.
Terminus later visits the Gogans, convincing them that he will give them Pete if they help him capture Elliott. He gathers allies among the superstitious who take dragons as a sign of misfortune and prepares a trap.
Elliott, meanwhile, has located Paul and told Pete so. Nora, however, has received news to the contrary and refuses to co-operate with Pete's belief in Elliott any longer. Even Lampie doubts, but Pete is undeterred.
Terminus lures Pete to the town's boathouse, while the frightened Hoagie does the same to Elliott. When the dragon arrives, invisible, he finds that Hoagie's story is true; the Gogans have seized Pete and hold him painfully. Elliott advances, but is caught in a net. In the fight that follows, Elliott throws away both his invisibility and his bonds, scatters the volunteer rustabouts, and searches for Pete. In a last effort, Lena Gogan shows Elliott the bill that makes her Pete's guardian. Elliott sets the paper on fire, tips Lena Gogan into a barrel of cresote, and chases off her horse.
Terminus, desperate, brings his harpoon gun to bear. He is just about to fire when he realizes that a rope connected to the spear is looped around his ankle. He diverts the cannon, but is unable to stop it shooting him through the ceiling. The harpoon lands embedded in a pole, leaving Terminus dangling. Elliott destroys Terminus's special cart, with which the cheat had traveled.
Just as Elliott turns to go, an electric wire-pole falls, threatening to shock the mayor and the schoolteacher. Elliott stops it from doing so, provoking the famous line "There really is a dragon!".
Off the coast, a ship is headed for the jagged rocks of a reef. The lighthouse has been hit with a monstorous wave that shattered the upper windows, drenching the oil burning lamp, and Lampie cannot find a dry wick. Elliott arrives just in time to light the lamp with his own fire. As he is trying to do so, Nora comes in and is astonished by his presence. The light blazes, and the ship is saved.
In time, Elliott becomes accepted by the townspeople as a guardianlike or heroic figure. The economy prospers, and the mayor is humbled. Nora's man Paul returns, the sole survivor of a wreck. (Paul was one of the two sailors on the ship, tossing about off Passamaquoddy, saved by the lighthouse's beam)
Ellliott, however, has sad news. Pete is now safe and has a family of his own; now the dragon must move on, to help other children.
Spoilers end here.
The film did not do so well as hoped at the box office, and could not help bring Walt Disney Pictures out of its financial problems.
This film has had a difficult release history. In its original roadshow theatrical release, the film ran 134 minutes. Shortly after, the film was re-edited to 121 minutes. When it was first issued on home video as a rental title, the movie was cut again to 104 minutes, severely edited and time-compressed, eliminating the "Candle On The Water" number. When it was made for sale in October 1980, the film was restored considerably to 128 minutes—the most notable change being an alternate version of the musical number "I Saw A Dragon", different from the one that was seen in the premiere version—this has become the version most widely seen today on video and DVD. For its 1984 theatrical re-release, the film was further cut to 101 minutes, and finally the network television version was cut down to just 94 minutes. It is not known whether or not the original 134-minute cut still exists in the Disney archives or if the complete version could be reconstructed.
- The story was acquired by the Disney studio in the 1950s, originally intended for the Walt Disney anthology series on TV.
- Pete's Dragon was the first Disney film to be recorded in the Dolby Stereo sound system.
- The movie features an instance of the "Mickey laughing," heard when Doc Terminus gets caught in a harpoon line.
- Pete's Dragon was the first Disney feature film to be released on VHS home video, in October 1980.
- The lighthouse for "Pete's Dragon" was built on a point above Morro Bay, California, substituting for Maine. It was equipped with a such a large beacon that Disney had to get special permission from the Coast Guard to operate it, since operating it during filming would have confused passing ships.
- Jeff Conaway, who played Pete's "brother" Willie, is better known for his role as Kenickie in the film version of Grease.
- Animators opted for an oriental, rather than occidental, dragon, because oriental dragons are usually associated with good.
- Singer Helen Reddy, famous for the feminist anthem, "I Am Woman," makes her second big-screen appearance as Nora, while screen veteran Mickey Rooney plays her father, Lampie.
- The song, "Candle On The Water," by Al Kasha and Joel Hirschorn, received an Academy Award® nomination for Best Song, along with tunes from two other Disney films – The Rescuers and The Slipper and the Rose: The Story Of Cinderella. The Oscar went to "You Light Up My Life," from the film of the same name.
- The original story called for Elliott the dragon to remain invisible throughout the entire film.
- The film is the first involving animation in which none of the Nine Old Men -– Disney's original team of animators –- were involved.
- One of the movie's special effects involved compositing, whereby up to three scenes might be composited together -– for example, a live foreground, a live background, and an animated middle ground containing Elliott.
- Third wave ska band Reel Big Fish recorded a cover version of the song "It's Not Easy" from the film for their "Duet All Night Long" split EP with Zolof the Rock & Roll Destroyer.
- In an apparent nod to the film, Fall Out Boy's Pete Wentz has at times adopted the name dragonspete to chat in online rooms.
- The main antagonist in Pete's Dragon is Lena Gogan, and the secondary antagonist is Doc Terminus.
- It is rated G.
- Pete's Dragon at the Internet Movie Database
- Pete's Dragon at UltimateDisney.com
- The First Pete's Dragon Fansite!
- Detailed Info on Pete's Dragon including David H. DePatie's involvement