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Peter Pan was the first ever Disney animation release I reviewed for DVDActive, way back in the bygone era of 2007, when the Platinum Edition DVD was released. Good times. But, the future has come calling and Platinum Edition DVDs have given way to Diamond Edition Blu-rays. The review is almost unreadable, of course (do yourself a favour, fellow writers, never re-read something you wrote more than a year ago, you’ll hate yourself), but, for the sake of posterity, I’ve decided not to rewrite it. Please scroll to the ‘video’ section for anything specifically concerning this new Blu-ray release.

Quote: One night, while their parents are out of the house, Wendy, John, and Michael Darling are visited in their nursery by Peter Pan – the legendary boy who wouldn't grow up. When Peter hears that Wendy, his main source of maternal influence, will be leaving the nursery to grow up, he decides to bring her and her brothers back to Never Land where she can continue to act as the mother of the Lost Boys. Back in Never Land, the villainous Captain Hook is desperately trying to locate Pan and his crew has grown tired of his obsession. In a last ditch effort, Hook uses the pixie Tinker Bell, furiously jealous of Pan’s new relationship with Wendy, to find the Lost Boys’ hideout.

Though not my favourite of the Disney canon (that would be a hard choice, but I'm leaning towards The Jungle Book and 101 Dalmatians), Peter Pan was a mainstay throughout my childhood and twenty-plus years later, I still remember the lyrics to the songs ('we're foll-o-ing the lea-der, the lea-der, the lea-der...'), the best lines (‘Shooting a man in the middle of his cadenza? That ain’t good form, you know.’) and some very specific visuals (the nanny dog trying to fly with her ears in particular).

Peter Pan is a very crisply animated film, more cleanly made than most Disney films to that point, with sharp outlines and bold colours. The characters are of the early trademark Disney style (the kind that the Japanese tried to mimic, leading to modern Anime style), and fit snugly into the greater canon, unlike more visually experimental animated features, like Sleeping Beauty or 101 Dalmatians, which belonged more to designers like Bill Peet and Eyvind Earle. The character animation is nearly flawless, with a myriad of broad and subtle moments. Though Peter's acrobatics and the amazingly realistic angled shots are amazing, the real genius lies in the scene where the Hook-hunting crocodile makes his tick-tock entrance, much to Smee and Hook's chagrin. Smee's ear throbs, Hook's eyebrows palpitate, and the croc dances into view. Perfect.

The child in me never realized how hysterical Captain Hook and Mr. Smee really were, not to mention the children's father George (voiced by Hans Conried, who also voices Hook). Every character has his or her sight gag or slapstick moment, but the melancholy obsession and overall pathetic nature of Hook is quite amusing in a very modern fashion. Steven Spielberg and screenwriters James V. Hart and Nick Castle (aka: Michael Myers) very wisely picked up on this in their 1991 updating of the Pan story, Hook. It's the only thing I still like about that mostly obnoxious film.

The editing technique is striking, considering the casual, straight-forward storytelling style used in children’s entertainment of the time. The cutting between Pan and Hook's stories is surprisingly sophisticated, though not as fluid as it would perhaps have been if it were made today. Most of Disney's films up to this point followed a main character from beginning to end, but our leads (Pan and Wendy) are often left to their own devices in favour of John, Michael, or Hook. The threads all reconnect neatly, but still show amazing faith in the audience on the Disney and company's part.

The modern Disney sanitation machine seems to have let Peter Pan slip through its tight little fingers. Though I'm sure we'll never see an official DVD release of Song of the South due to stereotypical portrayals of African Americans (I've still never been able to actually see the film) and Pecos Bill's cigarette will forever be lost to us, it seems that the red man wasn't quite un-PC enough to warrant any digital ‘colour-correction.’ I'm sort of shocked that my super-PC mother let me watch a cartoon containing a song entitled ‘What Made the Red Man Red,’ as sung by Cleveland Indian mascots. I suppose we should thank goodness for small favours, and who knows what will happen next time Disney tries to re-release the film ( 2013 update: They didn’t.)


Video


Peter Pan was made in the post-War era, when Disney was putting massive handfuls of cash into their films in an effort to make them look spectacularly crisp. More specifically, it starts a three-film run where the cleanliness and consistency of the animation became the key visual component (the streak was broken with 101 Dalmatians, which marked the beginning of the use of the money-saving Xerographic technique). The two follow-ups, Lady and the Tramp and Sleeping Beauty, were given an additional technological boost when they were framed in 2.55:1 widescreen, though this 1080p re-master is presented in the original 1.37:1 framing. Based on the film’s crisp style, clarity and vibrancy are paramount, not intricate little details, though there is definitively more texture here in HD, especially on the hand painted titles and backgrounds. I suppose the lack of film grain despite being shot on 35mm might mean some pretty heavy DNR has been implemented, but it is difficult to complain when the effect doesn’t flatten details or create waxy effects. The Technicolor hues are bright and diverse without blocking effects or haloes along the higher contrast edges. The thickly, consistently coloured cell animation frames don’t feature any shadow layers or gradient blends, as they would in later Disney cartoons, and don’t really blend ‘naturally’ with the painted backdrops. Sometimes, the analogue cell painting qualities show their limitations in terms of paint bleeding and cell shadows, but these are beautiful in their own way.

