Saturday, July 11, 2015

Pete's Dragon (1977)

Do you remember when Disney did kaiju? No? Are you sure about that? See, I know they might not be considered that in the sense some people look at it. But neither are Sharktopus, the Kraken, or Gwangi. I don't know about you, but I refuse to live a life where I am such a stickler for things that I toss Stay-Puft out the kaiju club just because he's different. As I've said before, while kaiju generally refers to giant monsters, there is a certain level of flexibility to that scale as well. What constitutes giant? How about monster? Alright, so since Firebreather's dad, Belloc, is clearly stated as a kaiju and also a dragon, I hereby declare that dragons are kaiju.

That's right, I consider this thing a kaiju. Fight me over it.

Yes, that's right, I went there. I went to that place where I found a loophole to talk about a Disney musical from the 70s. And I will defend that to the death, because I believe all monsters deserve their moment in the sun. Disney isn't really a stranger to giving us us large monsters on the big screen either, from their own version of the Kraken in Pirates of the Caribbean, to the classic Maleficent dragon, and even the goofy giant from Fun and Fancy Free, they have have certainly gotten their giant monster on. And some of them were indeed quite scary.

Are you gonna sit there and tell me this moment didn't make you piss a little as a kid? Because shame on you for lying.
Disney has always been a company that toed that line between magical whimsy and "let's scare the fuck out of these kids" and I love that. But for every terrifying giant thing out to smite us all, there is another one that's so non-threatening that it's difficult to call it a monster. Case in point, look no further than that abomination Godzilla calls a son, Minilla. Yeah, I see you over there ready to shit all over my opinion that Disney does kaiju too and here I am showing you that their giant monsters are mostly more threatening than an officially created Toho one. That's me pointing out what hypocrites we giant monster fans can be sometimes. But it is that way with all fandoms, we get up in arms when someone says something that doesn't fit into our perspective of things regarding said fandom. It's a subject I've talked about before. So, yeah, this movie counts, end of discussion.

"What the man is trying to say is that if you don't like, you can get bent."
Getting into the movie itself, this is the story of a boy and his best friend. That best friend happens to be a dragon that can turn invisible. That right there is a really cool concept, I don't care what anyone says. What kids wouldn't want an invisible dragon having their back? Hell, I'm an adult and I want that. Who cares if he's not as scary as Smaug, he's fucking invisible! Smaug can't sneak attack you enemies, he's too busy bathing in gold while making Bandersnitch Cucumberpatch make the greatest faces.

" I am fire! I am... death! Watson, listen to me! Quit walking away!"
Anyway, Pete here is an orphan and he's trying to dodge his shitty adoptive family, the Gogans, as that not only suffer from the hideous disease known as GIN-GI-VI-TUS but also a pretty mean case of being abusive dickhead hillbillies. Walt Disney was tackling abuse in musicals while other people were trying to pretend that shit didn't exist. Pete avoids them with the help of Elliot, his previously mentioned invisible dragon BFF, and they both end up in town called Passamaquoddy. I'm not making that up, it's what they call the place and it is about as hard to pronounce as it looks.

It's also the name of a Native American tribe too. I wonder if Mickey Rooney is an honourary member?
Elliot also happens to have a bit of a mischievous streak, albeit not quite at Loki levels, and this coupled with his invisibility makes people think Pete's bad luck as these antics follow the kid around. But Lampie, the local lighthouse keeper, just so happens to see Elliot and, after filling his pants, then drunkenly sings a song about seeing a dragon. Much like Belle's father in Beauty and the Beast, he's not taken very seriously. Pete berates his large scaley friend for causing trouble and the two make up just in time for Lampie's daughter, Nora, to show up and inject some much needed vagina in this movie.

I'm not entirely sure the adoptive mother has a vagina. I think she just hocked up her boys one day.
Nora and Pete share a song, so of course they're friends now, and this leads to him moving into the lighthouse where I like to imagine Lampie and Elliot share a bunk. Nora also informs him about her lost love, Paul, whose ship was lost as sea, which I'm totally certain won't pay-off later in the film at all. Nora, naturally, assumes Elliot if merely an imaginary friend and doesn't really think much of Pete talking about him. When will adults learn how dangerous invisible apple-eating influences can truly be?

