Hopes were high for Disney’s third animated/live-action musical fantasy and the wide variety of recordings released were a big part of the pre-release excitement.
Walt Disney Productions’
Songs and Dialogue from the Original Motion Picture
Disneyland Records Storyteller Series 3815 (12” 33 1/3 RPM / Mono With Book)
Also Released as 7” 33 1/3 RPM Read-Along Book & Record #369 with Studio Cast
Released in 1977. Producer: Jymn Magon. Music Supervisor/Arranger/Conductor: Irwin Kostal. Writer: Malcolm Marmorstein, Based on a Story by Seton A. Miller, S.S. Field. Running Time: 29 minutes.
Performers: Bob Holt (Narrator); Helen Reddy (Nora); Mickey Rooney (Lampie); Jim Dale (Dr. Terminus); Shelley Winters (Ma Gogan); Red Buttons (Hoagy); Sean Marshall (Pete); Charlie Callas (Elliot); Jane Kean (Miss Taylor).
Songs: “I Saw a Dragon,” “It’s Not Easy,” “Passamashloddy,” “Every Little Piece,” “Candle on the Water” by Al Kasha, Joel Hirschorn.
Distributing merchandise in stores before a film premiere was a frequent practice throughout the Walt Disney Studios history. One could purchase books, toys and music from an upcoming major motion picture and create anticipation before the film was in theaters. In 1940, CBS Radio’s Lux Radio Theater actually presented a live broadcast of the story and songs of Pinocchio a few days before the film’s premiere date.
Even today, it’s not unusual to find books, recordings and such that allow the public to become familiar with the stories—and the endings—before they see the movie (a notable exception was Dick Tracy, the audio book of which simply left out the “surprise” ending). The books and read-along of recent Disney and Pixar films like Moana and Finding Dory hit store shelves in advance.
This was true of Pete’s Dragon. The records made it possible to know all the songs and the story by heart long before seeing the movie (as your humble author did). The difference between this film and its two predecessors, Mary Poppins and Bedknobs and Broomsticks, was that the listener could hear some of the soundtrack dialogue early as well.
The Pete’s Dragon Storyteller LP and book package was produced during the “second golden age” of Disneyland Records, with producer Jymn Magon at the creative helm. As he had done with The Rescuers storyteller, Magon included background music and sound effects as well as dialogue on the Pete’s Dragon story album. The book was formatted as a script so listeners could follow along—another prevalent feature of this era.
Unfortunately, several songs were omitted and the remaining ones were either edited or faded out after a verse or two. However, quite a bit of delightful dialogue was included. One scene that always sparked speculation was the one between Helen Reddy and Jane Kean, whose three-time repetition of words makes one wonder if the wonderful Billy DeWolfe (“Busy, busy, busy!”) was intended to play the schoolteacher but passed away before filming.
GIVE A LITTLE LISTEN
“Pete’s Dragon” Storyteller
Note that Bob Holt (who also narrated The Rescuers Storyteller LP) uses a Maine fisherman’s dialect. Fun fact: screenwriter Malcolm Marmorstein (who received a story credit in the 2016 remake) was a writer on the classic horror/fantasy serial Dark Shadows, which also took place in Maine.
Walt Disney Productions’
Original Motion Picture Soundtrack
Capitol Records SW-11704 (12” 33 1/3 RPM / Stereo)
Released in 1977. Producer/Music Supervisor/Arranger/Conductor: Irwin Kostal. Running Time: 39 minutes.
Performers: Helen Reddy, Mickey Rooney, Jim Dale, Shelley Winters, Red Buttons, Sean Marshall, Charlie Callas, Jeff Conaway, Gary Morgan, Charles Tyner.
Songs: “I Saw a Dragon,” “It’s Not Easy,” “Every Little Piece,” “The Happiest Home in These Hills,” “Brazzle Dazzle Day,” “Bo Bop Bopbop Bop (I Love You, Too),” “There’s Room for Everyone,” “Passamashloddy,” “Bill of Sale,” “Candle on the Water” by Al Kasha, Joel Hirschorn. Instrumental: Overture.
Another break from Poppins and Bedknobs was the intention to give Pete’s Dragon a pop music boost by casting million-selling singer Helen Reddy in the lead and creating two versions of the signature song—a common component of many latter-day Disney features like Beauty and the Beast and The Lion King.
Songwriters Al Kasha and Joel Hirschorn enjoyed immense success with the pop version of the Oscar winning “The Morning After,” sung off-screen for Carol Lynley in The Poseidon Adventure by Renee Armand, and performed on the pop single by Maureen McGovern. Kasha, Hirschorn and McGovern repeated their success with the Oscar-winning “We May Never Love Like This Again” from The Towering Inferno. Both songs were very similar in tone and structure.
By the time “Candle on the Water’ came along in Pete’s Dragon, it may have been asking a little too much to make lightning strike three times. Though it was an Oscar nominee, along with “Someone’s Waiting for You” from The Rescuers, it did not walk off with the statuette. Both Disney songs were beautifully performed as a medley by Gloria Loring (best known as Liz Chandler on the daytime soap Days of Our Lives) on the Academy Awards telecast.
Nevertheless, both the Pete’s Dragon score and the song were nominated and “Candle on the Water” received frequent airplay, reaching #32 on the Adult Contemporary charts. Several cover versions were made and still pop up on various easy listening music services. “Candle” is a great song, deserving of more appearances in music collections and various Disney productions, as is much of the Pete’s Dragon score. Indeed, if “Candle” existed before “The Morning After” and “We May Never Love Like This Again,” it very likely would have been a much bigger hit.
Two versions of the song appear on this soundtrack album: the upbeat version with Reddy and chorus (also released as a single) and the slower soundtrack version heard as Reddy crooned from the lighthouse. Buena Vista Records issued a 7” 33 1/3 RPM record with demo versions of several songs from the score, including this one (these songs were part of the bonus features on a DVD release of the film several years ago).
The album was released on Capitol Records because of Reddy’s contract with the label, but when Walt Disney Records reissued the score on CD, the pop version was omitted. It was included on other CD collections, though, including Rhino’s Chicken Soup for the Soul series and this Reddy retrospective.
GIVE A LITTLE LISTEN
“Pete’s Dragon” Overture
Note that Irwin Kostal starts this arrangement exactly as he had done in the Mary Poppins overture—with a single, rising note on the strings, though it doesn’t hold as long as it did in Poppins. Also similar is the way that the “Brazzle Dazzle Day” melody fades out into the first scene of the film, while the album’s overture ends with a big finish. This was also done both way with “A Spoonful of Sugar” in the Mary Poppins overture. (Both versions can be heard on the recent Poppins Legacy Collection CD set.)