Film / Pete's Dragon

Pete's Dragon, a 1977 Disney film, is another Spiritual Successor to Mary Poppins, though not as direct a successor as Bedknobs and Broomsticks was. It's a live-action musical that uses cel animation to bring its title character to life.

It is the early 20th century, and Heartwarming Orphan Pete is on the run from the cruel Gogans, a backwoods family that bought him to be their slave. He has but one friend - Elliot, a friendly dragon. Elliot doesn't speak English, but he can fly, breathe fire, and turn himself invisible; most of all, he's got Pete's back. Together they arrive in the town of Passamaquoddy, Maine.

No one here believes in dragons, of course, and because Elliot's usually invisible, his faithfully following Pete around causes a lot of problems for the kid - which are sometimes exacerbated when Elliot tries to protect him from unjust punishment. Still, Pete is taken in by Nora, a lighthouse keeper's daughter (her dad, Lampie, is the one person in town who has seen Elliot, but no one believes him), and Elliot hides out in a nearby cave.

Pete soon bonds with Nora and Lampie, and even tells Elliot about Nora's lost-at-sea fiance in hopes the dragon can find him. Alas, Snake Oil Salesman Doctor Terminus, played by Jim Dale, arrives in town and learns from his lackey Hoagy (whom Lampie takes to the cave to prove his claim) about Elliot. The parts of a dragon can be compounded into all kinds of medicines, so Terminus seeks to capture Elliot. Then the Gogans arrive, and the two evil parties meet and combine their forces. It all comes to a head on a stormy night that will be rife with rescues.

This was Disney's big holiday release for 1977, but while it was a modest hit, it does point up how out-of-touch the company had become when it came to appealing to families - Star Wars was where it was at for most kids that year, and they just didn't have time for a broad musical comedy like this (if you thought there were large hams in the other Disney musicals...). It was the last live-action musical the company produced for many years, and, by some accounts, Don Bluth's motivation for leaving the company.

Continuing Disney's trend of rebooting much of their fantasy catalog, a remake of Pete's Dragon is set for release in summer of 2016. Now a CGI character, Elliott is a cryptozoological oddity of the Pacific Northwest being studied by Mr. Meacham (Robert Redford) and his park ranger daughter Grace (Bryce Dallas Howard). New evidence of the dragon's existence comes to light when a feral child named Pete (Oakes Fegley) emerges from the woods, having spent six years living with the beast.


