|The tender tale of a boy and his enormous invisible dragon. Actually, the dragon was only invisible when he chose to be; the rest of the time, he was a purple-winged green behemoth, animated by Disney’s magic factory. Pete’s Dragon followed in the Mary Poppins and Bedknobs and Broomsticks mold, mixing live action and animation in a period comic adventure.
The setting is turn-of-the-century Maine. Young orphan Pete is worked to the bone by his cruel adopted family, the Gogans, but he has a special friend in the form of jumbo-sized dragon Elliot. With the dragon’s help, the boy escapes to a nearby town called Passamaquoddy, a quiet fishing village. Elliot’s invisible bulk creates a few mishaps in the town, and the locals have trouble believing Pete’s explanation for the chaos.
Luckily, the boy is taken in by kindly father and daughter lighthouse keepers Lampie and Nora, but the Gogans aren’t willing to give up their slave labor that easily. Making matters worse, a “medicine”-swilling huckster learns of Elliot’s existence and makes plans to grind the dragon into a curative powder.
With its period setting, the tricky effects of blending live action with animation, and a cast that included Mickey Rooney, Shelley Winters, Helen Reddy, Red Buttons and Jim Dale, Pete’s Dragon was easily the most expensive film Disney had produced to that date. But it was also a hit, and the song “Candle on the Water” was nominated for an Academy Award.
A 1984 re-release found Pete’s Dragon cut down to 104 minutes, but its original length was restored for later video reissues, relieving angry drago-philes around the globe.