Of the many screen adaptations of J.M. Barrie’s masterpiece ‘Peter Pan’, none have been as enduring as Walt Disney’s 1953 animated classic. For many children, it is their first introduction to Peter, Wendy, Tinkerbell, Captain Hook and Neverland, and for most, no other version comes as close to capturing the magic and whimsy of the timeless tale. In fact, Disney’s ‘Peter Pan’ is one of those rare treasures that only gets better with repeated viewing.
The story is so familiar it is often mistaken for a traditional fairy tale, even though Barrie’s book is barely over a hundred years old. Peter and Neverland are the literal embodiment of that childhood desire to never grow up and remain in a blissful state of innocence, haunted by the ever-present spectre of the responsibilities of age and experience. In the hands of the Disney Studio in their giddy post-‘Cinderella’ success, that careful balance is pitched perfectly, soaring in its first act (especially the glorious flight from London to Neverland) and building with care towards its finale and revelation that growing up doesn’t mean losing your imagination.
These early animated classics are also a masterclass in characterisation. Peter (voiced by Bobby Driscoll) is significantly played by an actual boy for the first time, rather than historically a girl pretending to be a boy, and all that bombastic boyish energy sparkles across the screen. Captain Hook (voiced by Hans Conried) is one of the most enjoyable of the Disney villains, an almost-vaudeville creation, combining refined gentry with brutish villainy, all the while living in terror of the ever-present crocodile (who pairs with Hook in some of the best comic sequences in the film). And, of course, there’s the mute but wonderfully expressive Tinker Bell, a sassy little pixie driven by fierce loyalty to Peter and jealous suspicion of perfectly polite Wendy (voiced by Katherine Beaumont).
The narrative is boiled down to its simplest form, meaning much of the darkness and melancholy of Barrie’s tale is lost, but considering when the film was made, all this can be forgiven. ‘Peter Pan’ is yet another example of Disney Animation at its absolute best - a terrific and colourful adventure filled with pirates, mermaids and Indians, an adorable troop of Lost Boys and a hero and villain of equal charisma. Even after all these years, taking the second star to the right and heading straight on till morning is still one of the best journeys you can take.
Even after all these years, taking the second star to the right and heading straight on till morning is still one of the best journeys you can take.
PICTURE & SOUND
Disney always takes great care with the restorations of their prestige releases, removing dirt and grain to allow the artistry and colour greater vibrancy in high definition. The lengths to which they have gone has always been a controversial topic, especially eradicating any film grain texture, but it does allow us to see a level of detail in the artwork we would never have seen otherwise. Their 1080p 1.33:1 transfer does the film and the restoration justice, especially with the vibrant palette. It can be a little soft at times, with a bit of detail lost, but I’m not sure whether that is as a result of the transfer or the animation itself. The DTS-HD MA 7.1 track has similarly been cleaned up and brought up to scratch with modern standards, but Disney’s early films are such a glorious audio experience that this only enhances the experience. For purists though, the original theatrical mix is included, albeit only in a Dolby Digital 1.0 track.
It appears that almost everything from the U.S. release has made it to the Australian release, with one little exception. Of the new features, the most impressive is ‘Growing Up With Nine Old Men’, an intimate look at the legendary team of animators through the eyes of their children. It’s a lovely little piece, and a welcome change from the starry-eyed discussion of the artists we’ve had before. Also new are a number of unfinished deleted scenes and songs, recently unearthed from the vaults. Everything else is ported over from the excellent Platinum DVD release, including an audio commentary, making-of featurettes, more deleted material, archival footage and some redundant music videos. What appears to be missing from the U.S. release is the Intermission feature, where pausing the film unlocks a number of games for kids to play. Overall, it’s a good little package, though it begs for the kind of retrospective ‘Beauty and the Beast’ and ‘Alice in Wonderland’ had to offer.