Peter Pan [Blu-Ray]
Director : s Clyde Geronimi, Wilfred Jackson, & Hamilton Luske
Screenplay : Ted Sears, Erdman Penner, Bill Peet, Winston Hibler, Joe Rinaldi, Milt Banta, Ralph Wright, Bill Cottrell (based on the play by Sir James M. Barrie)
MPAA Rating : G
Year of Release : 1953
Like Alice in Wonderland (1951), Disney’s Peter Pan is based on a story that Walt Disney loved as a child and labored for more than a decade to bring to the big screen in his signature animated form. Unfortunately, like Alice in Wonderland, the resulting film is something of a disappointment, even though it is regularly touted as one of the pinnacles of Disney’s post-World War II “Second Golden Age,” which kicked off with Cinderella (1950). Walt himself was vocally disappointed with Peter Pan, particularly the characterization of the titular “boy who wouldn’t grow up,” who he reportedly described as “cold and unlikeable.” I wouldn’t go quite that far, but Peter is a strangely disconnected character in the film, flitting through the frame and acting with cocky boyish delight, but never really coming alive as anything other than a conceit (and a conceited one at that). Plus, the fact that Peter was voiced by Bobby Driscoll, a child icon of Disney in the ’50s whose tragic life ended in drug abuse and premature death, casts an extracinematic pall over his character’s impish enthusiasms.
Based on the 1905 stageplay by Scottish dramatist and novelist J.M. Barrie, Peter Pan centers around the Darling children—oldest daughter Wendy (Kathryn Beaumont, who also voiced Alice in Alice in Wonderland), who is responsible, but still given to wonderment and child fantasies of escape built around stories of Peter Pan; bespectacled middle brother John (Paul Collins); and pajamed toddler Michael (Tommy Luske)—and their adventures with Peter, who flies into their nursery in Bloomsbury one night to retrieve his missing shadow, and ends up flying them away to the island of Neverland. The primary conflict is between Peter and his bumbling gang of Lost Boys and the nefarious Captain Hook (Hans Conried), a grotesque gentleman-pirate who abhors Peter for no reason other than the boy’s devil-may-care attitude and refusal to respect him. Hook is, in this regard, the ultimate derisive adult figure (which is why it is so important that he is voiced by the same actor who voices the Darling children’s overly practical and literal-minded father), making him the perfect foil for Peter’s perpetual childhood, which the film, following Barrie’ lead, unproblematically enshrines as a virtue. Like many a Disney heavy, Captain Hook has his moments of pure, moustache-twirling villainy, but he is primarily depicted as a slapstick buffoon, particularly in the scenes in which he is chased by a comical crocodile who ate one of his hands (hence the hook) and is determined to finish the job. More so than previous Disney films, Peter Pan indulges in Tex Avery-like physical comedy, almost all at Hook’s expense, making the film a running gag about adult humiliation.
Peter Pan had been staged for the theater for years by the time Disney’s film version came out, and it had also been the source of a 1924 silent film. However, the medium of animation and the use of Technicolor were ideally suited to depicting the story’s fantastical flights of fancy, as the Darling children get to indulge every child’s dream of escaping the confines of their parents’ house, soaring unfettered through the air, and engaging in the real adventures they can only pantomime in real life. Plus, it allowed Peter to be portrayed for the first time by a boy, rather than a woman in adolescent male drag. Thus, from a purely aesthetic standpoint, Disney’s Peter Pan is arguably the richest realization of Barrie’s story at that point, as it transcended the limitations of stagecraft and silent-era cinema with their obvious wires, painted backdrops, and actors in animal costumes and allowed for a fully engaged imagining of what it would be like to fly.
Yet, somehow the film never quite soars. Part of the problem may be the clumsy episodic structure, which never builds momentum despite moving toward a conventional climax that finds Peter Pan and Hook facing off in a duel in which Peter has promised not to use his ability to fly. The film is also tonally uneven, which some critics have attributed to the Disney production process that assigned teams of animators to produce different parts of the film, resulting in a whole that is not entirely in sync (and I won’t even mention the embarrassing crassness of the film’s depiction of Indians as goofy, inarticulate savages who sing about how they got their red skin). A significant part of the problem is Peter himself, who is impish and clever, but also self-absorbed to the point that it becomes somewhat difficult to like him, much less cheer for him. It is thus doubly strange that Peter is the object of so much explicit female desire within the film. In fact, watching the film as an adult, it plays as less of a child fantasy of soaring adventure than it does as an retrograde narcissistic adult male fantasy of being desired and pursued by every female in the room, even as it brushes away any hint of actual sexuality via Peter’s refusal to let go of his perpetual pre-pubescence.
