Bringing up a badass baby: Pete’s Dragon

5 Aug

I just tried to watch Annie Hall with Simone. She didn’t laugh once. Ten minutes in, she dug Pete’s Dragon, one of her favorite movies, out of the library and thrust it in my face.

My younger sister, Suzanne, hates Pete’s Dragon. She loathes it. She despises it. She casts aspersions on its character. She hates it while my older sister Ann and I both like it.

There’s a story here.

But first, the movie.

Pete’s Dragon follows a young orphan runaway whose only friend in the world is a cartoon dragon. The mix of live-action with animation is dated, but it has some interesting things. An aged Mickey Rooney hams it up through a couple of songs, which makes you yearn for the days of Andy Hardy. (I’ve never, ever, ever understood how he was once married to Ava Gardner.) Shelly Winters really lets herself go as a vile bumpkin villainess who lords it over a stable of inbred rednecks. The scenes last too long, the songs are just okay, and most of the acting appears to be filmed on the first take.


You wouldn't believe it kid, but my name used to be in lights.

Basically, it ain’t cool by a longshot. But it’s also fascinating. It has all of these old Hollywood actors, including character actor Charles Tyner, out to pasture. Red Buttons has a few lines. Helen Reddy wears some awesome high-waisted pants.

Musicals were the only movie genre my parents could agree on, so we watched them a lot growing up. They were (on the surface anyway) wholesome, we could sing along with the songs while my parents could also enjoy the stories. I’ve seen a lot.

There are cool musicals that are also good (Singin’ In the Rain; The Bandwagon; Nashville to name a few) and good musicals that are kind of square (Fiddler on the Roof; Top Hat; Holiday Inn; 1776) and important musicals that are neither good nor cool (best example being On the Town, although Dreamgirls qualifies, too).

Pete’s Dragon doesn’t really fit in with any of the above categories. It’s too long; the dragon’s unintelligible speeches are frustrating; the hokey jokes are on the whole awful. You keep waiting for a burlesque number, or some f-bombs, to spice up the picture. You want there to be lurking subtext, some hint of the perverse, but there isn’t any. It’s just doggone wholesome.


Rooney's gone and drunk up all the moonshine again.

Simone likes Pete’s Dragon and despite its lame components I’m glad. The movie is about friendship, finding your way in the world, and how you have to rely on other people to survive. I can only watch it with the eyes of my former self; when Pete is almost killed with a harpoon, it just tears me up.

Anyway, back to Suzanne. She hates Pete’s Dragon and I think I know why. She came along when the rest of us were a little older; Ann went to college when Suzanne was 7. She missed the endless carousel of musicals. She cut her teeth on The Little Mermaid, instead. Pete’s Dragon is a type of movie they stopped making somewhere in the late 1980s (Newsies being a notable exception). It’s pleasures are innocent, and innocence has run its course.

We didn’t watch Pete’s Dragon today. Instead we took Simone to run through the ice cold spray fountain at Welles Park. She found a pink bucket and could never quite figure out how to fill the pail with water without getting drenched.


2 Responses to “Bringing up a badass baby: Pete’s Dragon”

  1. FCM August 5, 2011 at 2:17 pm #

    I’ve never seen the movie, but youngest children toil under a tremenous burden of expectation which affords them great insight. So sight unseen I agree with Suzanne.

    • Suzanne August 6, 2011 at 9:31 pm #

      At one point in my life I think I was enthralled with Pete’s dragon, but then I think it was over-watched. Or perhaps it was the juxtaposition of a cartoon dragon and real world cheesiness. Wholesome yes, but in a overalls filled with unreality sort of way. Even so, I was too young back then to see it as cheesy. The harpoon scared me too but oddly enough so did the tar and feathering. But I must say that as I was reading your description, some disgust started to welt up again in my throat. Even with all of the above, I’m not quite sure why I loath the movie so much, but I am happy that I made it into your blog. 🙂

      Oh and don’t think for one minute that Mom and Dad spared me from any musicals when you guys left for college. I grew up singing tunes from South Pacific in the shower.

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