Directed by Hamilton Luske, Clyde Geronomi, Wilfred Jackson
Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1
Running Time: 77 minutes
Audio: Dolby Digital 1.0 Mono, Dolby Digital 5.1 in English, French, Spanish
Subtitles: English for the Hearing Impaired
Review Date: March 16, 2007
Can there be anyone who isn’t familiar with James M. Barrie’s classic tale of the boy who wouldn’t grow up? Beginning as a stage play in 1904, Peter Pan has been staged and restaged, with incidental music and entire musical scores, on stage, on television, and on film for over a century. There have been films about its creation (the marvelous and highly recommended Finding Neverland), a sensational book tracing the life of this most durable of stories (The Peter Pan Chronicles by Bruce K. Hanson), and sequels and reimaginings of the story that have kept a steady stream of royalties flowing into the coffers of the Great Ormond Street Children’s Hospital in London as per Barrie’s will. After years of planning and failed attempts to get it off the ground, in 1953 after more than four years of work, Walt Disney presented his animated musical version of the celebrated story. It has seldom been out of the world’s hearts and minds since its initial release.
On her last night in the nursery of her parents’ London home, Wendy Darling is visited by a flying boy from Never Land named Peter Pan. Searching for his shadow which had been grabbed by the family dog Nana as he eavesdropped one night listening to Wendy tell her younger brothers bedtime stories, Peter offers to take Wendy back to Never Land with him to be a mother to him and the Lost Boys who live there never growing up and devoting their entire lives to adventuring. Wendy agrees to go if her brothers can come along and if Peter understands that the visit will not be a permanent one.
The adventures the Darling children have after flying off to Never Land involve a band of pirates and a tribe of Indians, each of whom have reasons for wanting to capture them. The pirates are led by the despicable Captain Hook, his hand having been cut off by Peter Pan years before and fed to a crocodile who ever since has been on the lookout for more of Hook to consume. Hook’s constant plots against his enemy Pan give the story its suspense and excitement. I can’t imagine a man, woman, or child who wouldn’t find it all irresistible.
As usual with Disney’s classic animation, the voice cast chosen to enact these iconic roles did them proud. Though some quibbled that Peter was Americanized by using Bobby Driscoll as his voice, the young actor’s brio easily erases any objections one might have. He makes Peter a fun-loving scamp who lives life on the edge and wouldn’t have it any other way. Hans Conried is the perfect Hook (and Mr. Darling): oily, conniving, and just fey enough to be funny without overdoing it. Kathryn Beaumont is a lovely Wendy with her dreamy qualities enlivened by an authoritative backbone.
Disney used a battery of composers and lyricists to come up with a winning score for this film, and the animators use the musical moments to really outdo themselves, particularly with “You Can Fly,” Peter’s lessons on personal aviation which builds eventually to a wonderful chorus taking over the singing as the quartet of kids (and Tinker Bell the prickly fairy) soar out the window and high over London in one of the most breathtaking multiplane camera shots ever achieved by a company famous for them. Other visual moments to treasure: a bird’s eye view of Never Land from a cloud and Peter’s rescue of captured Indian princess Tiger Lily from Hook’s clutches in the shadowy cove of Skull Rock. While Peter Pan doesn’t quite have the kaleidoscopic arrays of colors and character designs that Disney’s previous animated feature Alice in Wonderland contained, on its own the animation is strong, bold, and very impressive, and the film was a box-office smash in its initial release and in all its subsequent theatrical reissues. On video, the title has always been a strong seller for the company, and this release marks its third DVD appearance.
The film’s original aspect ratio of 1.33:1 is represented faithfully on this new release. It’s a very strong video presentation with rich, bold colors, superb depth, and a rock solid image throughout. Grain has been virtually eliminated giving the entire film a very modern, clean look. Unlike the edge halos that appeared on the 2002 edition, there are literally none here.
In comparison to the earlier Special Edition release of 2002, there is no arguing that colors have been tweaked in many cases and reimagined in a few instances. There are so many instances I could name and still just scratch the surface: Peter’s costume is now three distinct shades of green. Nana is colored much brighter shades of brown, yet the crocodile’s green has been toned down. Tinker Bell’s glow is much more distinct on this new edition than before. While the pirates are undoubtedly a very colorful bunch, the colors for them are richer but much less fluorescent in this new edition. Hook’s coat is less orangey-red and more burgundy now. And flesh tones for all but the Indians are much pinker and more consistent throughout. The Indians’ skin has definitely been lightened, not to my liking. Overall, the colors now are deep without being overly bright.
