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Film / Pete's Dragon (1977)

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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 stars Sean Marshall as Pete, Helen Reddy as Nora, Mickey Rooney as Lampie, Jim Dale as Doc Terminus, Red Buttons as his sidekick Hoagy, Shelley Winters as Lena Gogan, and Jim Backus as the mayor of Passamaquoddy.

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 there 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 because he's the town drunk), 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 supposedly 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.

Got a remake, also titled Pete's Dragon, in 2016.


  • Adopting the Abused: a young boy named Pete and his pet dragon Elliott continually evade his abusive foster family until he befriends and is eventually adopted by Nora and her father who work at a lighthouse.
  • Ask a Stupid Question...: At the beginning, one of the Gogan sons asks Ma why don't they just get another orphan. She reminds them that they spend their entire savings on Pete, so they can't afford another kid.
  • 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 Bad Duumvirate: Ma Gogan and Dr. Terminus have vastly different goals, but are still able to cooperate.
  • Big "NO!": Hoagy does this when Dr. Terminus told him to get the dragon.
  • Bittersweet Ending: Pete finally has a home and a family, but has to say goodbye to the dragon who was his only friend for a long time.
  • Blatant Lies: Doc Terminus' establishing song number, "Passamaquoddy", is loaded with them. To give one example: the potion he claimed to be from the far Orient before the song begins, he claims (with notable hesitation of trying to think something up quick to prevent the townspeople from kicking him out) he got all the way from France during it.
  • A Boy and His X: Pete (boy) and Elliot (dragon). By the end of the film, Elliot deems that Pete has learnt enough of how to be himself (as well as found a loving adoptive family) and doesn't need him anymore.
  • 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: Elliot leaves Pete at the end specifically because another kid needs his help and Pete now has a family. It's his M.O.; he shows up when a kid needs him, and when they don't need him anymore, he moves on to the next one.
  • 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.
  • Catch Your Death of Cold: When the Gogans are sulking together after Elliot capsizes their boat and knocks them into the water, Lena sneezes twice and claims to have "p'monia."
  • 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.
  • Cigar Chomper: The mayor, and a Running Gag involves his cigar getting broken in two.
  • 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.)
  • Corporal Punishment: Pete is caned by his teacher for things Elliot does.
  • The Con: Hoagy disguises himself as people who pretend to be cured by Doc Terminus's miracle tonics.
  • Counterpoint Duet: "Bill of Sale" features some lyrical sparring between Nora and the Gogans – more pronounced in the album version.
  • Covered in Mud: The Gogan family, knocked into a giant mud pit by Elliot.
  • Crowd Song: "I Saw a Dragon" starts with Lampie proclaiming that he saw Elliot in the town bar and eventually all of the drunks joining in.
  • Crunchtastic: The big catchy song, "Brazzle Dazzle Day"; in fact, the movie's Tag Line was "Brazzle Dazzle Brilliance!"
  • Dastardly Whiplash: Dr. Terminus, more or less. He's certainly got the looks and no problem kidnapping a kid to get what he wants.
  • Deadpan Snarker: Dr. Terminus, usually when dealing with Hoagy. Almost every other line is an insult to the latter's intelligence.
  • Deliberate Values Dissonance: The turn-of-the-century setting results in such details as the Gogans having legally bought Pete from an orphanage to use as a servant, and Pete's teacher rapping his knuckles and then making him wear a Dunce Cap to punish him for supposedly misbehaving.
  • 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 that Nora's fiancé 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.
  • Epic Fail: Pete commands Elliott to stay invisible while they pass through Passamaquoddy so he doesn't attract any unwanted attention to himself. When Elliott starts to blow it, Pete immediately starts blaming the invisible dragon rather than trying to play it off and just keep moving on, guaranteeing that he'll be the one getting loads of unwanted attention instead.
  • Evil Matriarch: Lena Gogan.
  • The Family for the Whole Family: The Gogan clan are G-rated, comically ineffective Hillbilly Horrors.
