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  • Writer's pictureShannon Heibler

Pete's Dragon (1977)

I remembered virtually none of this movie. I have a deep fondness in my heart for some of the music - basically all the songs Helen Reddy sings, any way - but that's about it. Going into this viewing, I couldn't be certain I'd ever seen it all the way through before. So this was an adventure!


We watched this on Disney+ and had a good chuckle over the warning about "tobacco usage" when... the town of Passamaquoddy does *a lot* of day drinking. To say nothing of several casual molestations of perfect sunflower, Nora, and a heck of a lot of violence.


When I think of this movie, I think of Nora, chiefly. One of those cultural role models that, while not at the forefront of my memory, I know she's in there. Lovely, smart, strong, sassafrass brunette with curls? Of course I love her. And the fact that she is a dead ringer for a dear friend of mine now? Love her even more. (Universe, please, a nicely edited stage version of Pete's Dragon for Brian Cowing to direct with Clare Haden playing Nora. Please.)


Supposedly, I'm related to Mickey Rooney? A cousin several times removed or something. He's such a dynamite performer but oof I wish fewer of his roles were problematic in hindsight. He drinks a lot in this movie. A lot a lot. And he's one of the heroes! In a movie absolutely lousy with villains! Regardless, he brings a lot of heart to Lampie and his scenes with Red Buttons are master classes in face pulling and physical comedy.


Red Buttons and Jim Dale are scene stealers as the baddies. Just full bodied brilliance in every beat. Their second song together, "Ev'ry Little Piece" offers very little in the way of dance/movement and the lyrics are downright upsetting but it's hard to look away from them. Terrific expressions. It's a treat to despise them.


On the other hand, the Gogans. Oof. I get that they need to be there to explain why Pete needs Elliot but they're cringey and their scenes slow down the momentum of the whole thing. Every song could stand to be a verse shorter but theirs could stand to be ...not there. Just icky (and the hillbilly stereotype needs to be scrubbed from everything - so gross).


And then there was Elliott. Sweet, endearing Elliott. Designed by master animator, Don Bluth, Elliott is not just a technical marvel for the time, he's exactly what he needs to be. He's cute and cuddly and generally nonthreatening, but so odd that of course he gives people pause. I love that he communicates through little hums and odd noises. I love that his mouth puckers with his lack of teeth. He possesses the very Don Bluth animated quality of being grounded but other-worldly. I recognize what he is physically, but the spirit in the animation makes him so much more than a dragon. (Don Bluth's understanding of line movement astounds. I could go on forever.) Part of my deep love of Elliott comes from the fact that he reminds me of my sweet, tall, taciturn (in his own way) partner and it makes me want to hug him even more. I'm also a sucker for beautifully executed, but ultimately rudimentary special effects. Elliott walking through the cement, getting caught under tarps, and going through a wall!

Gosh darn it I love a cartoon effect in the real world. Roger Rabbit, I'm looking at you too.


Felt, beads, buttons, thread, fluff.


Takeaways:

-It wasn't quite the struggle that McGonagall's hat was but woof are my sewing makes significantly more frustrating than others - and I teach sewing! Oiy. Annoying.

-A shout out to my friend, Steve, who makes plushes for a living. (Check out his work at https://www.etsy.com/shop/plushzilla !) I recognize that clothing, which I make fairly regularly, is a three dimensional bit of sewing but plushes really warp my brain. Patterning this was not as hard as I reckoned it would be BUT ASSEMBLY. Goodness. I chose the absolute worst order in which to assemble this little darling so there is a lot more visible stitching than I'd intended.

-And I *did* intend to have some visible stitches. I wanted it to feel cartoonishly homemade (I thought a lot about perennial favorite tiger best friend, Hobbes, while I worked on this) but I don't think I made strong enough choices with that. In doing *necessary* visible stitches, they couldn't look as pronounced as *designed* visible stitches should. They were tiny, to keep the stuffing in, but still in bold fabric so it looked like a mistake (which it was) instead of a design (which it also was). Learning.

-In thinking about Hobbes and Elliot, I thought a lot about imaginary friends. They fill such a necessary position in our lives: someone who protects us emotionally, someone who supports us and goes along on our adventures that we might otherwise have to go on alone. I use a weighted blanket to help with my anxiety (it's always on my lap during zoom meetings) but sometimes it's a little much. Especially in summer. I read about weighted stuffed animals a while ago as an alternative to weighted blankets. I filled him with the beads used for weighted blankets and as Ben said, he has a "comforting heft to him." So maybe he'll be my zoom buddy this summer.


Bonus content:

I bought an iPad and Apple pencil and this is my trial run with a new (to me) app: Adobe Fresco. I loved this moment in the movie and wanted to capture it. But once I finished it, it felt achingly sad, which was not my intention. Funny how art does that.


Next week: Batman Begins! Have a lovely long weekend and maybe drop a line to your childhood dragon friend. I bet he misses you.

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