Consider that Peter is actively revered by Wendy, who indulges in stories about him and at one point tries to kiss him. Wendy’s affections for Peter are intense enough to incite a great deal of jealousy on the part of Tinkerbell, the tiny fairy who is Peter’s constant companion. Tinkerbell, contrary to her presentation as the icon of The Wonderful World of Disney, is a decidedly sexualized creation, a tiny cheesecake pinup in a tinier dress whose overt eroticism (and body image issues) flow entirely from the filmmakers’ imagination (she was depicted on stage as a darting light accompanied by tinkling bells). In one of the film’s strangest moments, Tinkerbell disturbingly combines Eros and Thanatos as she actively tries to not just thwart Wendy in her pursuit of Peter, but kill her. Wendy also finds herself at odds with Tiger Lilly, an Indian princess Peter helps to rescue (although, in a typical moment of self-absorption, he almost allows her to drown), and a group of mermaids who fall all over themselves when Peter is around and delight in humiliating Wendy because she had the temerity to enter their presence. Thus, Peter Pan can be amusingly read as either a ridiculous masculine fantasy of arrested development or a satirical depiction of inflated male narcissism, as Peter both enflames and ignores all of the female lust around him with his lackadaisical attitude and interpersonal myopia. No wonder Walt found him cold and unlikeable.
|Peter Pan Diamond Edition Blu-Ray + DVD + Digital Copy|
|Subtitles||English, French, Spanish|
|Distributor||Walt Disney Home Entertainment|
|Release Date||February 5, 2013|
|VIDEO & AUDIO|
|Disney’s 1080p high-definition presentation of Peter Pan is on par with their other recent Blu-Ray releases of their classic animated films. The transfer has been scrubbed free of any signs of dirt, damage, and wear, leaving an image that is pretty much pristine. All the digital clean-up has removed almost all traces of film grain, as well, which makes it incredibly smooth, but possibly as the expense of some fine detailing. Nevertheless, the image overall looks fantastic, especially the colors, which are Technicolor bright and spot-on in terms of hue and saturation. As with other Disney discs, this Blu-Ray also offers you the opportunity of viewing the film in either its original 1.33:1 aspect ratio with black bars on either side of the high-def screen or in “DisneyView,” which fills the black bars with artwork. The DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1-channel surround soundtrack is also quite good, even though at times the remix feels spread just a little thin. Overall, though, it is lively and immersive, and I was impressed at how thundering the low end was (just wait until that time bomb explodes).|
|Disney’s Peter Pan Blu-Ray contains all of the supplements that were originally included on the 2007 two-disc Platinum Edition DVD. This includes an audio commentary hosted by Roy Disney that is built largely around excerpts from interviews with other notable figures, including film historian Leonard Maltin, Disney animators Frank Thomas, Ollie Johnston, and Mark Davis, and actress Kathryn Beaumont, among others; “You Can Fly: The Making of Peter Pan,” a 15-minute retrospective featurette about the film’s multi-decade development; “Tinker Bell: A Fairy’s Tale” featurette; two “lost” songs and two music videos; and “Disney Song Selection,” which presents the film’s five musical sequences with sing-along lyrics. |
There are also a handful of new supplements exclusive to the Blu-Ray, starting with a very brief video introduction by Diane Disney Miller. Best among the new stuff, though, is Growing Up With the Nine Old Men, a 41-minute documentary produced and narrated by Ted Thomas, son of Disney animator Frank Thomas. In it, he interviews several of the other adult children of the legendary “Nine Old Men,” in the process constructing a fascinating portrait of both the artists themselves and what it was like to grow up with fathers who helped establish the Disney mystique. Also new to this release are two deleted scenes and two deleted songs. Both of the scenes were cut at the storyboard stage and are therefore presented as storyboards with newly created dialogue and music. The two deleted songs—“Never Smile at a Crocodile,” which was released as a popular record in conjunction with the film in 1953 and is performed here by actor Henry Caluin, and “The Boatswain Song,” which was recorded as a demo by an unknown singer—are presented along with associated storyboards and concept drawings.
Copyright ©2013 James Kendrick
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