  • Fantastic Medicinal Bodily Product: In "Every Little Piece", Dr. Terminus waxes poetic about the many uses of various parts of a dragon — for instance, dragon livers can cure the common cold, dragon fat cures burns, and dragon blood halts aging.
  • Faux Affably Evil: Doc Terminus, as "Passamashloddy" illustrates, is theatrical, erudite and charming as part of his Snake Oil Salesman gimmick; he's quick-tongued enough to rope in his "clients" even after he's already ripped them off (I took your drug for losing weight and now I'm a blob!" shouts an obese woman he conned; "But now there's so much more of you to love!" Terminus replies, effortlessly winning her back) but the song escalates to show Terminus folds quickly under pressure and his shallow compliments and huzzah can only take him so far.
  • 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.
  • Gassy Gastronomy: Elliott drinks an alcoholic drink given to him by Hoagie and Lampie, causing him to let out a fiery belch (since he's a dragon and all).
  • Gentle Giant: Elliot. Just don't threaten Pete.
  • Get Out!: When Hoagy turns down the big chance to seize the opportunity, Dr. Terminus gives a loud one of these to Hoagy.
  • Happily Adopted: Pete by the end, by Nora, Lampie, and Paul.
  • Happily Ever After: Naturally, being a Disney movie. Pete is Happily Adopted, the bad guys got the humiliation they deserve, and the only dark spot (Elliot needing to leave) is because Elliot has to go help another kid in need, with the unspoken guarantee that the other kid will find happiness.
  • Hard-to-Light Fire: The climactic scene has Elliot trying to light up the lighthouse's lamp with his flame breath... and it's the only moment on the whole film when he has a hard time using said ability. Could be justified in that his body is shown to be really crammed and twisted into that little lighthouse staircase, and he's having trouble drawing in enough breath to really cut loose.
  • Heartwarming Orphan: Pete is remarkably angst-free and pretty easy to love.
  • Henpecked Husband: Merle Gogan is very much under the thumb of his wife Lena.
  • Honest John's Dealership: Doc Terminus's travelling medicine show with assistance from Hoagy, who is planted in the crowd as a shill.
  • 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.
  • Invisibility: One of Elliot's main abilities and how he's able to get around Passamaquoddy without being seen (for the most part, anyway). He's shown having no problems being able to have portions of himself disappear but seems to have to recite some form of Elliot-ese in order to completely do so. As a consequence of this ability, many in Passamaquoddy initially believe Elliot to be Pete's imaginary friend or that Elliot is just an excuse for Pete to cause trouble around town.
  • It Makes Sense in Context: Dr. Terminus's "Landship", a sailboat on wheels.
  • It Must Be Mine!: Terminus wanting to capture Elliot.
  • 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. Even that seems doubtful, since according to their verses in the opening song, they were going to kill him anyway.
    • Doc Terminus and Hoagy are left in a rather embarrassing situation by Elliot, who also obviously declines the offer to do business with them, but otherwise are free to extricate themselves and head for the hills, since nobody appears to have sicced the law on anybody involved. While there aren't any laws against dragon hunting, keep in mind that one of the things they did to try capturing Elliot was kidnapping Pete.
  • Kick the Dog: Lena and Merle Gogan want Pete back for practical reasons, but Willie and Grover seem to be mainly interested in having a living punching bag.
  • 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. Also, "Every Little Piece" has Terminus and Hoagy talking excitedly about many parts of a dragon's anatomy and how they could be used on fanciful remedies (and thus how they intend to gut Elliot into absolutely nothing and make a buck out of it).
  • Lyrical Dissonance: "The Happiest Home in These Hills" is a quirky and cheery bluegrass song about how the Gogans want Pete back to use as a slave and murder in horrifying ways.
  • Mama Bear: Nora. She constantly interrupts the Gogans' second Villain Song with threats toward them if they even think of hurting Pete.
  • Medicine Show: Doc Terminus brings one into town. It's all a lot of quack cures.
  • Medium Blending: A combination of live-action and animation.
  • Mobile Kiosk: Doctor Terminus' "Landship" extends into a stage for him to peddle his snake oil.
