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Why The Original "Pete's Dragon" Is The Most Disturbing Disney Musical Ever

Never before has singing about slavery and abuse been so upbeat.

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They really want Pete back, and so they sing about it, including how much they miss him.

Disney

I'm not sure if Ma Gogan (Shelley Winters) exactly "misses" Pete the way one might expect.

In the very first song of the movie — before we ever see Elliott, in fact — the Gogans cheerily sing about what they are going to do to Pete when they find him.

Disney

His adoptive brothers (Gary Morgan and Jeff Conaway — yes, that Jeff Conaway) are particularly…creative.

But really, singing about abusing Pete is a Gogan family tradition.

To repeat, this is the first song in the movie. And after Elliott (still invisible) knocks the Gogans into a mud pit, we fully understand why the Gogans are so hellbent on finding their adopted son.

Catch that? Pete is their slave. Who they paid for, including legal fees.

Disney

I repeat: This is a Disney musical about a young boy who is the runaway slave of a terrifying family that embodies the worst hillbilly stereotypes.

Just in case Pete's status as a slave was unclear, Pete himself underlines his predicament to Nora (Helen Reddy), the kind custodian of a Maine lighthouse who takes Pete in.

The only adults in town who take Pete seriously, in fact, are Dr. Terminus (Jim Dale) and his assistant Hoagy (Red Buttons), charlatans peddling bogus cures for a multitude of ailments and injuries.

First, they try to buy Elliott from Pete — and they try to sweeten the deal with maybe the ickiest line ever spoken in a Disney musical.

Again, really, really happy this part wasn't in song.

And then the Gogans break into a song called "Bill of Sale" — as in, the receipt for their purchase of Pete. As in, the evidence that they own a slave.

Did I mention this movie is supposed to take place in the early 1900s? As in, 40 years after the end of slavery?

Here's what "You'll abuse him" sounds like when it's sung. So cheerful!

View this video on YouTube

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Also, no one in this town seems to notice or care that a hillbilly family is singing about owning a little boy.

(To be fair, there are also toe-tapping songs in this movie that aren't about slavery or abuse, like "There's Room for Everyone" and "Brazzle Dazzle Day.")

Eventually, Dr. Terminus strikes a deal with the Gogans to use Pete as bait to trap Elliott, and they all succeed in tricking Pete into their clutches.

At this point, Pete's wildly questionable status as a slave is finally resolved, and the rest of the film unfolds with Elliott saving the day several times over before leaving Pete to go save another troubled (possibly enslaved) kid.

Before all that happens, however, Elliott reserves one final, pointed humiliation for the Gogans. He scares Ma Gogan into falling into a vat of tar, which subsequently coats the rest of her family as they try to get her out of it.

Naturally, Pete and Elliott find the inherent cultural irony of his former slavers covered in black tar to be hysterical, because they are hip to winking meta-cultural symbolism embedded within Disney movie musicals.

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