Peter Pan: Platinum Edition (US - DVD R1)
Gabe thinks happy thoughts, flies, crows like a rooster, and calls Hook a codfish...
One night Wendy, John, and Michael are visited by the boy who wouldn't grow up, Peter Pan. When Pan 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 Neverland, where she can continue to act as the mother of the Lost Boys. Back in Neverland, the villainous Captain Hook is desperately trying to locate Pan, and his crew has 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' hide out.
If you go years without watching the films of Disney's Golden Age you tend to forget how good they really are. They really aren't just for kids, they're some of the most effortlessly entertaining motion pictures in the world. The most amazing thing you're likely to find is how well they age, with few exceptions, the jokes and humour will always be fresh, the characters loveable and shockingly multi-layered, and the tales utterly enthralling.
Though not my favourite of the Disney cannon (that would be a hard choice, but I'm leaning towards The Jungle Book, 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 was a real 'good ol' days' inducer). I caught myself actually, physically laughing out loud to some of the more amusing moments, and was dumbly grinning from ear to ear for the entirely too brief 77 minute run time.
Peter Pan is a very cleanly animated film, more cleanly 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 snuggly into the greater canon, unlike more visually experimental animated features like Sleeping Beauty and 101 Dalmatians, which belonged more to designers like Bill Peet and Eyvind Earle. Peter Pan is a quintessential story to the Disney mythos (a child refusing to grow up is kind of what drove Walt, but let's not get into the psychology of the thing), it is not the quintessential story, by any means, but has earned its place in the history books.
The character animation just about 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 real father George (voiced by Hans Conried, who also voices Hook). Every character has his or her site gag or slapstick moment, but the melancholy obsession and overall pathetic nature of Hook is quite amusing in a very modern fashion (think The Office). Steven Spielberg and screenwriters James V. Hart and Nick Castle (wait? The Shape?) very wisely picked up on in their 1991 updating of the Pan story, Hook. I go on record stating it's the only thing I still like about the frankly obnoxious film.
The editing of the film is striking considering the techniques of the time, and the fact that it was aimed at children. The cutting between Pan and Hook's stories is surprisingly sophisticated, though not as fluid as it would perhaps have been if it was 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 devises 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 quaintly a bit 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.
Addition: Big thanks to reader
lostboys305for providing me with some screen caps from the previous DVD release for comparison. The 2002 release is on top, the Platinum Edition on bottom
This is a 54-year-old film, and it looks better than some new DVD releases I've reviewed this year. It has the advantage of being animated, which flattens shadows and brightens colours, but it's still almost unbelievable how great Peter Pan looks. I could look all day for errors and artefacts and probably still count less than a handful. There is a slight overall noise to the picture, but colours still manage to blend gracefully. Disney DVD manages to push the technology to its limits with a film twice the age of DVDActive's average reader. I'm not sure how it compares to the other two DVD releases of the film, unfortunately, so I'm unable to say whether there's been an improvement or not. Widescreen fanatics should note that the original film was displayed in the 1.37:1 aspect ratio.
Disney DVD supplies us with a 'brand new' Dolby Digital 5.1 remix, as well as the original Mono mix. I think I actually prefer the original mix, which has been thoroughly cleansed of distortion, but the 5.1 track isn't a travesty by any means. For the most part the new surround track is the same as the Mono track, with some musical cues reaching the back speakers, and a few character voices entering via the stereo speakers. The mix doesn't have much in the way of additional bass or separation, but also keeps the artificial sounding bits that usually follow the remixing of a classic Mono source to a minimum.
Disc one kicks off with a group commentary track (made up of various interviews, some sounding screen specific) hosted by Roy Disney. Still living voice actors are involved (not Pan himself, Bobby Driscoll, who apparently died of drug related heart attack at a very young age), surviving animators, and Disney historians like Leonard Maltin all offer up oodles of information. The track is pretty great all around, though nobody has the guts to make mention of the racist portrayals of 'Indians' beyond stating "We'd probably do this differently today".
From the menus of this first disc, one can choose to listen to the song tracks only, with karaoke style lyrics at the bottom of the screen. There is a storybook read-along titled "Peter's Playful Prank" that is aimed squarely at the wee ones. We've also got a load of trailers, including the announcement of an October release for The Jungle Book, Pixar's Ratatouille, and an elongated look at Tinker Bell, which looks absolutely vomit inducing.
Disc two champions 'Camp Never Land', a series of interactive games for really small children, including Smee's Seduko Challenge, Tarrrget Practice (get it?), and Tink's Fantasy Flight. These aren't exactly addictive, but the kids deserve something, right? It's too bad that my disc seemed to have trouble not reverting back to the main menu during play.
The disc's biggest extra, at least in space consumption, is the 'read-along' version of the film. This is a cool idea for the kiddies, but couldn't the subtitles somehow have been altered on the first disc to accommodate this instead? It seems like overkill to me, but it's a nice thought. I'm sorry to say, that due to time constraints, I did not read along with the entire film.
There are two deleted songs. One, ‘The Pirate Song’ is presented with original storyboards and a temp audio track. A different song is used in what's basically the same scene in the finished film, where Hook tries to convince the Lost Boys to become members of his crew. The other song, ‘Neverland’ was never produced, only written. The back-story is briefly explained before a music video plays. The song has been all 'moderned-up' and really has no place in the original film, it's strictly for lovers of elevator music and Paige O’Hara. Our other disc two music video is a ghastly song entitled 'Second Star to the Right', and is performed by some group of Tweens called T- Squad. As a budding songwriter myself, I tend to appreciate the poppiest of pop music even when I don't enjoy it, but this is simple painful. It isn’t even catchy.
The adult extras consist of some documentaries and a reprinting of text essay by Disney himself, read to us for effect. The main featurette is brief, and in light of the commentary track a bit moot, but still manages to be worthwhile. Among the tales to tell is the behind the scenes story of Tinker Bell, who contrary to popular myth, was not based on Marilyn Monroe. The Peter Pan That Almost Was, which probably should've been included as part of the main making-of, is the most intriguing extra on the set, and reveals a much darker film that took years to tone down. A lot of what wasn't used here was used in P.J. Hogan's very underappreciated 2003 version of the tale.
On the joyfully quaint side of the extras is The Story of Peter Pan, a featurette from the film's initial theatrical release. It's good in that stock footage kind of way, and acts kind of as an original trailer. Real trailers also adorn the disc, along with loads of image galleries, and a two-minute CG 'virtual tour' of England and Neverland.
I'm not huge on the kid heavy extras, but the solid group commentary and utterly fantastic video presentation make a double-dip a pretty pressing option to fans of the boy who wouldn't grow up. The film itself is classic, this goes without saying, but perhaps it's worth another look for those of us who've taken it for granted over the years.
Review by Gabriel Powers
Release Date: 6th March 2007
Disc Type: Single side, dual layer
Audio: Commentary with Filmmakers/Stars, In Walt's Words: "Why I Made Peter Pan", Camp Never Land Games, Deleted Songs, Music Videos, The Peter Pan Story, You Can Fly: The Making of Peter Pan, Virtual Flight, Peter's Playful Prank DVD Storybook, Read Along, Trailers
Subtitles: English, Spanish, French
Extras: English Dolby Digital 5.1, English Dolby Digital Mono,
Easter Egg: No
Director: Clyde Geronimi, Wilfred Jackson
Cast: Bobby Driscoll, Kathryn Beaumont, Hans Conried, Bill Thompson, Heather Angel
Length: 77 minutes
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