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"Peter Pan" Re-Premiere

Posted March 6, 2007


Walt Disney's "Peter Pan" Sets Sail On DVD


William Kallay

Forget about those dreadful remakes of the story of “Peter Pan” over the years. They’ve helped ruin and confuse children on what made Pan so delightful. Steven Spielberg’s rare misfire, “Hook” (1991) re-imagined Pan as a boring grown-up with issues. P.J. Hogan’s “Peter Pan” (2003) was an interesting re-telling, but it was bogged down by heavy handed seriousness and violence. Disney’s own “Return To Never Land” (2002) was an unnecessary visit to the mythical island in the sky. “Finding Neverland” (2004) saw Johnny Depp portray author J.M. Barrie in a moving performance.

I believe that the best interpretation of J.M. Barrie’s children’s masterpiece was Walt Disney’s 1953 version of “Peter Pan.” The classic tale is again available on DVD, this time on a 2-disc edition. The film was originally released on DVD two times, once in 1999, and again in 2002. The current 2-disc edition is the best, though it does recycle some bonus material featured on the previous discs.

Disc 1 contains the feature film in full screen (1.33:1), a 5.1 Disney Enhanced Home Theatre Mix, the original mono soundtrack, and French and Spanish dubbed soundtracks. There’s an audio commentary by Roy E. Disney, Kathryn Beaumont (Wendy), Margaret Kerry (Tinker Bell’s live action reference model), animators Ollie Johnston, Frank Thomas, Marc Davis, Ward Kimball, Disney historian Jeff Kurti, animation historian John Canemaker, and film critic Leonard Maltin. This audio commentary was on the previous DVDs. The bonus features continue with a sneak peek at the new movie “Tinker Bell,” a Disney song selection link, “Peter’s Playful Prank: Storybook,” English subtitles and Disney’s array of Sneak Peeks at other theatrical films and DVDs.

Disc 2 features four sections with individual links to more bonuses. “Music & More” contains the deleted song, “The Pirate Song.” “Never Land: The Lost Song” has famed Disney composer Richard M. Sherman discussing his re-working of a lost song that was written for “Peter Pan.” This leads into Paige O’Hara’s rendition of the song in a music video. Last in this section is the teen singing group T-Squad singing “The Second Star To The Right.”

In the “Games & Activities” section, kids will get a kick out of the “English Read-Along: Peter Pan,” which features the film with a read-along subtitle. The “Camp Never Land: Train To Be A Lost Boy” section has three games to keep the little ones entertained, including “Smee’s Sudoku Challenge,” “Tarrrget Practice,” and “Tink’s Fantasy Flight.”

“Backstage Disney” is where adult Disney fans will enjoy a number of behind-the-scenes featurettes about the making “Peter Pan.” “You Can Fly: The Making Of Peter Pan” has been recycled from the previous DVDs. This is a enjoyable documentary, though it would’ve been nice if Disney spent a little extra time to produce an entirely new film. “In Walt’s Words: ‘Why I Made Peter Pan’” is a reconstruction of Walt as a child seeing “Peter Pan” for the first time on stage. Directors Ron Clements & John Musker (“The Little Mermaid) introduce this featurette. “Tinker Bell: A Fairy’s Tale” is a look at the development of the little pixie as a classic Disney character. “The Peter Pan That Almost Was” tells how the film might’ve been made had Disney’s artists taken a different approach. The “Art Galleries” offer an assortment of photos and art for the most ardent Pan fan. Finally rounding out this section is “The Peter Pan Story” (1952 Featurette) is another recycled section from the previous DVDs, but is no less enjoyable.

The last section is much in the line of previous “virtual rides” done on Disney DVDs in the recent past. “Peter Pan’s Virtual Flight” is somewhat reminiscent of the famous Peter Pan attractions in Disney’s theme parks. Except this time, riders can fly from the comfort of their favorite chair through a computer generated London.