In all honesty, I greatly favor the overall color scheme for this new edition, but I must say the mermaid sequence seemed richer to me on the earlier disc. Some of the jungle backgrounds in Never Land also seemed richer and less flat on the earlier release, but as to the overall look of the film, this 2007 DVD is the preferred visual presentation. The movie is divided into 31 chapters.
There are two English language choices on the disc: the original mono mix in Dolby Digital 1.0 and a newly mastered Dolby Digital 5.1 Enhanced Home Theater Mix. The mono mix is clear and clean with no hiss or other age related damage. The new Dolby Digital 5.1 mix is a distinct improvement over the Dolby Digital 5.1 track on the 2002 DVD. This new mix is much fuller with more music being sent to the surrounds, and with some actual bass added. True, the engineers seem to forget about the surrounds at odd moments like at certain times in the Skull Rock sequence, and no amount of fiddling with console dials is going to give any tremendous heft to the music. Still, the new surround mix is a considerable advance on what has come before.
There are also French and Spanish Dolby Digital 5.1 tracks.
All of the important extras from the 2002 Special Edition have been repeated here including a superb running commentary hosted by Roy Disney. In this excellent track, a number of the film’s participants among the actors and animators talk about their work on the film, and they’re joined by critics who add their opinions and information on this timeless classic.
There’s also “You Can Fly,” a sixteen minute documentary on the film first done for a laserdisc edition. It’s very good but awfully compact. I’d have liked a documentary at least twice as long worthy of this wonderful film. “The Peter Pan Story,” a black and white 1952 featurette on the making of the film, is also repeated in this edition looking none the worse for wear.
“Peter’s Playful Prank,” a simple read long storybook for new readers is another carryover from the Special Edition.
As for the new additions to the bonus features, on the first disc is a sing along selection of five songs from the score with lyrics you can turn on or off as scenes from the film are played. There are also non-anamorphic trailers for new and old Disney product, both theatrical and straight to DVD: the new animated feature Tinker Bell, The Little Mermaid III,The Jungle Book, Mickey’s Great Clubhouse Hunt, and a handful of others.
The second disc contains the remainder of the bonus features. We get the complete recording of the cut “The Pirate Song” (it’s excerpted in the “You Can Fly” featurette) with accompanying storyboards. Composer Richard Sherman set a discarded lyric sheet for the song “Never Land” to music, and then we get actress Paige O’Hara’s music video for the completed work. There’s also a fairly wretched T-Squad hip-hop version of the lovely “The Second Star to the Right” which renders the song almost unrecognizable to my ears.
Two new featurettes make most welcome additions to the Peter Pan legacy: a seven minute “In Walt’s Words: Why I Made Peter Pan” giving his personal connection to the play and his animated version, and a terrific twenty-one minute “The Peter Pan That Almost Was” detailing the initial story ideas for bringing the play to the screen that involved such unusual ideas as beginning the story in Never Land, taking Nana back to Never Land with the children, and leaving John behind in London as they set off on their adventures, all of this with accompanying storyboards bringing a visual sense to these creative thoughts. We also get to see some footage from the 1925 silent live action version of Peter Pan which makes one long all the more to see that entire production.
For those with young children who can’t get enough of Peter Pan, the entire film is offered in read-along form with subtitles in which every word spoken on the soundtrack is highlighted as it’s spoken. (Thus, each disc in this set offers a complete version of the film for viewing.)
In the realm of games, there are three reasonably simple puzzles for the kids: a couple of Sudoku puzzles of increasing difficulty, a target practice range where eye-hand coordination is stressed, along with a similar directional game where arrows guide Tink’s flight.
There’s also a somewhat disappointing virtual fantasy flight over London (too dark and drab) and over Never Land (colorful but over too quickly and not delving into the Indian camp, Peter’s hideout, or Mermaid Lagoon as would seem to be a no-brainer).
Peter Pan holds a special place in my heart. As a youngster, it was my favorite Disney animated film, and my admiration for its artful qualities and its zestful spirit has only grown with time. Though not perfect, this latest edition of this timeless classic is the best way to experience Peter Pan on today’s home theater equipment. It gets a solid recommendation from me.