Pete's Dragon

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Details At A Glance

Category Family Theatrical Trailer(s) None
Rating Other Trailer(s) None
Year Released 1977 Commentary Tracks None
Running Time
123:26 minutes
(not 102 minutes as stated on packaging) 
Other Extras None
RSDL/Flipper No/No
Cast & Crew
Start Up Movie
Region 2,4 Director Don Chaffey

Warner Home Video
Starring Helen Reddy
Jim Dale
Mickey Rooney
Red Buttons
Shelley Winters
Jane Kean
Case Amaray
RRP $34.95 Music Al Kasha
Joel Hirschhorn

Pan & Scan/Full Frame Pan and Scan MPEG None
Widescreen Aspect Ratio No Dolby Digital 2.0
16x9 Enhancement No Soundtrack Languages English (Dolby Digital 2.0 , 192 Kb/s)
Theatrical Aspect Ratio 1.75:1
Macrovision ? Smoking No
Subtitles English for the Hearing Impaired Annoying Product Placement No
Action In or After Credits No

Plot Synopsis

    Sometimes it is a little difficult to remember that the Walt Disney Company went through some hard times, especially in the 1970's. They had moved away from their animation roots a little, had made some stinkers of films (at least by their standards) and had made some poor investment decisions. Right in the middle of that period came this effort. And a terribly poor one it is too, on most levels. The combination of live action and animation was nothing new in 1977 and even the Walt Disney Company had had a few attempts at the idea - most notably the very successful Mary Poppins from 1964 and Bedknobs and Broomsticks. Which makes this effort all the poorer, as it looks like a very amateurish attempt at the sub-genre. At any level, this really is one of the worst efforts to come out of the Walt Disney Company and poor old Walt must have been turning in his grave over this. Still, if nothing else came from the nadir that produced efforts like this, the Walt Disney Company learned their lesson well and came roaring back with a succession of successful animation classics in the eighties and nineties.

    Pete's Dragon is the story of young Pete (Sean Marshall), an orphan sold into virtual slavery with the Gogan family. However, as a young tyke in trouble he is befriended by a rather large, and usually troublesome (although usually invisible), dragon by the name of Elliott. Trying to escape the Gogan family, Pete finds his way to a small New England fishing town where he is befriended by the lighthouse keeper Lampie (Mickey Rooney) and his daughter Nora (Helen Reddy). Only things never seem to go well when you have a huge, invisible dragon in tow and Pete gets into various troubles as a result of Elliott, especially as Nora is less than believing. Still, when the Gogan family come to reclaim Pete, Elliott proves his worth and his existence to all, even more so when he tracks down Nora's long lost love, as we progress to the usual Di$ney happy ending.

    It really is difficult to know what the worst feature of this effort is. The animation is hardly state of the art now and even for 1977 was not especially good. Helen Reddy proves that she has no acting ability whatsoever and the only real high point here is the appearance and performances of such old troopers as Mickey Rooney and Red Buttons. The songs, so often the high point of a Di$ney film, are anything but great with some of the most excruciating lyrics that you are ever likely to hear. Staggeringly, this copped two Oscar nominations in 1978, for Best Music, Original Song Score and Best Music, Song. It must have been a really bad year for films that year. Overall, this is quite possibly the worst film to emanate from the Di$ney studios since they started churning out animated film classics way back in 1937 with Snow White and The Seven Dwarfs, and its only redeeming feature is that it is probably the kick in the rear that the studio needed to get back to doing what it does better than anyone else, and has done since the very beginning - animation, pure and simple.

Transfer Quality


    And if the film is bad, the transfer is not much better.

    Presented in a Pan and Scan format, this is not 16x9 enhanced. The original format of the film was 1.75:1, so why have we not got a widescreen version of the film I ask?

    The main problem here is the almost insufferable variability in the transfer. Whilst it is generally quite reasonably sharp, although there are a few lapses, this is not an especially well defined transfer. Even worse is the fact that the (presumably) blue matte work is shockingly obvious with distinct edges and unnatural tonal balances to the inserted images. This in particular affects all scenes showing the entrance to the cave as well as the appalling attempt at crashing waves over the ship during the storm. The earlier day scenes in the film are far too overbright in comparison and are very washed out, although this is also a problem with some scenes around the lighthouse later on in the film. Much of this was passable on the inferior VHS tape format, but the DVD really makes it far too noticeable. At times the picture so lacks depth that it almost seems like a photographed background to the characters. The picture itself is quite grainy in appearance at times, and there are hints of some serious mastering problems in the transfer throughout. The picture itself also looks quite dirty at times and seems as if it is being watched through an unwashed pane of glass.

