Peter Pan (1953) Diamond Edition Blu-ray Review: The Boy Who Wouldn't Grow Up Turns 60

An entertaining film, packed with action, memorable characters, and quality artwork.
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Peter Pan is the 14th film in the Walt Disney Animated Classics series, notable for being the last to feature the entire group of animators nicknamed Disney's Nine Old Men, and notorious for its insensitive portrayal of Indians.  The film makes its debut on Blu-ray coinciding with its 60th anniversary.

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J. M. Barrie's Peter Pan, or The Boy Who Wouldn't Grow Up had been one of Walt's favorite stories from his youth, and he was determined to create his version, working on it with his team for over a decade before it was completed.  It's not a surprise the story had great appeal to Walt throughout his life.  The plot offers adventure sure to delight a young boy, as Peter Pan and the Lost Boys fight against pirates and Indians.  Thematically, it deals with the virtues of imagination, storytelling, and childhood, all of which he dealt with as a producer of animated films.

Disney's Peter Pan centers on the Darling family.  Wendy is the oldest child, and she tells her younger brothers John and Michael about Peter Pan and his adventures in Never Land.   The boys act out the stories to their father George's frustration.  In response, he thinks Wendy needs to grow up, meaning get her own room and stop telling stories.  Before the parents head out to a party, the mother turns out the light after making sure the children have gone to bed.  Once the parents have gone, Peter Pan appears and whisks the children off to Never Land with the help of Tinkerbell the fairy. 

Waiting in Never Land is the pirate Captain Hook.  He seeks revenge against Peter Pan because he lost his hand during a sword fight between the two.  Afterwards, Peter Pan fed the hand to a crocodile, and the creature developed an appetite for the rest.  Luckily for Hook, the crocodile also swallowed a clock, the ticking of which signals his presence.\

The Darling children have more dangers than Captain Hook and his crew to deal with in Never Land.  Tinkerbell quickly grows jealous of Wendy and tricks the Lost Boys into shooting at her before they know whom she is.  This causes strife between Peter Pan and Tinkerbell, which Captain Hook later uses to his advantage.  The mermaids aren't too fond of Wendy, either.  Hook kidnaps Tiger Lily, daughter of Big Chief and friend of Peter Pan, to learn of the latter's secret hideout.  The Indians assume the Lost Boys captured her and threaten to burn them at the stake, if she isn't returned.  

When the Darling parents return home, the boys are sleeping in their beds and Wendy is asleep by the bedroom window, leaving viewers to wonder if the adventure actually happened or if it was all a dream.  For a brief moment, George is reminded of his own childhood imagination, causing him to reconsider what he told Wendy earlier in the evening about growing up. 

The thematic idea of childhood versus adulthood plays out in Never Land as Peter Pan, the boy who refuses to grow up, battles against the adult Captain Hook.  Hans Conried is the voice of Hook and George Darling, as actors had been in the play, furthering the notion they are one in the same.  To further draw a distinction to Hook as an adult, he is aware of his impending death, the minutes literally heard ticking away in the crocodile's belly.

The major flaw with Peter Pan is the treatment of the Indian characters, which is a bit uncomfortable to watch.  They unfortunately appear as the all-too-familiar stereotype of being little than savages.  Big Chief speaks broken English and the song "What Made the Red Man Red?" offers ridiculous explanations of their skin color and why they say "How" and "Ugh."  As regrettable as the material is, I wouldn't have censored the film.  I understand we are seeing the Indians through the point of view of a young London girl from the turn of the 20th century, which would naturally be skewed, by way of a writer from the same location and time period, which would also be skewed, and then through groups of people from the '40 and '50s.  I can accept none of them were sensitive to the portrayals of Native Americans in media, but surely someone at the Disney company is aware of how badly the characters come across and should have dealt with the issue and done something positive to atone in the Bonus materials. 

The video is presented in 1080p/AVC MPEG-4 and with an aspect ratio of 1.33:1.  For those that like to fill their monitors, DisneyView (HD) offers work by Cristy Maltese to fill the sides.  The colors seen in the film are vibrant with bright hues.  Blacks are rich and objects reveal as much of themselves within shadows as the animators intended.  The fine line work and detailed backgrounds look stellar.  Grain is gone as are any signs of age. 

The original mono, which is included, has been expanded into a natural-sounding DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 track.  Taking full advantage, sounds are well placed and can be heard moving through channels.  Ambiance of Never Land helps envelop the viewer within scenes.  Dialogue is clearly heard.  The track offers a great dynamic range from the booming LFE kicking in to support explosions and gentler sounds like pixie dust being sprinkled.  Under the subtitles, 'Peter Pan' Sing-Along' presents the lyrics for those who want to join along.

The Blu-ray offers a brief "Introduction by [Walt's daughter] Diane Disney-Miller" (HD, 1 min) to the film.  Ted Thomas' documentary Growing Up with Nine Old Men (HD, 41 min) is a wonderful look at these men through their children's point of view, though it's all so positive the portraits may not be complete.  In Deleted Scenes and Songs (HD, 15 min), the archives are opened for a look at "The Journey Home" and "Alternate Arrival" and "Never Smile at a Crocodile" and "The Boatswain Song."  The disc is defaulted to have games pop up when "Pause" is activated, which is infuriating when just jumping back or forward.  Thankfully it can be turned off.

The extras from the Platinum Edition DVD have been transferred over.  The Audio Commentary features Roy Disney, Leonard Maltin, and members of the cast and crew.  It's very informative.  Classic Music & More (SD, 17 min) looks at "The Pirate Song" and  "Never Land: The Lost Song."  There are also videos of Paige O'Hara singing "Never Land," and Disney's forgettable hip hop/pop group T-Squad singing "The Second Star to the Right."

Classic Backstage Disney (SD, 65 min) is great for Disneyphiles who enjoy the history of Walt and the films. There are "You Can Fly: The Making of Peter Pan,"  "In Walt's Words: Why I Made Peter Pan," "Tinker Bell: A Fairy's Tale," "The Peter Pan that Almost Was" (particularly notable for its presentation of unused ideas), and "The Peter Pan Story.

Peter Pan is an entertaining film, packed with action, memorable characters, and quality artwork.  The Blu-ray delivers another top-notch Disney presentation and the wealth of extras allow viewers to dig deep into its history.

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