directed by Hamilton Luske, Clyde Geronomi, Wilfred Jackson
by Bill Chambers Since the 1950s, mainstream audiences have grown up knowing Walt Disney's Peter Pan as the definitive adaptation of J.M. Barrie's play and its subsequent novelization (Peter and Wendy), and that's a mixed blessing. For every thing the Disney does well, like the swashbuckling, it does something horribly wrong, like compounding Barrie's 19th-century notions with retrograde values all the movie's own. For instance, the English Barrie may have regarded Native Americans as exotic creatures by locating them in Never Land, but it's Disney who immortalized them in literal red skin, then gave them a song celebrating their mono-syllabic cretinism:
When did he first say, "Ugh!"
When did he first say, "Ugh!"
In the Injun book it say
When the first brave married squaw
He gave out with a big ugh
When he saw his Mother-in-Law
If anything trivializes Barrie's sentimental, convoluted rumination on growing up, it's Driscoll's story, yet his participation in this telling lends it a certain poignancy. I wonder if, as an actor particularly doomed by age, he identified with the role; I wonder if, over the years, he thought back on the irony and the autobiography of it. I'm sure he did. But all that's academic, because the film's surface presentation of Peter is hugely unappealing. Vainglorious (he's drawn to Wendy Darling because he's the star of her stories), petulant (where to begin?), and an operator, he runs Never Land like the Kurtz compound, attracting followers to his nebulous cause because his unique gifts--the ability to fly, eternal youth, and, in this incarnation, lack of British accent--make him seem like he has the answers. He even sits on a throne. Really, he's a vampire who thrives on his cult of personality; there's a reason that movie was called The Lost Boys. (Eh, maybe not.)
Peter's characterization isn't exactly a departure from Barrie, except that his pompousness--at least on the stage--is leavened by femininity and Englishness, and Disney peppers Peter's speech with insults, Americanizing him in the ugliest way. I like to think of Ferris Bueller as proving you can make Peter Pan empathetic, monogamous, and, yes, American, without demystifying him. I hate the way Peter treats his Girl Friday Tinker Bell in this film, mocking her ardour towards him by openly flirting with Wendy, shaking her like a pepper mill to sprinkle fairy dust on his new disciples (and not intervening when the youngest Darling mimics this), and swatting her away like a pest as she tries to save his life. Her fakeout death humbles him, but only momentarily--the 2002 sequel, Return to Never Land, bears out this emotional continuity by having her go right back to being an NBA wife. It's maddening to me that Disney will put this poison pill on Blu-ray while continuing to suppress Song of the South: The latter may be bluntly offensive, but Peter's unchecked hostility is potentially much more insidious. Who wants their son taking his cues from this meanspirited "hero"? Disney's Peter Pan is every two-timing creep I've ever known, and I root for Hook to blast him out of the sky.2Of course, Tinker Bell got her revenge by becoming the bigger name via a wildly popular series of dtv "prequels" that don't yoke her to a boy. And she's a brilliant pantomime thanks to animator Marc Davis (rotoscoping model Margaret Kelly), although her poor body image in a bit where she measures her hips kind of shows you where this production's head is at. Indeed, visually the picture's above reproach, opening up the play well beyond the parameters of the stodgily theatrical Hook and 2003's lovely but claustrophobic Peter Pan. Never Land remains a conspicuously spartan utopia, but it has a depth of detail that rewards macro and micro appreciations, with Tinker Bell's oversized surroundings revealing a dollhouse craftsmanship. Still, it's the film's awesome moonlit vision of Victorian London that's become truly iconic, the image of the Darlings poised on the minute-hand of Big Ben as sublime as anything in cinema.3
I'm wary of praising Peter Pan's elegant 1.33:1, 1080p Blu-ray presentation after failing to notice the detrimental amount of noise-reduction applied to Cinderella last year. The problem with these "restorations" of classic animation is that it's perfectly valid to erase the grain: Celluloid was a means to an end--a faithful reproduction of the original artwork was always the goal. But grain is detail, like a dot on a pointillist painting, and when you filter out too much of it, you sacrifice, in Disney's case, the meticulous craftsmanship that makes them the Fabergé of the industry: the creases in a billowing dress, the residual dust from a magic wand. I no longer have earlier editions of Peter Pan to compare this one to, but I don't trust the perfection of it, the eunuchal smoothness of it. I do, however, laud the pastel colours of this transfer, even if they don't necessarily line up with my Technicolor memories. There's a rococo quality to the movie's palette in HiDef that very simply feels authentic.
The 7.1 DTS-HD Master Audio is more aggressive than Disney's typical home-theatre remix, though it complements this visceral film. The bomb blast that nearly kills Tink shakes the room, while Candy Candido's famously growly voice--which Disney nerds will recognize from Sleeping Beauty and Robin Hood--grinds the woofers into a fine powder during the Indian Chief's big spiel. Only the music disappoints, sounding bright and hollow as it swells up in every corner of the soundstage. It's much more of a piece with the original mono mix, also on board, unadvertised, in lossy DD 2.0. Recycled on another track is the audio commentary from the 2007 Platinum Edition DVD, featuring Roy Disney, Jeff Kurtti (half of DVD producers Kurtti-Pellerin), animators Davis, Ward Kimball, Ollie Johnston, and Frank Thomas, Leonard Maltin, animation historian John Canemaker, Kerry and her Wendy counterpart Kathryn Beaumont, and Walt Disney hissownself. It's a well-constructed patchwork ultimately regurgitated with the benefit of visual aids by the remaining "Classic DVD Bonus Features."
