Sunday, March 31, 2013

Movie Review: Pete's Dragon

Stars: 5 out of 5
Pros: The perfect cast and fun songs make for a great film
Cons: None I can see
The Bottom Line:
Filled with some wonderful songs
See dragon today

It's a Brazzle Dazzle Movie

Growing up, my brother and I often had a hard time finding a movie we'd both agree to watch. There were a few, however, we'd almost always agree upon. One such movie was this Disney musical. And I find I enjoy Pete's Dragon just as much today as I did growing up.

Pete (Sean Marshall) is a poor orphan. He's been adopted by the mean Gogan family run by the matriarch Lena (Shelley Winters). The Gogans make him work from morning til night and beat him for the slightest thing.

So, naturally, he runs away. He's tried it before and been caught, but this time he has help in the form of Elliot. Elliot is a dragon. And while he doesn't always think about what he's doing, he means well. And he really wants to help Pete.

Pete and Elliot happen to find the town of Passamaquoddy on the coast of Maine. Their first trip through town doesn't go well, so they find themselves out by the lighthouse, where they make friends with Lampie (Mickey Rooney) the lighthouse keeper and his adult daughter Nora (Helen Reddy). Have they found a real home at last?

Meanwhile, Doc Terminus (Jim Dale) and his assistant Hoagy (Red Buttons) have wandered into town. The Doc is a quack, selling fake potions and running from one town to the next just ahead of the lynch mob. They get word of the dragon and set out to capture him for the money they can make from his body parts. Will they get their hands on Elliot?

This movie holds up fairly well when you consider it is 30 years old. Since Elliot is an animated dragon living in the real world, lots of special effects are called for. When he's invisible, we still see the results of his presence. And when he is visible, he needs to interact with the world around him. Now I will admit that the animation looks dated. Being 30 years old, Elliot is hand drawn and 2 D. But, I find his presence in the film completely believable. And the cast does a good job of reacting to him as well.

The movie is a musical, with 10 songs scattered throughout. The most famous is Oscar winning "Candle on the Water," a ballad that Helen Reddy gets to sing. It is beautiful. My favorite, however, is the song that Pete, Lampie, and Nora sing when Pete is invited to stay at the lighthouse. "Brazzle Dazzle Day" is just plain fun. Frankly, I enjoy all of these 10 songs in their own way. Yes, even the Gogans' two songs.

What's amazing about this movie is how much fun it really is. The movie deals with some serious subjects like alcoholism (Lampie spends much of the first half drunk), child abuse, and a plot to kill an animal. Yet the movie finds just the right balance between making the villains menacing enough that we care about the outcome and funny enough that we can't take them too seriously.

A lot of the credit for that goes to the cast. With comedy greats like Shelley Winters and Red Buttons in the villain roles, you just can't take them too seriously. Jim Dale's Doc Terminus is a perfect vaudeville villain. I want to boo him when he's on screen. And the Gogans get some of the best slapstick action, making them less then scary. That's not to say the movie is completely carefree. The climax, set during a bad storm, is certainly suspenseful.

Now my focus on the actors playing the villains shouldn't imply the rest of the cast is bad. Helen Reddy makes Nora completely loveable. And Mickey Rooney's Lampie is a great guy as well. I just wish he didn't spend so much of the early part drunk. Sean Marshall really has to carry the first part of the film by himself, but he brings Pete to immediate life.

This movie isn't super popular today, which is a shame. If you're looking for a new to them film to entertain your kids, pick up Pete's Dragon today.

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