A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that this classic TV special features a magical dragon who helps children in need, based on the popular folk song by Peter, Paul and Mary. The story (there are two lesser known stories on the DVD set) features a boy who these days would be called special-needs -- he never speaks. But with Puff's guidance, he learns how to face his fears. There is nothing that should concern most parents in the story, but Puff does say "stupid," and there are images of a pirate, menacing clouds, and a dying star (though she survives) that may initially frighten young preschoolers. The score can also be spooky in a couple of scenes. But the iffy stuff is minimal compared to the encouraging messages for kids to believe in themselves.
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What's the story?
Based on the popular folk song by Peter, Paul and Mary, PUFF THE MAGIC DRAGON is a classic animated television special about Puff (Burgess Meredith), a talking dragon that visits young Jackie Draper, a boy who never speaks, and takes him on an epic adventure. Jackie, whose silence has left his parents worried and experts baffled, is alone in his room when Puff appears to him and creates an identical "alter ego" of him out of paper called "Jackie Paper." He brings Jackie Paper -- who can talk and do things Jackie Draper thinks he can't -- to life with Jackie's "being" and then the two of them set off to find the land of Honalee. Jackie must overcome several obstacles, like facing a pirate and helping a dying star before finally reaching their magical destination. The DVD set also includes two bonus features where Puff appears to a girl and another boy.
Is it any good?
Parents who grew up in the '70s or '80s will find this trip down memory lane surprisingly touching. It's easy to forget just how compassionate and sage-like Puff is, especially after you grown up and hear about the song's alleged references to marijuana use. But in the animated movie, the allegory is purely tied to childhood, and the wonder that the imagination of childhood can bring. Meredith's wise, comforting voice infuses Puff with a grandfatherly gravitas that guides young Jackie -- and the viewer -- to show a pirate's true and gentle colors and teaches him that as long as you believe, you can defeat your own fears.
Even after more than 30 years, this tale is timelessly sweet and even tearful in parts. When Puff starts to mourn the loss of Jackie's visits to Honalee, it's impossible not to grieve for what all children lose when they transition from youth to adulthood -- an innocence and a willingness to make imaginary friends who can show them new worlds.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about why Puff chooses to help Jackie. How does their adventure change Jackie? What does Jackie's decisions teach us about overcoming our fears?
This movie was produced in the 1970s. Does it show its age? Is it still relevant? Kids: Can you tell this movie was made a long time ago? If so, how can you tell?
What does it mean that even though dragons live forever, little boys do not? Why does Jackie no longer need Puff as he grows older?
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