Audio


Disney continues its tradition of producing some of the best 5.1/7.1 remixes in the business. I’m not really noticing any outstanding differences between this 7.1 mix and the DVD’s 5.1 mix in terms of sound placement and stereo/surround enhancement, but the uncompressed DTS-HD Master Audio codec is measurably louder and richer than the Dolby Digital versions ever managed. Oliver Wallace’s big, omnipresent score gets the biggest boost. The music spreads across the front three channels and lightly throughout the rear speakers without a lick of compression or a loss of instrumental intricacies. The LFE enhancement is quite a bit more boisterous as well. Sometimes, the stereo spread and surround runoff is a bit awkward, creating minor phasing issues, but these instances are quite rare. Often, the music is used to create stings that stand in place of sound effects and, even when present, the effects are pretty thin to make room for the often busy dialogue tracks. There are directional enhancements peppered throughout, including Tinker Bell’s ‘speaking’ sound and the tick-tock of the Crocodile’s internal clock. The sequence where Peter tricks Hook and Smee in the sea cave with the echo of his voice is given the most extensive surround treatment; again, without overstepping into places a 60-year-old soundtrack should.

Extras


This Diamond Edition’s new extras kick off with Growing Up with Nine Old Men (41:10, HD), a loving look back at the careers of Walt Disney’s most influential animators – Les Clark, Marc Davis, Milt Kahl, Ward Kimball, Eric Larson, John Lounsbery, Wolfgang Reitherman, Frank Thomas, and Ollie Johnston (the last two made cameo appearances at the end of Brad Bird’s The Incredibles). Hosted by Ted Thomas, the son of Frank Thomas, this featurette tells personal stories via interviews with the surviving children of the Nine and includes images from archive materials. It’s a little dry at times, but mostly charming and uniquely personal for a large-scale home video release. This is followed by two new deleted scenes and two new deleted songs (‘Never Smile at a Crocodile’ and ‘The Boatswain Song’), each presented in storyboard/sketch form (in HD) and told/sung with temp tracks and original music.

The archive extras begin with a group commentary track (made up of various interviews, some perhaps screen-specific) hosted by Roy Disney. The motley crew includes then-living voice actors (not Pan himself, Bobby Driscoll, who apparently died of a drug-related heart attack at a very young age), then surviving animators, and Disney historians like Leonard Maltin. The track is pretty great all around, and matches the quality standards set through the years on various other Platinum Edition DVDs. Sadly, nobody has the guts to make mention of the racist portrayals of 'Indians' beyond stating ‘We'd probably do this differently today.’

Under the ‘Disney Song Selection’ tab, you will find an option to skip directly to five of the film’s most memorable songs, complete with subtitles for those that may want to sing along. Under the ‘Classic Music and More’ tab you will find further deleted/lost songs ‘The Pirate Song’ (2:20, HD) and ‘Never Land’ (2:40, SD), and two modern music video versions of the film’s famous music (‘Never Land,’ performed by Paige O’Hara and ‘The Second Star on the Right,’ performed by T-Squad). The more substantial archive extras are all found under the ‘Classic Backstage Disney’ tab, beginning with You can Fly: The Making of Peter Pan (15:60, SD), a fast-moving look at the behind-the-scenes story. It covers production illustrations, deleted music, casting, animation, release, and includes interviews with Leonard Maltin, animators Frank Thomas and Marc Davis, actors Margaret Kerry and Kathryn Beaumont, and archive discussion from Disney himself. In Walt’s Words ‘Why I Made Peter Pan’ (7:50, SD) features animators/directors Ron Clements and John Musker discussing their archive discovery of a magazine article Walt wrote about the significance of Peter Pan. The article is dramatically re-enacted for our viewing and listening pleasure. The section ends with Tinker Bell: A Fairy’s Tale (8:30, SD), which quickly covers the character’s time on stage and in the movies, The Peter Pan that Almost Wasn’t (21:20, SD), a rather involved look at the story and artistic concepts that were discarded while the film was in development, and The Peter Pan Story 12:00, SD), an archive EPK that played on the Wonderful World of Disney.

The disc also features a ‘Disney Intermission’ mode, which is activated anytime the movie is paused, an optional introduction by Diane Disney Miller, a DisneyView mode, which fills out the black bars on the right and left of screen with pertinent painted artwork, a sing-along mode, and a second screen option that does not appear to be available yet.

Overall


Every time I watch Peter Pan, I’m made more aware of the story’s brutal sexual politics. Every female in Never Land, including Wendy, is interested in Peter and, in turn, jealous of every other female that gets his attention. Tinker Bell and the mermaids literally try to kill Wendy, which Peter laughs off, because he has no concept of this being a problem. The weird addition of Wendy being both Peter’s chief love interest and his kidnapped mother figure merely muddies the moral waters further. I’m sure there’s an excellent book on the subject. More on subject this new Blu-ray release looks and sounds as close to perfect as we’ve come to expect from the studio in terms of their classic animation releases. The new extras aren’t much of an improvement over the last DVD release, but I don’t believe there will be any major complaints concerning lacking content.

* Note: The above images are taken from the Blu-rays and resized for the page. Full-resolution captures are available by clicking individual images, but due to .jpg compression they are not necessarily representative of the quality of the transfer.


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