  • Award Bait Song: "Candle on the Water", one of the earliest examples of the trope. Lost to "You Light Up My Life''.
  • Berserk Button: The Gogans to Elliot, especially if they threaten Pete.
    • In fact, anyone who threatens or even so much as kicks Pete is his Berserk Button.
  • Big "NO!": Hoagy does this when Dr. Terminus told him to get the dragon.
  • A Boy and His X: Pete (boy) and Elliot (dragon).
  • Bullying a Dragon: Literally. At the end, when everyone can see Elliot, the Gogans actually try to intimidate him using legalese. He responds by incinerating their bill of sale.
  • But Now I Must Go/Bittersweet Ending: Elliot leaves Pete at the end specifically because another kid needs his help.
  • Cassandra Truth: Pete trying to tell his teacher that "It was Elliot!" who was doing all the crazy shenanigans that she was blaming and punishing him for.
  • Chekhov's Skill: Many dragons breathe fire, of course, but Elliot's ability turns out to be the one thing that can relight the lighthouse lamp in the climax.
  • Coconut Superpowers: Elliot's invisibility means that for long chunks of the runtime, we only see the effects of his presence. (In fact, as originally conceived, the audience was never going to see him at all.)
  • Corrupt Hick: The Gogan family.
  • Cowboy Be Bop At His Computer: The back cover of the 35th Anniversary Blu-Ray lists the runtime as 88 minutes, instead of 128 minutes.
  • Crowd Song: "I Saw a Dragon".
  • Crunchtastic: The big Ear Worm song, "Brazzle Dazzle Day"; in fact, the movie's Tag Line was "Brazzle Dazzle Brilliance!"
  • Dastardly Whiplash: Dr. Terminus, more or less.
  • Dunce Cap: Pete gets one when he gets in trouble with his teacher on his first day of school for things that Elliot did. Of course, Elliot blows it off when he gets enraged enough.
  • Easy Amnesia: It turns out Nora's fiance Paul was in a shipwreck and suffered amnesia. When he returns to her at the end, he says he regained his memory when he fell out of a bed - an "accident" which was obviously Elliot's doing.
  • The Family for the Whole Family: The Gogan clan.
  • Foreshadowing:
    Doc: "The existence of a dragon would have an impact of gigantic proportions. Mythology and legend would become history and science. (to himself) One would make a quick buck with it."
  • Gentle Giant: Elliot.
  • Happily Adopted: Pete by the end.
  • Happily Ever After
  • Heartwarming Orphan
  • Impact Silhouette: An invisible Elliot leaves a dragon-shaped hole in the school wall.
  • Ink-Suit Actor: Elliot's expressions are identical to Charlie Callas.
  • Instant Awesome, Just Add Dragons: Elliot.
  • It Makes Sense in Context: Dr. Terminus's "Landship," a sailboat on wheels.
  • It Must Be Mine: Terminus wanting to capture Elliot.
  • It Is Pronounced Tro PAY: Terminus keeps getting the town's name wrong. Hoagy would correct him.
  • Karma Houdini: What comeuppance does the Gogan clan get for everything they've done? Aside from a lot of public humiliation, not much. The only "punishment" they got, if you can call it that, is going through all this trouble to get Pete back and having to go home empty handed. And the brothers will have to "pick up the slack" on the chores now that they don't have Pete anymore to do most (if not all) of the work.
  • Large Ham: Most of the cast, especially the villains.
  • List Song: "Passamaquoddy," Doc Terminus's cheerful recitation of the New England towns he's visited and illnesses he's cured ... a recitation that comes to a stammering halt when he tries to pronounce his current stop.
  • Mainlining the Monster: Doctor Terminus wants to get his hands on Elliot (the titular dragon) to be made into medicines.
  • Mama Bear: Nora. She constantly interrupts the Gogan's second Villain Song with threats toward them if they even think of hurting Pete.
  • Medicine Show
  • Medium Blending
  • Mobile Kiosk: Doctor Terminus' "Landship".
  • Musical Chores: "Brazzle Dazzle Day".
  • Never Trust a Hair Tonic: When Dr. Terminus comes to town, the townspeople confront him about his various medicines that didn't work the last time he was there, including one man whose hair turned from gray to pink thanks to the doctor.
  • No Sympathy: When an invisible Elliot begins playing with the school bell while Pete is in class, Pete runs out to stop him; he is followed by the teacher who then accuses Pete of ringing the bell — despite the fact that Pete was sitting in the front row of the classroom when the bell began ringing. This is pretty much the teacher picking up the Idiot Ball in order to press Elliot's Berserk Button.
  • Not-So-Imaginary Friend: Elliot.
  • Obfuscating Disability: Hoagy uses this to give Doctor Terminus and his tonics some ill-deserved credibility. First he plays an old and obviously deaf woman, and fakes gaining the ability to hear. Then he masquerades as a old man who hobbles on crutches and doesn't need them anymore once he's had some of Terminus's tonic.
  • Painting the Medium: Closed captions (in the VHS-version anyway) had Elliot's dialogue, or at least mentions of his grunts, in green-colored font.
  • Papa Wolf: Elliot to Pete.
  • Plot-Driven Breakdown: The climactic storm extinguishes the lighthouse's lamp just as a ship - carrying Nora's fiance, among others - is approaching, risking a wreck. Nora and Lampie can't relight it, so it's left to Elliot to do the job with his fire breath. He does, and in the process, Nora sees him for the first time.
    • In that same scene, it also applies to Elliot's fire-breathing ability, in that he's wedged so tightly into the lighthouse's stairwell that he can't inhale.
  • Red Eyes, Take Warning: Elliot, after hearing Hoagy's message that the Gogans got Pete.
  • Rousing Speech: "Hoagy. We are all on this earth for a purpose, and the time for your purpose is now. I know that inside this pale, frail, pathetic shell of a man... there is a Vesuvius ready to erupt. Now, I've known you, man and beast, since, since you were nothing. But now, Hoagy, now, you're still nothing, but you could be something! You can be a somebody. A legend, Hoagy. A legend in your own lifetime, not a joke! The moment's here, Hoagy. Grab it. Grab it! Today the jester. Tomorrow the king!"
    Hoagie: NOOOOOOOOOO!!!
    Terminus: GET OUUUTT!!!!
  • Shut Up, Hannibal!: Nora does this repeatedly during the Gogan's second Villain Song; unfortunately, they won't shut up, requiring Elliot to deliver a far-more unsubtle one that capsizes their boat.
    • He delivers a much more threatening one in the climax, incinerating their bill of sale when they try to threaten him with it, sending them fleeing out of town.
  • Snake Oil Salesman: Dr. Terminus sells bogus cures and tonics.
  • Stock Scream: Dr. Terminus lets out a Goofy holler.
  • That Reminds Me of a Song: There are ten songs and four reprises. Most of them do serve the story; others, such as "I Saw A Dragon" or "Brazzle Dazzle Day", are about rather banal things.
  • There Is Another: The reason Elliot must leave Pete is to help another kid.
  • They Would Cut You Up: What Dr. Terminus wants to do to Elliot.
  • The Unintelligible: Elliot, who communicates with grunts, clicks and scatting, leaving Pete to translate for him when needed.
  • Villain Song: "The Happiest Home in These Hills" and "We Got a Bill of Sale Right Here" for the Gogans, and "Passamaquoddy" and "Every Little Piece" for Dr. Terminus and Hoagy.
  • Villain Team-Up: The Gogans team up with Dr. Terminus and Hoagy.
  • Verbal Tic: The school teacher's habit of repeating key words three times. Lampshaded/Parodied very shortly after being introduced:
    Teacher: No no no, this is irregular, irregular, irregular!
    Nora: But he needs an education, education, education.
  • Visible Invisibility: Elliot, by way of him leaving footprints, dragon-shaped holes in walls, etc.
  • You Gotta Have Pink Hair: One of Terminus' toxins gave a person pink hair.

Alternative Title(s): Petes Dragon