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Peter Pan (1953) (Signature Collection)
I think the word "timeless" is thrown around too frequently when describing Disney movies, but, in the case of Peter Pan, the adjective is appropriate. Now 65 years old, this imagining of J.M. Barrie's "Peter Pan, or The Boy Who Wouldn't Grow Up" remains as entertaining and universally appealing as it was six and a half decades ago upon release. The animation is less polished, which is no criticism, and the story is a bit tougher than those of modern Disney films, but Peter Pan is a treasure for today's children to discover and enjoy with older generations. Disney opens the vault yet again to re-release Peter Pan as part of its "Walt Disney Signature Collection," and this new Blu-ray should be much cheaper than the out-of-print version. This new package ports over a number of bonus features from previous releases and adds a few new items. Fans who do not yet own the film can safely make a purchase, but I cannot help but be disappointed at the sterile, largely grain-free image.
John, Michael and Wendy Darling are not ready to grow up. Who can blame them? Mortgages, student loans, heartache and career stress are hardly as fun as elaborate role-playing games and tales of flying fairies, pirates and angry crocodiles. The Darling parents head out to a social gathering, but not before reminding Wendy that this will be her last night in the nursery with her younger brothers. After they depart, the children are visited by Peter Pan and pixie Tinkerbell, who fly them away to Never Land, where Captain Hook is angry at Pan for cutting off his hand. There, the Darlings meet the Lost Boys, nefarious Mr. Smee. and Tiger Lily, the daughter of an Indian chief. They learn the value of mischief, imagination and remaining young at heart, all without saccharine pontificating or patronizing moral shakedowns.
This story has been told and retold hundreds of times, but Disney's version is probably the most successful in its simplicity and presentation. This was a heck of a follow up to Disney's "Golden Age" hits Bambi and Dumbo, and, while Peter Pan is not a strict adaptation of its source, it retains its renegade spirit. It is no shock that Walt Disney, purveyor of amusements and promoter of eternal youth, chose to make a movie celebrating the wonderment of childhood and the endless bounds of imagination. Peter Pan, of course, reminds us that we can all retain the spark of discovery, even in adulthood, as Mr. Darling realizes in the film's final scene. This, unlike many modern imitators, is how you represent and speak to children through film.
From the voice talents of Bobby Driscoll, a tragic figure whose life in no way mirrored this hopeful film, to the catchy songs to the accomplished animation, Peter Pans floats along during its brief 77-minute running time. Modern Disney might not allow such overt stereotypes of American Indians or a group of lawless boys who shoot rocks at pretty women, but these rogues live on in film history. This $4-million production is one of Disney's best, and offers a pleasing blend of adventure, suspense, mischief and nostalgia. This new Blu-ray edition will likely interest only first-time buyers or rabid completeists, as the added content is not weighty enough to warrant a purchase if you own the previous HD edition. Film fans will want a copy of this movie on their shelves, and this new edition is not a bad way to go if you don't already own Peter Pan.
The 1.33:1/1080p/AVC-encoded image is recycled from the 2013 Blu-ray, and this is certainly not pulled from a new scan of the original elements. My biggest issue with this image is how clean and sterile it looks. I was not alive in 1953 to enjoy the film in theaters, but I distinctly remember how this movie looked on my much-played VHS, and this ain't it. The colors have definitely been changed from the original version, and Disney has clearly altered a number of elements in an attempt to modernize the presentation or fill in rough patches. I'd have preferred they just give us what the animators produced, but no one asked me. There has definitely been a definitive grain removal pass at some point in this film's home-video history, as it is nearly absent in this presentation. This is a clean, mostly sharp image, but viewers looking for a totally authentic image will be disappointed. On the plus side, I did not notice edge enhancement, the colors as presented are nicely saturated and do not bleed, and there are no specks and debris to litter the presentation. Black levels are also good, and the animation is reasonably lifelike and consistently clear.
The soundtrack is offered in 7.1 DTS-HD Master audio and lossy English mono variants. The mono track is sadly flat and compressed, and a punchy, uncompressed mono mix would have been appreciated here. The 7.1 mix is, again, not authentic to the theatrical presentation, but it is pleasing. It offers excellent dialogue reproduction and a fair amount of ambient and action-effects panning. The score is weighty and nicely integrated, and the LFE even kicks in at times during scenes of high adventure. French and Spanish 5.1 Dolby Digital dubs are included, as are English SDH, French and Spanish subtitles.
PACKAGING AND EXTRAS:
This two-disc release includes the Blu-ray, a DVD copy and a "Disney Movies Anywhere" digital copy. The discs are packed into an Elite case that is wrapped in an embossed slipcover. There are a few new supplements: Stories from Walt's Office: Walt & Flight (4:13/HD) sees Walt Disney Archives Director Rebecca Cline and Walt Disney Archivist Edward Ovalle discussing the cinema tycoon's fascination with flight, and the piece includes vintage footage of Disney and his personal planes. A Darling Conversation with Wendy and John: Kathryn Beaumont and Paul Collins (8:16/HD) is a chat with the actors about their experiences working with Disney. "You Can Fly"-Oke (2:11/HD) is a sing-along, and "Never Smile at a Crocodile"-Oke (1:48/HD) is a deleted song with new visuals. Classic bonus features include an Audio Commentary by Roy Disney; the Disney Song Selection feature and music videos; Deleted Songs and Scenes (10:00 total/HD); You Can Fly: The Making of Peter Pan (15:59/SD); Tinker Bell: A Fairy's Tale (8:27/HD); The Peter Pan That Almost Was (21:01/SD), about a version in development in the late 1930s; The Peter Pan Story (12:04/HD); Growing Up with Nine Old Men (41:08/HD), about Disney animators; a Lost Song (2:39/SD); and Walt's Words: Why I Made Peter Pan (7:40/SD).
Walt Disney's Peter Pan truly is a timeless classic about the wonders of imagination and joys of youth. The story resonates today as it did 65 years ago, and this film will no doubt remain important to future generations. This new "Signature Collection" Blu-ray release offers a couple of brief new supplements and plenty of ported-over bonus material. The image is not exactly a good representation of the theatrical experience, but this is likely the best we will get in the near future. Recommended.
William lives in Burlington, North Carolina, and looks forward to a Friday-afternoon matinee.