Is Elliott real or simply an elaborate coping mechanism for Pete (Sean Marshall), the movie's beleaguered hero?
That's the central question of Pete's Dragon. The uncertainty adds a psychological layer for adults -- it helps us understand why traumatized kids might retreat into their own worlds -- yet young viewers will never doubt that Elliott exists.
That's because the filmmakers deliver a bundle of delightful visual clues, especially when Elliott is invisible. Giant footprints appear in wet cement; the shape of a dragon is left behind on a school wall after Elliott crashes through. These touches are somehow more charming than when we see Elliott in all his animated glory (probably because the effects work hasn't held up too well).
Not all of the songs are as endearing -- Helen Reddy's renditions appeared on the adult contemporary charts for a reason -- yet there are other times when Pete's Dragon sparks to life with a full-scale production number (notably, Mickey Rooney and Reddy performing "I Saw a Dragon" in a raucous tavern).
Kids Will Like:
Elliott. Speaking a goofy nonsense language (the vocal work is by Charlie Callas), panting like a dog and sporting a tuft of purple hair, the dragon is like a best friend and exotic pet rolled into one.
Parents Will Like:
The comic timing of Rooney and Red Buttons, who share a scene in which their characters fill up on liquid courage and confront Elliott in his cave. It's like a brief return to the vaudeville era.
The Gogan family who is after Pete -- lead by Shelley Winters -- sings songs filled with violent, threatening lyrics. Pete later suffers real violence at the hands of a cruel teacher. Rooney's character is often drunk, even giving Elliott some liquor in one scene. Elliott, however, remains harmless throughout. As my 6-year-old said: "He's not really a scary dragon -- just a silly one."
Yes. Another Disney mix of live action and animation, this technical curiosity also boasts an interesting take on childhood imagination.