It’s a Brazzle Dazzle Day

Pete’s Dragon – Released in the year I was born, this classic Disney film is about human trafficking, child abuse, alcoholism, and medical scams. It also has a cartoon dragon, which is why it qualifies as a live-action/animation hybrid. I hadn’t seen it in a long time, but I remembered parts of it without really recalling how they fit together. That said, I’d say it has a tighter plot than Mary Poppins or Bedknobs and Broomsticks. The film starts with an orphan boy named Pete running away from a foster family of abusive hillbillies, accompanied by his best friend Elliott, the titular dragon.

He’s usually invisible, only revealing himself occasionally, so most other people assume he’s an imaginary friend. Elliott doesn’t talk, but makes noises sort of similar to a dog barking, which Pete can understand. His voice is provided by Charlie Callas, who basically seems to have been famous for making weird sounds. The two of them come to the seaside town of Passamaquaddy, which I believe is supposed to be in Maine, although I don’t recall if it’s ever stated in the movie.

There, Pete befriends Nora, played by Helen Reddy of “I Am Woman” fame; and her father, the town’s alcoholic lighthouse keeper, played by Mickey Rooney. The film seems to alternate a bit between showing his alcoholism as an actual problem and just something to laugh at, the latter being most apparent when he and Red Buttons’ character stumble upon Elliott while drunk.

There’s never any resolution for it, either. He’s still one of the more likeable characters, but that’s largely because pretty much everyone else is unnecessarily mean to Pete. They blame him for Elliott’s invisible blundering, which makes sense as far as it goes, but their reactions would be quite strong even if Pete really HAD been playing pranks on purpose. More abuse comes in when Pete goes to school and the teacher practices corporal punishment. Perhaps that’s accurate to the early twentieth century setting, but it’s still disturbing to watch.

Elliott ends up making a cartoonishly dragon-shaped hole in the schoolhouse, which isn’t enough to convince Nora of his existence, but DOES convince a traveling medicine man who’s in town to sell some sham cures.

His plan is to capture Elliott and sell off his body parts (so there’s dragon trafficking in addition to human trafficking), and they recruit the hillbillies and some of the townspeople in their plot. It backfires, however, and Elliott burns up the foster family’s bill of sale (why couldn’t he have done that much earlier?) and chases them out of town. He also saves the mayor and his associates, lights the lighthouse in a bad storm, and is a catalyst in bringing Nora’s lover back to town. So Pete is now part of a happy family, at least so long as the hillbillies don’t decide to sue for custody. There must be another record of that transaction besides the one Elliott destroyed, right? The dragon leaves Pete to help another kid, presented as a good thing, but let’s just hope Pete doesn’t turn to the drink like his adopted grandfather due to losing his friend. I guess I felt the happy ending was deserved but abrupt, and left some questions unanswered. One question I have is whether the remake is worth watching.

This entry was posted in Cartoons, Revisiting Disney, VoVat Goes to the Movies and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to It’s a Brazzle Dazzle Day

  1. J. L. Bell says:

    The traveling medicine man was played by Jim Dale, more recently renowned for his narration of the British audio editions of the Harry Potter books.

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