Exclusive to the BD is an introduction-cum-infomercial by Diane Disney Miller (1 min., HD), who shares that the Disney Family Museum is home to Mary Blair's and David Hall's stunning concept art for Peter Pan, here teased in too-brief glimpses that made me grateful for HD clarity--albeit irritated that such a thing as a still-frame gallery has gone the way of the Dodo. Next, a selection of "Deleted Scenes and Songs" offers Henry Calvin's take on "Never Smile at a Crocodile," somebody else performing "The Boatswain Song," and scrappy reconstructions of alternate arrivals to and departures from Never Land. (At one point, Nana the Dog took the journey with the Darlings instead of just floating in their yard like the world's saddest Macy's balloon.) The centrepiece of the new supplements, almost worth the cost of the set by itself, is "Growing Up with the Nine Old Men" (41 mins., HD), a first-person documentary in which Frank Thomas's son Ted goes around the country interviewing fellow offspring of Disney's famed Nine Old Men. He wants to compare notes, to hear which fathers brought their work home with them; he asks them what their dad carried in his pockets. It's a melancholy, strangely haunting survey of a prosperous segment of the Boomer generation. Some of them had real "Leave It To Beaver" childhoods, complete with working railroads on their property. Others were more like The Tree of Life.
Previously-available SD extras begin with 1998's lacklustre "You Can Fly: The Making of Peter Pan" (16 mins.), which sees the likes of Maltin and Davis toeing the company line. (No mention of Driscoll's fate, in other words.) "In Walt's Words: Why I Made Peter Pan" (8 mins.) abridges an article Disney wrote for BRIEF MAGAZINE describing his childhood brushes with Barrie's play, read aloud by a Disney soundalike not trying too hard and introduced by The Little Mermaid co-directors Ron Clements and John Musker. "Tinker Bell: A Fairy's Tale" (8 mins.) expands on the evolution of Tink from a flashlight shone on the wall to the Disney minx we know and love. The ubiquitous Don Hahn tries to make it sound like childhood sex fantasies about Tinker Bell are normal while the unseen narrator debunks the myth that Marilyn Monroe served as the inspiration for the blonde, busty pixie. Tantalizing excerpts from the 1924 silent Peter Pan, directed by Herbert Brennon and starring Betty Bronson as Peter, find the interviewees first celebrating that version's ingenuity, then denigrating its primitivism. It looks pretty cool, regardless.
Clement and Musker return in "The Peter Pan That Almost Was" (21 mins.) to account for a lengthy development process that included numerous false starts, almost always caused by departing too much from Barrie's text. Lastly among the makings-of is a vintage featurette, "The Peter Pan Story" (12 mins.), that aims to educate with stentorian narration and M.O.S. shots of Disney staring contemplatively at a statue of Peter Pan. Black-and-white clips from Song of the South and Treasure Island dressed up as historical footage thinly ice the cake.
Meanwhile, filed under "Classic Music and More" is a rough demo of "The Pirate Song" married to thumbnail sketches from that deleted sequence, in addition to a lost song, 1940's "Never Land," that Richard M. Sherman--the combover half of Disney's legendary composing duo--took it upon himself to complete decades later. Paige O'Hara, the voice of Beauty and the Beast's Belle, performs the song in an accompanying video that hits every MusiquePlus cliché on the checklist: purple evening gown, dry ice, rear projection, lyrics belted out every which way but at the camera, and a late-materializing string quartet. In another video, the cynical marketing creation T-Squad performs a hippity-hoppity rendition of "The Second Star to the Right." Where are they now? Where were they then?
Rounding out this "Diamond Edition" platter, thank Christ, are trailers for Planes, Wreck-It Ralph, Monsters University, and Tinker Bell and the Quest for the Queen, plus the upcoming Blu-ray reissues of The Little Mermaid, Return to Never Land, Monsters, Inc., The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh, The Muppet Movie, and Mulan. Oh, and there's a storyboard app (requires a Mac device--ironic, since Mac hates Blu-ray), as well as an intermission menu. And did I mention the jump-to-a-song index?
Does the whole thing come with a DVD and a Digital Copy? Does Tinker Bell have wings?
1. Others still are adhered to, but don't play. For instance, the Freudian gimmick of casting the same actor as Captain Hook and Mr. Darling is observed by having the great Hans Conreid voice both, yet this rotund, bushy Mr. Darling bears so little resemblance to this slender and manicured Hook that the synaptic spark of recognition never occurs. return
2. For the better part of the nineteenth and twentieth century, amputee was shorthand (no pun intended) for villainy, the best efforts of William Wyler aside. Peter took Hook's hand, however, and fed it to a crocodile--with that being the sum total of their rivalry's backstory, why am I on Peter's side, again? return
3. Of course, Peter's such an asshole that he casually changes the time for the entire city. return