The picture quality of this new DVD set is superb. Digitally restored and remastered, the picture is steady, free of grain and very sharp & clean. Unlike the previous 2002 DVD (of which I own), there is no film jitter (shake) or grain. The result on this new DVD is a very nice and pleasing picture. It’s not too overly “cleaned” as “Cinderella” appears and seems more natural in tune with the film’s 1953 look. The film was digitally restored by John Lowry and his restoration team at DTS Digital Images. His previous efforts have included other Disney titles like “Cinderella” and “Lady And The Tramp.” To see this film properly in its original aspect ratio, and if you have a 16:9 television monitor, it’s best to set the aspect ratio to 4:3.

Once again, Disney has done an excellent job in remastering their soundtracks, and “Peter Pan” is no exception. Sound mixer Terry Porter remastered the sound in 5.1 “Disney Enhanced Home Theatre Mix,” an idea he came up with for “The Lion King” DVD. Since then, Disney has released many of their titles, including ones originally recorded and presented in mono sound, in this format. It gives the home viewer a more immersive sound environment than they would even hear in a theatre. Thankfully, Porter doesn’t overdue it on his remixes, and the soundtracks stay very close to the original mix. He’s an outstanding mixer and should be commended for respecting these Disney works. The Disney Studio, for many years, and especially on their animated features, recorded some very good soundtracks in mono sound. As presented on this DVD, the music is clear and full. As for the mixes, the 5.1 option plays at 448kbps, while the original mono mix plays at 128kbps. The French mix plays at 448kpbs, but the Spanish mix plays at 384kpbs. The audio commentary track plays at 96kpbs. What does this mean for your home theatre set-up? These all sound very good, despite the digital compression used on the Dolby Digital soundtracks. There are occasional surround effects used in the new mix of “Pan,” but they’re unobtrusive and add a little fun to the movie.

“Peter Pan” was well suited for Disney. The original story was changed a bit for his animated version of the classic play, but I think Disney’s version is the most fun. It captured the essence of Pan’s childhood playfulness, leadership of the Lost Boys, his constant teasing of Captain Hook, his love for Tinker Bell, and the wonderment the Darling children who dare to imagine.

Unlike most of the films made after its 1953 release, “Peter Pan” is still completely entertaining and free of adult point-of-view instilled in later versions like “Hook” or “Return To Never Land.” Walt Disney’s “Peter Pan” took the core of the story, never wanting to grow up, only to realize it was okay to grow up, and stuck with it. The story is told so well that both children and adults can enjoy the slapstick and fantasy all rolled into a tight package. The problem with the re-imaginings of the Pan story is that adults took over and sucked out the fun of being a kid. In “Hook,” Peter Pan has grown up to be a complete bore, and remains so through most of the movie. There’s barely any magic to Robin Williams’ Pan. In P.J. Hogan’s “Peter Pan,” the story is done well, but Captain Hook is entirely too dark, sinister and violent to enjoy, especially in a story so clearly made for children. In a children’s story like this, a villain should be fun to watch and even liked, not feared.

The story of “Pan” really, even though it’s simple, covers a lot of bases. The ideas of accepting having to grow up, taking responsibility and realizing kids have to dream is some pretty deep stuff. Disney’s version, however, doesn’t get too much into that, at least in detail, and plays the story for fun. One of the best aspects of the “Pan” myth is youth versus growing up, and this is represented by Peter Pan versus Captain Hook. The beauty of Disney’s film is that Captain Hook (Hans Conried) is a perfect nemesis for Peter Pan. He’s a caricature of an adult buffoon who gets easily frustrated at Pan, a kid who annoys him with his constant antics. Pan knows this is all a game, except one of the players, Hook, takes things a little too seriously. Those blasted kids! But isn’t that the magic of the kid versus adult dynamic? Don’t kids sometimes annoy grown ups, and don’t grown ups get frustrated with kids with an understanding that kids will be kids? Isn’t there an underlying admiration between the two camps? Adults may sometimes wish they were kids again, and kids, well, may wish to be grown up, and then again, maybe not! Bottom line is that the entire film takes the Pan myth and has fun with it, never once resorting to being heavy handed.