  • Mood Whiplash: In "The Happiest Home in These Hills", the lyrics alternate between Lena and Merle trying to entice Pete back with promises of treats and Grover and Willie cackling about the violence they'll inflict on Pete when they get their hands on him.
  • Musical Chores: "Brazzle Dazzle Day" is sung during a montage of cleaning up the lighthouse.
  • 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 Celebrities Were Harmed: Elliot's physical appearance and mannerisms were based on the actor Wallace Beery.
  • 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. One of the major gags is the shocked reactions of people at discovering this.
  • Obviously Evil: The Gogans are so obviously evil hicks that it's a wonder nobody thought of making them more evil, like being Confederate sympathizers. (Then again, one of them wears an old gray army soldier cap...)
  • 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.
  • Otherworldly Visits Youngest First: Elliot is a dragon who only appears to the young Pete, until the climax of the film, when Pete's adoptive family are in a crisis, and Elliot manifests himself before them all in order to help.
  • Papa Wolf:
    • Elliot to Pete. At least half of the devastation he leaves behind is because of the havoc he brings upon those who try to hurt the kid (the other half is because he's a giant freaking dragon, and a bumbling one at that).
    • Lampie shows shades of this, too.
      • During the "Saw a Dragon" number, he drags Nora into the tavern for her safety.
      • During the "Bill of Sale" number, Lampie mostly stays quiet, but he tries to wave the Gogans off.
  • Pet the Dog: When Hoagy and Elliot get caught in Doctor Terminus's trap, Terminus personally steps forward to pull Hoagy to safety (stepping next to a thrashing and very angry dragon to do so), demonstrating that Terminus does at least care about Hoagy.
  • 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.
  • Quack Doctor: Dr. Terminus, who is also a traveling Snake Oil Salesman, never really displays any true medical credentials, but is constantly offering up hoax cures of every type imaginable. When he discovers the existence of the titular dragon, he becomes quite excited at the prospect of chopping up Elliot to make all kinds of elixirs and curatives to expand his business (and fortune).
  • Rainbow Speak: Closed captions (in the VHS-version anyway) had Elliot's dialogue, or at least mentions of his grunts, in green-colored font.
  • Re-Cut: The original 128-minute version was cut several times, doing stuff like changing "Candle In the Water" into a music-only version, removing "The Happiest Home in These Hills" (and trimming down "We Got a Bill of Sale") and taking out some other scenes.
  • 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!
  • Rule of Three: The mayor's cigar breaks in two as he suffers slapstick gags three times during the film.
  • Running Gag:
    • The mayor's cigar snapping in two.
    • Dr. Terminus' inability to correctly pronounce "Passamaquoddy".
  • Shut Up, Hannibal!: Nora does this repeatedly during the Gogans' 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 as he's blown into the sky by his own cannon due to his foot being entangled in the harpoon being fired out of it.
  • Tempting Fate
    Mayor: Gentlemen, I propose to say... Passamaquoddy's a beautiful community... where the sun always rises and the sun always sets. It's a place of serenity and security, where the unexpected never happens. [Elliot kicks the eggman for kicking Pete, causing him to stumble towards the mayor] It seems to say, "Welcome!" [splattered with eggs] You- you absolute oaf. You- you idiot! [throws the egg baskets away]
  • 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: Dr. Terminus wants to butcher Elliot in order to sell his body parts for a fortune.
  • Title Drop:
    Terminus: What's going on?
    Kid: Pete's dragon wrecked the school!
  • The Unintelligible: Elliot, who communicates with grunts, clicks and scatting, leaving Pete to translate for him when needed.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Visible Invisibility: Elliot, by way of him leaving footprints, dragon-shaped holes in walls, etc.
  • Would Hurt a Child: The Gogans, who sing about torturing and killing Pete in the beginning of the movie. They're probably not serious about the killing part at least, since they want him to work their farm.
  • You Have to Believe Me!: For someone who wants to keep a low profile in town, Pete is awfully quick to throw his pal under the bus whenever Elliot mistakenly causes a ruckus, even though publicly blaming an invisible dragon is hardly an ideal way to avoid drawing attention to yourself.