Director – Don Chaffey, Screenplay – Malcolm Marmorstein, Story – S.S. Field & Seton I. Miller, Producers – Jerome Courtland & Ron Miller, Photography – Frank Phillips, Music – Irwin Kostal, Songs – Joel Hirschhorn & Al Kasha, Mattes – P.S. Ellenshaw, Special Effects – Art Cruickshank, Danny Lee & Eustace Lycett, Makeup – Robert J. Schiffer, Animaton Supervisor – Don Bluth, Art Direction – John B. Mansbridge & Jack Martin Smith, Animation Art Direction/Elliott created by Ken Anderson. Production Company – Disney
Sean Marshall (Pete), Helen Reddy (Nora), Mickey Rooney (Lampie), Jim Dale (Dr Terminus), Red Buttons (Hoagy), Shelley Winters (Lena Gogan), Jane Kean (Miss Taylor), Jim Backus (The Mayor), Charlie Callas (Voice of Elliott)
With the help of a sometimes invisible dragon known as Elliott, the orphan Pete escapes the clutches of his tyrannical ‘owner’ Lena Grogan. In the town of Passamaquoddy, the drunken lighthouse keeper Lampie and his daughter Nora grant Pete refuge. Pete’s attempts to settle down and lead a normal life are thwarted by the pursuing Lena and the travelling medicine man Dr Terminus who wants to put Elliott on display, not to mention Elliott whose invisible presence causes chaos in the town.
Although everybody thought that Who Framed Roger Rabbit? (1988) was dazzlingly innovative, the idea of blending live-action and animation was something that Disney had been doing for at least forty years before that. Their first feature to do so was The Reluctant Dragon (1941). Most famously there was Mary Poppins (1964) and Pete’s Dragon was another of these.
Pete’s Dragon is not a particularly memorable effort – indeed, it is one Disney film that the public seem to have forgotten altogether. In principle it is workable and some of the scenes – like the ones with Pete tossing apples into Elliott’s mouth or a forlorn Elliott trying to play noughts and crosses on its chest with a piece of charcoal – are cute enough. The animation is reasonably good, as is its blending with live-action – and the live-action special effects with the invisible Elliott are excellent. However, the plot is wafer slim, the songs utterly forgettable. Moreover, the film is dominated by a high degree of slapstick, which by that point in time had almost entirely taken over Disney’s live-action films – the shrieking excess to which Jim Dale and Shelley Winters overplay is thoroughly awful.
Pete’s Dragon (2016) was a remake starring Bryce Dallas Howard, Robert Redford and Karl Urban.
Pete’s Dragon came from British director Don Chaffey. Chaffey made a handful of films during the Anglo-horror cycle, including several for Hammer’s exotica cycle with One Million Years B.C. (1966), The Viking Queen (1967) and Creatures the World Forgot (1971). Elsewhere, Chaffey directed Ray Harryhausen’s Jason and the Argonauts (1963) and the psycho-thriller Persecution/The Terror of Sheba (1974). In the 1970s, Chaffey moved over to work in US television where he made several children’s films including C.H.O.M.P.S. (1979).