Saturday Matinee #96, Special Song Showcase: Three Essential Songs in Pete's Dragon (November 3, 1977)
Published November 3, 2012
by Albert Gutierrez
Today marks the 35th anniversary of Pete's Dragon, Disney's hybrid musical that placed a lovable cartoon dragon named Elliott in our live-action world. To celebrate this special occasion, this week's Saturday Matinee will take a look at three essential - and sometimes overlooked - songs from the film. "Why three?" you may ask. There are ten original songs (reprises excluded) in the film, with four that I've felt could easily be shortened or removed to make for a more streamlined and better-paced story. For the record, they are "The Happiest Home in These Hills," "I Saw a Dragon," "Passamaquoddy," and "There's Room for Everyone." From the remaining six, "Candle on the Water" is vital to the picture, no matter what anyone thinks. I've already said my piece about it in a previous Saturday Matinee, which you can check out here. That leaves five songs, two of which are already hugely popular: "Boo Bop BopBop Bop (I Love You, Too)" and "Brazzle Dazzle Day."
Thus, I decided it would be best to take the remaining three songs - "It's Not Easy," "Every Little Piece," and "Bill of Sale" - and examine how they are essential to the film. For me, they're important parts of the story, and don't need to be shortened or cut like other songs. At the same time, these songs won't be the first one thinks of when asked to make a "Favorite Disney Songs" list. The 35th Anniversary of Pete's Dragon is as good a time as any to finally give these songs their due.
Essential Song #3: "It's Not Easy"
It's not easy to share somebody's dream
It gets easy when you work as a team
You got to tend it, fan it, that's what I plan to do
Oh, I had one friend by my side
Now I have two
The first act of Pete's Dragon features little action when compared to the finale. This is time for the audience to get to know Pete and Elliott, Nora and Lampie, the entire town of Passamaquoddy. Some of it seems slow-moving, but ultimately helps set up the real action later in the film. One such slow piece is "It's Not Easy," which is merely Pete and Nora singing about Elliott. She decides it best to indulge in his imagination, and pretends he's real. But the song ends up becoming more than just a chance for Pete to talk about Elliott. He and Nora are bonding within this song. For once, someone is willing to listen to him about Elliott. Granted, Nora is just humoring him, but she's allowing him to speak. The power of the voice is more than just speech, it's having somebody listen to you.
By the song's end, we're not just listening to a song about Elliott, but of friendship overall. Pete and Nora's friendship is firmly established through this song. They both sing about willing to make things work between them. As Nora says, "It's clear that friends can be different, yes, I understand you now." Friendships come in all shapes and sizes, whether it be an invisible dragon or a matronly woman listening to your dreams. Pete and Nora take this opportunity to acknowledge that such friendships aren't always normal, but when found, life does become easier.
Essential Song #2: "Every Little Piece"
Every little piece, every little piece
I can take a scissor and clip him up, rip him up
Every little part is a work of art
Think of what a dragon heart would bring
Wrapped up in a ribbon and a string
"Every Little Piece" is a terrifying song. Doc Terminus, the film's comical villain, never seems threatening. He's a con man, a shyster, a fraud. This song changes all that, turning him into a potential murderer. "Every Little Piece" explains specifically how a dead Elliott (gasp!) can be exploited for profit. The upbeat melody for the song betrays the downright disturbing nature of the lyrics, which is surely the song's intent. I always hated this song when I was younger, for the exact same reasons. Villains were bad, naturally, but it seemed a bit much to have them gleefully sing about what they would do after killing such a beloved character. Imagine if Cruella de Vil had a similar song for how she'd turn ninety-nine puppies into a fur coat. That can scar a child for life.
From a lyrical point of view, they do get creative with how to use dragon parts. I'm not condoning it at all, even if dragons are fictitious. Still, one of the more interesting lyrics in the song is "Dragon liver can cure a cold." It immediately reminds me of the poisoned dragon's liver that Eglantine Price received (prepared and part of the school equipment) in 1971's Bedknobs and Broomsticks. Although I doubt there's any canonical ties between Bedknobs and Pete's Dragon, it's intriguing that Bedknobs needs it poisoned (be it the whole dragon, or just the liver) while Pete's Dragon gives it a better medicinal use. We never really know what Eglantine does with her poisoned dragon's liver, the four lines devoted to it are pretty throwaway to the rest of the film. Fortunately, Doc Terminus is never given a chance to test whether potential dragon's liver needs to be poisoned or not.
Essential Song #1: "Bill of Sale"
We got a bill of sale right here
He's ours until he dies
Stay where you are, just one more move
And you'll get it between the eyes!
This song occurs quite late within the film. It's actually the last original song before the reprises begin in the final act. As a result, most viewers often feel a musical fatigue by this point in the film, with the expected "Oh no, another song!" mentality. However, I've often felt this song was more essential to developing the Gogan family than their first (and only other) song, "The Happiest Home in These Hills." That song is usually the first casualty to the film whenever it was edited for time, which shows how expendable it was. "Bill of Sale," on the other hand, is directly confrontational with Nora. They proudly proclaim their propriety to her, while also being shameless in how they refer to Pete.
Nora's counter lyrics in "Bill of Sale" also shows just how far she's willing to go to protect Pete, regardless of any "legal" claim the Gogans would have. Throughout much of the film, she's already shown the steps she'd go through for Pete, several of which were in song ("It's Not Easy," "There's Room for Everyone," and the celebratory "Brazzle Dazzle Day"). "Bill of Sale" is the cherry-on-top final stage her protection. She's publicly affirming to the Gogans and the rest of Passamaquoddy that she's fully embraced Pete as her family.
Pete's Dragon was released on DVD in 2001 and 2009. Last month, the film was re-released on home media once more in a "35th Anniversary Edition" Blu-Ray and DVD combo set. You can check out my review of Pete's Dragon: 35th Anniversary Edition Blu-Ray+DVD here.