Apples, man. They attract all the wrong sorts of people and things.
Before long, the movie decides we need a proper villain, as abusive hillbilly schtick just isn't going to cut it. Thus we're introduced to Dr. Terminus, who is what people would classically call a snake oil salesman and/or con man. He and his lackey, Hoagy, show up hoping to fleece the town of Passamaquoddy. If that isn't enough, the local fishermen also think Pete's "bad luck" is to blame for the lack of fish in the bay. Nora does the logical thing by reminding them that fish shortages do happen, what with shifting populations of the finned buggers and all, followed by her making a case for Pete being welcomed by the town. But, as people tend to be horrible twats, on his first day of school Pete ends up being on the receiving end of unjust punishment courtesy of the teacher. Elliot does the mature thing and smashes the schoolhouse.

They better be glad he's not a lot bigger, otherwise class would be cancelled for quite a while.
Of course, our villainous con man is now obsessed with Elliot and wants to catch him. Why? Because he's the villain! To this end, he teams up with the Gogans to nab both the dragon and the kid, making all the shitty people happy and taking away Mickey Rooney's new bunk buddy. Those damn Gogans, always causing trouble with their smelly selves and generally gruff demeanor.

Not to be confused with Krogans, who I'm sure smell much better.
After convincing the people to go along with all this too, we get Pete attempting to tell Nora that Elliot found Paul (her lost love) but she disregards it simply as a flight of fancy, as she is still under the impression the invisible dragon that tore ass through the school is just imaginary. Paul, meanwhile, actually is alive and is on his way to Passamaquoddy with scurvy and more STDs than you can shake a barrel of fish at. What? I can't inject realism into a Disney musical? Fine, fine. Dr. T puts his plan into action, luring Elliot to a boathouse where a captive Pete is and a large net is dropped on our large hero. It's funny that at one point nets were the go to thing to capture people for bad-guys. But, because he's a fucking dragon, he gets loose rather easily and frees Pete before proceeding to save a bunch of townsfolk from being crushed by a pole, highlighting how shitty they were to go along with the whole "kidnapping a kid" thing. Now that the people see he's real and that he's saved their asses, of course they love him and the credits should roll, right?

He even chased off the Gogans, thus making the town smell a hell of a lot better.
But no, we still have the Paul sub-plot! Yes, it seems there's a terrible storm and the lighthouse has been extinguished, which is rather bad because a ship can easily run into rocks leading to the sailors aboard the ship becoming vengeful spirits who roll in on fog to murder people. John Carpenter and Tom Atkins know what I'm talking about here. Thus it once more falls to our scaley green hero to save the day as he relights the lighthouse light with his own fire, something that isn't at all easy for him to manage. Nora sees he's real, Paul lives, they're reunited, everyone loves Elliot, and Pete gets adopted by a family (Nora and Paul, naturally). Pete tells his buddy that he should go out and find another kid who needs his help and he flies off to go do Drop Dead Fred's job by helping another abused kid.

Him and Mary Poppins high-fived later off-screen.
As a kid's film, it holds up remarkably well and has a story that seems silly on the surface, but when you really look at it is rather serious. It's literally the story of an abused child running away from his abusers, being homeless and ostracized for his perceived differences, and getting kidnapped by a creepy old dude who wants to steal away the only joy he has. At its core, this movie is a story about child abuse as covered by Walt Disney and I really admire that they did that back when they did. It's always a touchy subject and hiding beneath a children's musical works well. As for the songs themselves, they're quite entertaining and well done, as were most of the musicals produced by Disney at the time. It's easy to get any of these songs stuck in your head.

Making it the only film where you can say a song sang by abusive hillbillies was really catchy.
The process used to create Elliot was also quite fascinated, as they often constructed rigging to stand-in for the large titular hero to properly position things, much like the scene where Pete sits on him as they eat. I don't often hear people talk about this Disney film, which I suppose is because it wasn't fully animated or maybe because Nora simply wasn't as attractive as Mary Poppins. Who knows? All I know is that I hope my review makes you want to go give it a watch. If you've got kids it is a great movie to watch with them and you might find yourself learning some valuable lessons together as a family. So, until the Krogans show up to wipe out the Gogan menace once and for all, I'll be here lining up another unexpected monster movie for tomorrow. Later days, bleeders!

As for these two, well, I like to imagine Elliot ate them. That's just me though.

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