Pete’s Dragon (1977)

petes dragon poster 1977 movie
6.5 Overall Score
Story: 6/10
Acting: 7/10
Visuals: 8/10

The animation on Elliot is good

Too long for kids

Movie Info

Movie Name:  Pete’s Dragon

Studio:  Walt Disney Productions

Genre(s):  Animated/Musical/Family

Release Date(s):  November 3, 1977

MPAA Rating:  G


Elliott…Have you considered a different hair color?

Pete (Sean Marshall) with the help of his often invisible dragon friend Elliott (voiced by Charlie Callas) escapes his cruel adoptive “family”” the Gogans (Shelley Winters and Charles Tyner) who keep him as a slave.  When Pete arrives in the small Maine seaside town of Passamaquoddy, he meets Lampie (Mickey Rooney) and his daughter Nora (Helen Reddy) who operate the town’s lighthouse. As Nora mourns her missing love Paul (Cal Bartlett), Pete and Elliott face a threat from a snake-oil swindler named Dr. Terminus (Jim Dale) and his assistant Hoagy (Red Buttons).  Will Pete and Elliott find happiness in Passamaquoddy or will Pete have to return to the Gogans?


We’re hunting wabbits!

Directed by Don Chaffey, Pete’s Dragon was released by Walt Disney pictures met with so-so reviews. It was the first Disney film with animation to have no involvement from Disney’s “Nine Old Men” who were known for making Disney’s other films famous.  The movie was nominated for Academy Awards for Best Original Song (“Candle on the Water”) losing to “You Light Up My Life” from You Light Up My Life and Best Original Song Score losing to A Little Night Music.  The original run time was often cut down for airing, but the 35th Anniversary Blu-Ray release has restored the original runtime.


You better not poop in my lighthouse, dragon.

Pete’s Dragon utilizes live-action film with animated characters much like Disney’s Song of the South (1946), Mary Poppins (1964), and Bedknobs and Broomsticks (1971). The story came from a short story by Seton I. Miller and S.S. Fields and was intended for a much earlier production for Disney’s television show Walt Disney’s Wonderful World of Color in 1957. Delays led to this ’70s production with a rather modern feeling film with an old style musical that feels even a bit strange for even Disney at this time.


The kinfolk

I remember catching Pete’s Dragon when it would air on TV (usually in pieces) on a Disney show. Maybe it is due to the fractured viewing, but I have a hard time sitting through the movie in one sitting. With a runtime over two hours, it seems a lot to ask of a kid. There are a lot of dead points and a few musical numbers that might have kids struggling to finish it.

The Don Bluth’s animation on Elliott is quite good, and he feels like a real character. There was some criticism that it is never explained how Elliott came to Pete, but I like the idea that Elliott is like magic and shows up where he is needed. The thing that drives me crazy about the movie is that despite the destruction of the school and the attack on the Gogans, everyone continues to deny the existence of Elliott.


Driven mad without Pete, Elliott takes up residence in “The Dragon’s Lair”!!!

The cast of the movie is quite fun. Sean Marshall does a decent job holding the film together for such a young age and is likable as Pete. Character actors like Mickey Rooney, Red Buttons, Jim Dale, Jim Backus, and Jane Kean all do a nice job, and the award winning Shelley Winter’s role seems pretty small for the actress. Helen Reddy seems like a strange choice for the lead actress, but she was popular at the time and actually kept the right to a version of the song “Candle on the Water”.

Pete’s Dragon is a rather harmless but also not entirely memorable film. It is fun for kids who grew up with it, and new kids might enjoy it, but I think it would move to slow.  Like everything else, Pete’s Dragon wasn’t dead in Hollywood.  The film was rebooted in 2016 with a different story and different storytelling (and more positive reviews).

Author: JPRoscoe View all posts by
Follow me on Twitter/Instagram/Letterboxd @JPRoscoe76! Loves all things pop-culture especially if it has a bit of a counter-culture twist. Plays video games (basically from the start when a neighbor brought home an Atari 2600), comic loving (for almost 30 years), and a true critic of movies. Enjoys the art house but also isn't afraid to let in one or two popular movies at the same time.

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