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Peter Pan (1953)
Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment
Blu-ray Disc Released: 2/5/2013
All Ratings out of
Review by Mike Long, Posted on 2/3/2013
If you're a forward-thinking person (like myself), it's easily to look at things from the past and see them as "old-fashioned" and "old-fashioned" can often be construed as lacking in innovation or creativity. But, that's obviously not the case, as things from the past must have had good ideas for us to have gotten to where we are today. Still, it's easy to look at movies like Walt Disney's 1953 effort Peter Pan and think of them as being uninteresting. And while the movie may have some dated moments (which we'll discuss), the story certainly holds enough whimsy to make it worth a second look.
Peter Pan opens in London in the early part of the 20th Century (or perhaps earlier). There we meet the Darling children; Wendy (voiced by Kathryn Beaumont), John (voiced by Paul Collins), and Michael (voiced by Tommy Luske). Wendy thrills the boys with stories of Peter Pan, a wonderful character who battles with a pirate named Captain Hook, despite the fact that Mr. Darling (voiced by Hans Conried) doesn't approve of this nonsense. That night, Peter Pan (voiced by Bobby Driscoll), accompanied by the pixie Tinkerbell, comes to the children's room, looking for his lost shadow. The children awaken, and Peter offers to take them to Neverland. Once there, John and Michael have adventures with the Lost Boys, a group of youngsters who live with Peter Pan, while Peter and Wendy have a run-in with Captain Hook (voiced by Hans Conried). Hook has been attempting to find Peter's hideout and he's finally put a plan in place which may achieve this goal, which forces Peter and his friends to confront the pirate.
There are some people who are diehard Disney animation fans, and there are others who have no interest in these films. I think that I'm like most -- I've seen my share and I've enjoyed some of them, but it's not an obsession. Of the ones which I've seen, most are from the modern era. Of the older films, I'd seen clips and bits-&-pieces of Peter Pan over the years, but this was my first time seeing the film in its entirety. Taken as a whole, the movie is certainly a mixed bag, displaying some good things, and some which don't work so well.
Let's look at the weaker points first. As I'd never seen the whole movie before, I've also never read the J.M. Barrie play/book on which the movie is based. However, it's easy to place a play-like structure on the movie, as it's very episodic and there are long scenes, such as the opening or the long conversation between Hook and Smee (voiced by Bill Thompson), which one can easily imagine being done on the stage. Because of this, the movie doesn't have much narrative flow, and some scenes, such as when Peter and Wendy visit the mermaids, don't add much to the story. The aforementioned scene with Hook and Smee goes on for far too long, and even in this relatively short film, it feels as if it could have been trimmed down. And then we have the scene in which the Lost Boys are captured and taken to the "Indian Camp". I'm truly surprised that I had never heard about this scene for due to the portrayal of the "Indians", it comes across as real racist. This may have been acceptable in 1953, but today we look at a song like "What Makes the Red Man Red?" and marvel in disbelief.
Those issues aside, there are reasons why Peter Pan is considered a classic by many. As noted above, the story shows a great deal of imagination. While it may seem overly familiar today, just think about the notion of Peter Pan losing his shadow and Wendy having to re-attach it. That's genius! And what about the crocodile who pursues Captain Hook, and the fact that Hook is aware of its proximity because it swallowed an alarm clock? About brilliant idea! As we've discussed in the past, good ideas don't always translate into good movies, but these examples show the level of imagination at work here. While Neverland isn't as sprawling as some other fantasy worlds we've come to know, it may have been one of the first to be divided into different sections, each of which offering its own unique threats and wonders. In the end, the good outweighs the bad in Peter Pan. Peter could have easily been annoying, but he carefully straddles that line between cool and cocky. In fact, the only character who comes off as annoying is Tinkerbell, who is vain and jealous. This is truly odd to see given as how Disney has changed her into the star of her own series.
We all have our pet peeves, which should really be called individual annoyances, and, while it may sound weird, one of mine is the choral music in early Disney films. I find it corny and I feel that it often ruins the mood. Mercifully, there is little of this in Peter Pan, and most of it comes at the very end. By that time, we will have hopefully forgotten about the slow or oddly-paced parts of the film and concentrate on how strong the opening and the closing are.
Peter Pan never had a scene where I thought, "This must be where they decided that this movie could sell peanut butter." on Blu-ray Disc courtesy of Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment. The film is presented in its original 1.33:1 aspect ratio and the Disc contains an AVC 1080p HD transfer which runs at an average of 30 Mbps. The image is very sharp and clear, showing no grain and no defects from the source material. Someone did a great job cleaning/restoring this movie, as it looks great. The clarity of this transfer really shows off the detail in the animation, however we don't see any notable defects in the drawings. The colors look great and the image is never overly dark or bright. Peter Pan looks better than the commercial on this Blu-ray Disc for The Little Mermaid. The Disc carries a DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 track which runs at 48 kHz and an average of 2.8 Mbps. The track provides clear dialogue and sound effects. This is obviously a remixed version of the film's original mono track...and that's what it still sounds like. I watched this at a fairly high volume and didn't hear any overt stereo or surround effects. The audio felt appropriate for the movie, but it certainly didn't come across as a surround track.
The Peter Pan Blu-ray Disc contains a wealth of extras. We begin with an AUDIO COMMENTARY which is hosted by Roy Disney, and contains several speakers who give their views on the film. The viewer can choose an "Introduction" (1 minute) with Diane Disney Miller, which shows some treasures from the Disney archives. "DisneyView" fills in the black bars left by the 1.33:1 framing on a 16 x 9 TV with art pieces. (I didn't like this at all.) One can also watch the movie as a "Sing Along" with karaoke-like lyrics. "Growing Up with Nine Old Men" (41 minutes) is a documentary, narrated by Ted Thomas, which focuses on the core animation group from the early days of Disney feature films. Thomas, whose father was one of the "nine", interviews fellow children who share their stories. The Disc contains two DELTED SCENES which are shown in storyboard form and are accompanied by music, dialogue, narration. One of these offers a scene cut from the finale which would have really helped wrap things up. We also get two DELETED SONGS, "Never Smile at a Crocodile" and "The Boatswain Song", both of which are shown with concept art. "Disney Song Selection" allows us to jump to certain songs in the film (although "What Makes the Red Man Red?" isn't offered here.) In addition to the two above songs, we get two more "Lost Songs", "The Pirate Song" and "Never Land". We get MUSIC VIDEOS for the songs "Never Land", performed by Paige O'Hara and "The Second Star to the Right" preformed by T-Squad. "You Can Fly: The Making of Peter Pan" (16 minutes) contains comments from Leonard Maltin and explores the history of the original story and offers a great deal of production art. "In Walt's Words: 'Why I Made Peter Pan'" (8 minutes) offers quotes from a magazine article written by Walt Disney about the making of the movie. "Tinker Bell: A Fairy's Tale" (8 minutes) explores the history of the character. "The Peter Pan That Almost Was" (21 minutes) takes us into the Disney vaults to look at some rejected concepts for the film. "The Peter Pan Story" (12 minutes) is another "making-of" which shows how the story went from page to screen.
Review by Mike Long. Copyright 2013.