Disney’s “Peter Pan” is the best filmed version of the story. I understand that the Mary Martin television special (1956) was popular in its day and is considered to be a classic. But it’s Disney’s version which made the story come alive. No longer confined to a stage, the story really can do things it could never do before. In the silent film version, and in the Mary Martin special, the story was still stagy. In Disney’s retelling, both the characters and camera were free to fly.

I had seen professional stage versions of “Peter Pan” in Los Angeles, one featuring Sandy Duncan and another featuring Cathy Rigby. Each show was outstanding, especially when Peter Pan flies into the audience. There’s no better way of getting an audience of children (and some adults) to say “Wow!” And one of the highlights of these late-20th Century shows was that Tinker Bell was not just a spotlight flying about the stage anymore. She was a laser beam of light that could do tricks that no previous Tinker Bell could do. But she was no Disney Tinker Bell.

Animator Marc Davis so perfectly designed and brought to life Tinker Bell, that she’s been a staple in Disney’s character parade since the get-go. He brought so much personality to her that despite her inability to speak like a person, an audience could clearly understand her emotions and her thoughts. This is no doubt in combination with live action model Margaret Kerry’s brilliant acting as Tinker Bell that combined for a classic character (as can be seen on the 2nd DVD). Tink, as Peter calls her, is cute and filled with spunk. She speaks, or rather, chimes, what’s on her mind. Davis’ drawing of her is splendid, with Tink’s cherubic facial features, large expressive blue eyes and blond hair bun. I’m not sure if Davis patterned her hair on the styles of the early-1950s, or on his wife, Alice, but Tinker Bell is adorable in either capacity.

Almost all of the characters in the Pan story are enjoyable, right down to most minor characters. Some stand out more than others, but it’s one of those stories, done as a play, that almost any actor would be happy playing a minor role. One of my personal favorites has always been Captain Hook. The Disney animators were correct in exaggerating Hook’s appearance as a stylish rogue of the high seas who is prone to slapstick. He’s comic fodder for not only Peter Pan, but for his sidekick, Mr. Smee (Bill Thompson). I don’t know of any kid who hasn’t laughed hard when Smee thinks he’s shaved off Hook’s head, or when Hook lands in the Crocodile’s mouth.

Disney’s “Pan” is beautifully cast. Wendy (Kathryn Beaumont) was an inspired choice, having voiced Alice in “Alice In Wonderland” (1951). Her soft and sweet voice has always been one of my favorites in animation. Bobby Driscoll’s voicing of Peter Pan is playful as the character. His teenage tenor provides the character with a sense of childhood mischief and adventure. I cannot think of another actor who voiced Pan so well.

The music in “Peter Pan” is memorable, notably “You Can Fly, You Can Fly, You Can Fly” and the sweet “Your Mother and Mine.” It’s kind of strange to think of it now, but those songs were contemporary for their time, yet have held up remarkably well over the years. Written by pop song writers Sammy Cahn & Sammy Fain, “You Can Fly…” has the perfect rhythm that brings pace to the scene when Peter leads the Darling children out the window for a flight to Never Land. Other songs and the music score were written by Oliver Wallace, the Disney studio’s resident composer. He was quite talented and his music for “Peter Pan” is as delightful as most of his other projects at the studio.

The story of “Peter Pan” is so wonderful for children. Timeless and filled with dreams of adventure, kids have enjoyed Peter Pan’s escapades. Disney’s vision of Pan is the most enjoyable and memorable, and what better time to rediscover it than now?

Peter Pan

Walt Disney Home Entertainment

Catalog Number 52665

Region 1


Dolby Digital 5.1 Disney Enhanced Home Theatre Mix

Dolby Digital 5.1 (French and Spanish)

Dolby Digital Mono

DVD Release Date: March 6, 2007



Two DVD-9 Discs


77 minutes


Directors: Clyde Geronimi, Wilfred Jackson & Hamilton Luske

Cast: Bobby Driscoll, Kathryn Beaumont, Hans Conried, Bill Thompson, Heather Angel, Paul Collins, Tommy Luske, June Foray & Tom Conway



Special thanks to Mac McLean


IMAGES: © Disney.  All rights reserved.




Copyright 2004-2007 From Script To DVD.  All rights reserved.


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