April 20th, 2007
For this, their third DVD release of this title since 1999, the Walt Disney Company has broken the vaults wide open to add a plethora of fascinating historic artifacts to make this new Platinum Edition a must-own for any Disney collector.
Originally released in theatres in February 1953, “Peter Pan” was instantly considered a modern classic by critics and audiences alike, with good reason. The story teaches us it is okay to grow up while you retain your inner sense of child-like wonder of the world, something that continues to resonate throughout the years. The title remains one of the Walt Disney Company’s most enjoyable animated features, and on DVD looks even better than all the times I remember seeing it in theatres over the years. The last Disney animated feature to be shot in 1.33 Standard Academy Ratio, this new presentation looks stunning even on a widescreen television, the digitally restored picture features beautifully gentle colors, no noticeable on-screen dust or scratches and a satisfying lack of video compression. The 5.1 soundtrack has been redone for this release, vastly improved over the less-properly mixed 2003 release, with much better coverage through the surround and subwoofer speakers. However, being the traditionalist I am, I would prefer to see the original mono soundtrack presented as the default soundtrack, but at least, with a little work, one can faithfully recreate the original theatrical experience as close as Walt would have wanted it... even if he wasn’t entirely pleased with the final outcome of the film.
With the film, one has several audio options. In addition to the 5.1 surround mix and the 2.0 restored mono soundtrack, one can listen to the film in French, in Spanish or with an exhaustive audio commentary with Roy Disney, Leonard Maltin, Disney animator Marc Davis (one of the directing animators on the film), Frank Thomas and Ollie Johnston (two of the famous “Nine Old Men” at Disney and the animators of Captain Hook and Smee, respectively), Kathryn Beaumont (the voice and live-action model for Wendy Darling), Disney historian Jeff Kurtti and others, who give a mesmerizing oral history on “Peter Pan” as book, stage production, television special and other film adaptations, in addition to the making of this movie and behind-the-scenes look at Walt Disney and his animation studio. (This is the same audio commentary from the 2003 DVD release.)
Before the main menu, there are presentations for the upcoming 40th Anniversary Platinum Edition DVD for “The Jungle Book,” a “Meet the Robinsons” theatrical trailer, a “Return to Neverland” trailer for the direct-to-video sequel from 2002 which will soon to be re-released on DVD, and the upcoming direct-to-video release for “Tinker Bell” (which will no doubt have traditionalists up in arms over Tink’s speaking throughout the film, a fact that is conspicuously hidden from this short trailer). From the main menu, one can also sneak peeks at this summer’s Disney/Pixar release “Ratatouille” (which I recently screened a ten minute segment of and can say with no doubt it will be the biggest non-sequel film of the year), “The Little Mermaid III” and the upcoming two-disc Special Edition for “The Aristocrats,” as well as learn more about Disney Movie Rewards (earn points for buying Disney DVDs and seeing Disney movies in theatres, which can be exchanged for Disney tchotchkes) and the Disney Vacation Club.
The remainder of the Disc One Bonus Features are inconsequential, featuring a short song selection and a slight storybook adventure about Peter’s tomfoolery. It is with Disc Two where the cream of the Bonus Features are held. Fans of the rich history of Disney will no doubt want to jump right in to the Backstage Disney section, where several illuminating featurettes are housed. “The ‘Peter Pan’ That Almost Never Was” looks back at the various plot point concepts and images that were close to being included in the final product. “In Walt’s Words: ‘Why I Made ‘Peter Pan’’,” we hear Walt Disney’s reasons why this story was important to him (although it is just a sound-alike voice actor reading an article Disney wrote). And the inclusion of a 1952 featurette, “The ‘Peter Pan’ Story” gives us a wondrous look at the making of the film.
Then there is the discovery of two songs that were written for the film but not used. “The Pirate Song,” sung by Smee and Hook and their pirate clan, is an amusing little ditty about the joys of plundering the high seas. But the true highlight is “Never Land,” a song that comes from the pre-production of the film, that was abandoned before it was completed. The great composer Richard M. Sherman, whose work for Disney includes “The Sword in the Stone” and “The Jungle Book,” goes through the process of dissecting the song, rearranging it just a bit and finishing with a song that could become a new timeless classic... if performed correctly. With just Sherman and his piano, the song is hauntingly beautiful. But when done up like a show-stopping song from a Broadway show, as seen in the accompanying music video sung by Paige O’Hara from “Beauty and the Beast,” with its excessive string section and thundering crescendos, it reeks of rank sentimentality.
As typical with Disney DVDs, along with the cream, we must have chaff. A lot of chaff. The interactive games, I imagine, might be of mild amusement to the very young, but playing with the controls of the DVD will probably feel too clunky for those used to playing on an Xbox or PlayStation. And, of course, no modern Disney DVD would be complete without a painful music video from one of the many synergistic Disney tween bands. This time, we get a band called T-Squad (whose first album from Walt Disney Records conveniently was released a few weeks after the release of this DVD) doing an atrocious hip-hopish monstrosity that is identified as “The Second Star to the Right,” which I will just have to take their word for it.
The beauty of “Peter Pan” has been mostly preserved with this excellent release, which is worthy of any movie fan’s shelf, regardless of how many children might or might not be in the house.
My rating: A-