Featured Blu-ray: Peter Pan
February 3rd, 2013
Peter Pan is 60 years old this year, so it makes complete sense that it would be released on Blu-ray this week. When the film was first released in theaters, it was an immediate hit becoming the highest grossing film of 1953, and it was also (mostly) beloved by critics. (It was based on a play and there were some changes made, not all of which pleased critics at the time.) Today, it is still seen as a classic, mostly. (There is controversy surrounding the stereotypical portrayal of the Indian, with good reason.) Can it overcome these issues and still be enjoyed? Or is it too much a product of its time?
The film begins, not in Never Land, but in the real world. We first meet the Darlings, George and Mary, as they prepare for a party. George has lost his cuff links, or to be more accurate, his two boys, John and Michael, have taken them to use as pirate treasure. They even used his shirt front as a treasure map. These delays cause George to get quite cross and tells Wendy to stop filling the boys heads with silly stories. He tells her that it's time to grow up and be practical, and to do that she needs a room of her own.
So it's the last night for Wendy in the nursery, but that night they have a visitor, two of them: Peter Pan and Tinker Bell. It seems a previous night he had come to listen to Wendy's stories, but Nana, the Darling's dog, got his shadow. He's come to get it back. The pair make enough of a racket that Wendy wakes up. When she explains how this will be the last night in the nursery and that means no more stories for Peter Pan to listen to. That won't do, so Peter Pan decides to take Wendy back with him to Never Land, much to the horror of Tinker Bell. When Michael and John wake up, Wendy decides they should all go to Never Land. They'll need to fly there, and to do that, they'll need some happy thoughts and pixie dust.
Once in Never Land, we meet Captain Hook, his first mate Smee, and the rest of his pirates. The crew is quite angry that they haven't left Never Land. They want to pillage and get some pirate loot. Captain Hook, on the other hand, wants revenge for Peter Pan cutting off his hand and feeding it to a crocodile. The crocodile now wants the rest of him. Captain Hook has a new plan. He will kidnap Tiger Lily, the daughter of the Indian chief. With a little persuasion, she will tell him where Peter Pan's hideout is.
Never Land turns out to be a dangerous place, especially for Wendy. First, Tink tricks The Lost Boys into attacking her and gets banished as a result. Then while Peter Pan takes her to the Mermaid Lagoon, John, Michael, and the Lost Boys are captured by the Indians. Normally this wouldn't matter, because it's just a game the two play. However, the Indian chief thinks Peter Pan was responsible for kidnapping Tiger Lily. If he doesn't give her back, he will burn the kids alive. Fortunately, after the mermaids try to drown Wendy, Peter Pan spots Captain Hook and Smee taking Tiger Lily. Peter Pan humiliates Captain Hook yet again and rescues Tiger Lily.
While recovering aboard his ship, Captain Hook learns of the split between Peter Pan and Tinker Bell and decides this is the perfect opportunity to get his revenge. He will capture Tinker Bell and use her jealousy over Wendy to get her to reveal Peter Pan's secret hiding place. Will it work?
As I mentioned in my review of Cinderella, films can be classics and still have deep flaws that are a sign of the times. This is very much true for Peter Pan. There are parts of this movie that are regrettable. Cinderella had an unwritten female lead whose only desire was to be rescued, which makes it feel old-fashioned in a negative way. Peter Pan has a negative view of most of its female characters as well. Wendy comes off the best, as she is by far the most mature character we see in Never Land, but even she is driven by jealousy when she sees Peter Pan react to Tiger Lily. The only character trait we get from the mermaids is jealousy. And Tinker Bell is so jealous, she is driven to attempted murder. Although, if I were forced to live with Peter Pan and the Lost Boys, I would have been driven to murder long ago. Being the only adult dealing with those kids day in and day out would drive me to madness. And to be fair to her, she does redeem herself in the end nearly sacrificing herself to save Peter Pan. As far as the Indians are concerned, let's just admit casual racism was a lot more acceptable back then and just be happy that's not nearly as true today.
There are some elements of the film that to stand up just as well today as they did when it first came out, and some that have aged better. Most people today haven't seen the original play, so that's not an issue. Also, there are several good songs in Peter Pan, especially "Your Mother and Mine". There is also a lot more action in this movie than in most other animated films of the era. This is one of the reasons the film was made a decade later than Walt Disney originally wanted it to be made.
Overall, the strengths of Peter Pan overcome its weaknesses by a large degree. However, if it were made today, there would have to be changes.
The old extras are ported over from the DVD (audio commentary track, Backstage Disney, Music & More). In total, it's nearly an hour and a half of old extras ported over. New extras begin with an introduction by Diane Disney-Miller, while there is also DisneyView, which fills in black bars on the side of the screen. Also, if you pause the movie, you get Pirate Training, where you can try to decipher smoke signals, play games, extra. Growing Up with Nine Old Men is a 41-minute long interview featurette on growing up as one of the kids of the Nine Old Men, the core group of animators. There are two deleted scenes and two deleted songs.
You can also buy the movie with a storybook app. Unfortunately, I don't have any apple product to try out this feature.
The technical presentation is great. In fact, some are complaining that the film looks too good. Seriously, there's a discussion about whether or not the studio removed too much grain in the restoration process. The problem with removing grain in most movies, is that it can also remove too many fine details, especially in people's faces, and this makes them look plastic. That is not an issue here. There's still all the fine detail from before, just without the grain. The audio is also excellent. The film was originally in mono, but has been redone for a 7.1 surround sound track. (The original mono is also present.) It's not a super active track, but it does a lot with the limited source material.
Peter Pan is one of Disney's classics from a time when they were releasing classic after classic. It hasn't aged as well as some of the other films from that time, but it is still a very good film and worth owning. The Blu-ray looks and sounds great and there are plenty of new and old extras. I'm not sure I would pay the $5 more for the Blu-ray Combo Pack with Storybook App, even if I had an Apple product to use it on.
- Submitted by: C.S.Strowbridge
Filed under: Video Review, Peter Pan