Cinema: Scaly Tale

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Directed by Don Chaffey

Screenplay by Malcolm Marmorstein

He's gorgeous, in a ghastly sort of way: the fine-featured, thoughtful face of a moose, though greener than your normal moose; little scrambly front legs and big thumping back legs; a great, green, swaying belly and a proper thrashing tail; all supported by demure pink wings set too far forward for really good aerodynamics, so that he flies with a waddle. He fulminates fire, of course, if he has remembered to change his flint, and, all in all, it's just as well that he is invisible most of the time. His name is Elliott.

Elliott has an active sense of humor, and thereby hangs a scaly tale, amiably told and only slightly overproduced by the Disney organization in time for the Christmas trade. There is an orphan boy, of course, played by a cute, smudge-cheeked red-haired kid named Sean Marshall. An urchin of this description appears in every Disney movie, and the viewer is half convinced that Disney grows them on its own Devils Island, using the cute ones for films and chaining the ugly ones to drafting tables to paint animated green dragons, frame by agonizing frame.

Anyway, Orphan Pete is so appealing that you want to strangle him, and several loathsome backwoodsmen and one awful backwoodslady (Shelley Winters) are trying to do just that as the action begins. They are the Gogans—really superior villains, who sing an enchanting song about wanting to tie Pete screaming to a railroad track. They have bought the lad for $50, to provide boypower for their farm. He has escaped, and they are about to catch him, when—WHAPP!—loyal Elliott swings his invisible green tail and lofts them gracefully into a mudhole

Off Pete and his useful friend go to the next town, which is Passamaquoddy Me. Strange things happen there. Lam-pie, the hard-drinking lighthouse keeper (played rumbustiously by Mickey Rooney), tells everyone that he has seen a dragon. The pompous mayor (Jim Backus) is dumped on his dignity by something huge, clammy and invisible. A large unseen, clawed foot steps accidentally-on-purpose on the petticoat of a prissy and disapproving schoolmarm (the time seems to be the 1890s, when there were long petticoats, lighthouse keepers and plenty of nasty villains, but since there is no mention of the Pullman strike or the free silver issue, it is hard to be sure).

Elliott's clowning around gets Pete into a lot of trouble, and what's more the Passamaquoddy fishermen say the dragon scares away the cod. When a snake-oil pitchman named Dr. Terminus (Jim Dale) and his sidekick (Red Buttons, in good form) want to grind Elliott into powder and make patent medicine of him, most of the townspeople think it s a good idea.

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