In New England in the early 20th century, Pete is a nine-year-old orphan escaping from his brutal adoptive parents, the Gogans, with his only friend, a cartoon dragon named Elliott. Pete and Elliott successfully escape to Passamaquoddy, Maine, and live with Nora, a lighthouse keeper, and her father, Lampie. Elliott is sought for medicinal purposes by the corrupt Doctor Terminus.


The movie begins with Pete, played by Sean Marshall, running from his adoptive family, the Gogans, with their matriarch played by Shelley Winters. Elliot (Pete’s invisible dragon) helps him escape, and the duo moves along to the Maine fishing town of Passamaquoddy. As Elliot can be invisible whenever he so chooses, and as he usually reveals himself only to Pete, the two inadvertently cause a bit of a ruckus. One man, Lampey, does see Elliot once. Lampey, portrayed by Mickey Rooney, is the keeper of the lighthouse, and has been known to have a drink or four now and then. Thus, no one believes he saw a dragon.

As Pete begins to fit in with the town, with Lampey and his daughter Nora (Helen Reddy) taking him into their home, and Elliot living in a cave on the seashore, things keep happening to interfere. Some of the problems occur because of Lampey’s drinking, some because of Elliot’s habit of occasionally revealing himself to others, and some because of Dr. Terminus (Jim Dale), a traveling snake-oil salesman and charlatan, who wants to obtain Elliot, chop him up, and get rich off the resulting medicines he can concoct. Oh, and the Gogans show up, too, to claim Pete.

By the way, did I mention that this movie is a musical? I had not seen the movie before now, and I was not expecting that. Most of the songs are silly, cheerful, happy songs that children will enjoy. Then, seemingly out of nowhere, Nora, whose love is missing at sea, climbs up the lighthouse and sings to the sea a beautiful, somewhat haunting song, (I’ll Be Your) Candle on the Water. This song was nominated for an Academy Award, but lost out to You Light Up My Life. Personally, I prefer Candle on the Water. It’s appearance in the movie startled me. I had heard it before, and always liked it, but never knew from whence it came. For me, when this song occurs in the movie, it has a moment of magic, akin to the song Hallelujah in Shrek.

Sean Marshall has to carry a lot of screen-time in this movie and, while I cannot say he was great, he certainly did okay. Mickey Rooney is hyper and silly and likeable as Lampey. Helen Reddy is fine as Nora. Shelley Winters is good, albeit almost unrecognizable as the grimy, grubby Lena Gogan. Jim Dale does Dr. Terminus perfectly, as the epitome of sleazy hucksterism. Red Button is his sidekick, who is prone to drink a bit.

The DVD is a loaded disc for what Disney has passed off as one of its lesser films. There’s a ton of special features that include alternate takes of the popular songs and storyboards. There’s also pop recordings of most of the music. Plus, you get to see original promotional material for the film taken from ABC and other Disney Archives. If that wasn’t enough, you also get to see the original Pete as he guides back through the live-action heyday of Disney. If you’re a fan of the film, then this is a must-buy.

RELEASE DATE: 08/18/09

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