Released pretty much smack dab in the middle of Disney’s lost years, 1977’s Pete’s Dragon generally isn’t the first movie people tend to think of when they talk about the studio’s classics, and for good reason — though it was noteworthy at the time of its release as one of the few live-action/animation hybrids to grace the silver screen (1964’s Mary Poppins and 1971’s Bedknobs and Broomsticks used similar technology, but not as extensively or seamlessly), it was also the latest example of the distance Disney had drifted from its roots. Still, 1977 represented something of a miniature renaissance for the studio, at least in the context of the relatively barren ’70s; if you count The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh, a Frankenstein-style stitching of short features, three of the five features Disney released that year contained animation. Things had been worse (Superdad) and would get worse again (Condorman), and probably as a result, Pete’s Dragon has become a source of rather fond memories for the generation that grew up with it.
Even so, the idea of a deluxe Pete’s Dragon reissue probably seems a little silly to most — and again for good reason: Aside from a handful of catchy songs and the novelty of watching a dragon (animated by future Disney exile Don Bluth) interact with a little boy, there isn’t a whole lot going on here; the movie is loaded with B-listers like Red Buttons, Mickey Rooney, and Helen Reddy, and it generally falls into the “charming but anachronistically hokey” category Disney aimed for until the ’80s. (However corny it may seem to adults, it bears mentioning that kids still lap it up with a spoon; my three-and-a-half-year-old daughter was instantly mesmerized.) More problematically, at least as far as the parents who have to pay for this stuff will be concerned, is the fact that Disney released a “Classic Gold Edition” less than 10 years ago, and the “High-Flying Edition” is just another example of the studio trying to sell slightly different versions of the same thing to the same audience. On the other hand, this new version does add a bunch of extra content — including a behind-the-scenes featurette and multiple glimpses of sequences and songs as they looked and sounded during the making of the film — and it’s hard to imagine that many people are so devoted to the legend of Pete’s Dragon that they’ll rush out to replace their old copy.
With the true Disney classics making their way to Blu-ray via stunning, lavishly curated expanded editions, it’s perhaps only fitting that the studio’s second-tier product is being given slightly less dazzling coats of new paint. When Blu-ray starts teetering on its last legs, we can look forward to yet another expanded edition of Pete’s Dragon; ’til then, this is the one to own.