Today I put on my Disney hat because a trio of classics is being released this month on Blu-ray: “Cinderella,” “The Great Mouse Detective” and “Pete’s Dragon.”
“Pete’s Dragon” is out this week, so I’ll start there.
Like “The Great Mouse Detective,” “Pete’s Dragon” is highly underrated. I hadn’t seen it in years, so I had to be careful not to let nostalgia cloud my judgment too much. It does drag in a couple places, but overall, I was highly pleased by just how much I still enjoyed watching it.
It’s the story of Pete (Sean Marshall) and his dragon, Elliott. With Elliott’s help, Pete has run away from an abusive adoptive family and finds him self in the coastal village of Passamaquoddy. Elliott tries to remain invisible but still manages to stir up trouble in town.
Kindly lighthouse keeper Nora (then-pop sensation Helen Reddy) and her father, Lampie (Mickey Rooney), take him in and become a new family.
Meanwhile, Doc Terminus (Jim Dale) a traveling quack, and his assistant, Hoagy (Red Buttons), get wind of Elliott and want to “slice him up, dice him up” for medicinal purposes. Yikes!
Disney did a nice job with the digital restoration. It doesn’t have the graininess of a lot of older movies converted for Blu-ray. The sound is a bit muddy in places, but it’s not too bad.
That all lets the movie itself shine, long before the days of computers making the mix of live action and animation much easier. Sometimes, old-school can have its own charm, and “Pete’s Dragon” has it in spades.
I’d forgotten just how much music is in the movie. (A couple dance breaks could easily have been trimmed.) It would be easy to turn this into a stage musical without much mucking around. Besides the Oscar-nominated “Candle on the Water” (I love that song), there are lots of great numbers: “Brazzle Dazzle Day,” “Boo Bop Bop Bop Bop (I Love You, Too)” and “Passamaquoddy,” among them.
Reddy is a great screen presence. It’s a pity she didn’t do more acting. I totally melted when she sand “Candle on the Water,” and she has great chemistry with Marshall and Rooney.
Dale steals the show as Doc Terminus, more than the quartet mean Gogan family members who turn up to take Pete back. He’s got such a wonderful voice, it’s great that he’s still using it with the likes of the “Harry Potter” audio books and the late, lamented “Pushing Daisies.”
A note if you own the “High-Flying Edition” released on DVD a few years ago: The Blu-ray doesn’t have any new extras, and actually has fewer than that release. If you’re happy with that version, it’s probably not worth upgrading. But if you’ve never seen the movie before, be sure to pick it up.
“The Great Mouse Detective” came out in 1986 and is often forgotten in talks of Disney’s renaissance. Most point to “Little Mermaid,” but I go back a couple to this one.
As much as I loved “Little Mermaid,” it was sloppily animated. “Great Mouse Detective” is much more artful, and I wish it would get a sequel ala “The Rescuers Down Under.”
It’s a new take on Sherlock Holmes with mice. Basil of Baker Street (Barrie Ingham) takes on the case of a little girl, Olivia (Susanne Pollatschek), whose father has been kidnapped. With the help of Dr. Dawson (Val Bettin), the case is traced to Basil’s arch nemesis, Ratigan (the divine Vincent Price), who wants to overthrow the monarchy.
With memorable characters such as these, I’m surprised “Great Mouse Detective” doesn’t get more attention. It’s just delightful. It has a few songs of its own, and Price really gets to chew the scenery in “The World’s Greatest Criminal Mind.” Melissa Manchester even has a fun number, “Let Me Be Good to You” (a bit sexier than you might expect).
It’s also notable for its use of computer animation, one of Disney’s early experiments. It adds dimension to the workings of Big Ben, for instance, though it can be a bit obvious.
With lots of adventure, humor and heart (and Disney’s cutest dog, the basset hound Toby, who belongs to Sherlock Holmes), “The Great Mouse Detective” is one for the ages.
And, finally, “Cinderella.”
Poor Cinderella might still be regarded as a more passive fairytale heroine, but whatever you think about the Disney Princess thing, you can’t deny the movie is still lovely to watch.
And of all the princesses, she’s probably the biggest in the lexicon — even without Disney’s help. How often do you here about someone living out an Ariel story or Sleeping Beauty story? Never. But there will always be the Cinderella story, the rags to riches fantasy most people share at some level.
So it’s nice that Disney did such a lovely job of putting it on screen — with unforgettable characters (you won’t get the vision of the wicked stepmother out of your head too soon), tuneful melodies (“Bibbidi-Bobbidi-Boo!”) and a firm tradition for animal sidekicks (love the mice!), first started with Jiminy Cricket.
Call me old-fashioned, but I think parents can still enjoy “Cinderella” with their kids. Just toss in “Brave” or something to show that girls can do anything.