    The colours are especially problematic, with almost no two consecutive sequences involving Elliott in particular being of the same colour. Elliott varies from being a very anaemic pale green to an over saturated bright vivid green, with the pink hair suffering similar extremes, often on consecutive frames. This gives the entire film a very amateurish look to it, and I could perhaps have accepted this if it was the first film to utilize these live animation techniques, but as this is not so, these inconsistencies cannot be accepted. The colour tones really are all over the place in this effort with some scenes being very dark toned and quite oversaturated, whilst others are very washed out and lacking any saturation at all. In general, the colours are too dark for my taste and some of the skin tones are terribly unrealistic, especially for the area and era being depicted.

   There would appear to be some serious MPEG artefacts in the transfer during the last minute of the film before the credits, where the picture seems to be moving around a lot and with what appears to some blockiness to the transfer. Nearly every pan shot during the film seems to display a loss of resolution. Film-to-video artefacts comprised some relatively minor aliasing, but this was not too distracting at all given the other transfer problems. However, film artefacts were shockingly present and very distracting - far more than I was expecting in a film from this source. There is hardly a scene which is not affected by dust or scratches, or more often both.

   Note that the packaging suggests that the film is 102 minutes long - the film is actually 123 minutes long and is fitted on a single layer disc. This may well be the cause of the transfer problems (compression artefacts), and the film would have better served by utilizing a dual layer format in all probability.


   There is only the one audio track on the DVD, an English Dolby Digital 2.0 surround encoded soundtrack. The packaging claims that there are two further mono soundtracks on the DVD, French and Dutch, but these do not appear to be present (unless Di$ney have found a new way of accessing them other than the menu).

    The dialogue was not always clear and easy to understand.

    There did not appear to be any significant audio sync problems with the transfer, although sloppy ADR work is inherent in this transfer (my VHS tape suffers from it too).

    The musical score by Al Kasha and Joel Hirschhorn is in my view terribly overrated and it staggers me that it copped an Oscar nomination. Mind you, with the songs being so bad, my view has probably been clouded somewhat.

    Whilst this is is apparently a surround encoded soundtrack, there seems to be no action at all in the surround channels and the whole thing sounds very front and centre; in my view this is definitely a mono soundtrack. This is not an especially well balanced effort at all, especially with the inconsistent sound levels caused by the sloppy ADR work. Helen Reddy's vocals in particular seem extremely unnatural, clearly having been dubbed in later but with no two songs done at the same audio level. There is absolutely no natural feel to this effort at all, and it does get rather painful to listen to, lacking as it does any sort of dynamic. You can throw the subwoofer away for this one - it is superfluous. Just remember to throw it away from the television (although I am sorely tempted to throw it at the television in this instance).


    You really think that having done a cheap job on the video and audio mastering that Di$ney are going to give us any extras?


    Of limited use, and completely misleading in its colourful nature.

R4 vs R1

    Much to the delight of Region 1 purchasers, this is not yet available in that region - and I would really, really hate to see this in NTSC.


    A terribly banal film with a terribly problematic transfer, that really should not have been allowed past quality control. This should be avoided at all costs, but if you really need it to shut the kids up, get the VHS tape instead, as it is not much worse in quality - in some respects better, as the poorer definition of the tape hides some of the more gross problems with the transfer - and comes in a lot cheaper. Come to think of it, maybe they used a VHS tape for the mastering process. If it wasn't for the fact that the film is so bad, this should really be withdrawn and remastered properly.

    A poor video transfer.

    A poor audio transfer.

    And no extras (although that may be a blessing in disguise).

Ratings (out of 5)


© Ian Morris
8th January 2000

Review Equipment
DVD Pioneer DV-515; S-video output
Display Sony Trinitron Wega 84cm. Calibrated with the NTSC DVD version of Video Essentials.
Audio Decoder Built in
Amplification Yamaha RXV-795. Calibrated with the NTSC DVD version of Video Essentials.
Speakers Energy Speakers: centre EXLC; left and right EXLR; and subwoofer ES-12XL