BLU REVIEW: Peter Pan: Diamond Edition

THE SET-UP
Three British children are transported to Neverland, where a young boy named Peter and his band of Lost Boys do battle with the nefarious pirate Captain Hook. Based on the classic children’s novel by Sir James Barrie.

THE DELIVERY
Sir James M. Barrie’s classic children’s novel about the boy who never grew up has seen a number of incarnations, from the original story to a number of silent film and stage adaptations. Walt Disney’s animated version, released in 1953, keeps some of the elements of the original story, with a good amount of Disneyfication (for lack of a better term) thrown in.

The fact that Disney softened some of the darker elements, added musical numbers, and changed a few things is hardly a drawback. In fact, it gives this version just the right personality and distinction. There’s also no denying that it is incredibly entertaining; Peter Pan is part swashbucking, part musical with an entertaining cast of characters. Hans Conreid (a popular radio and TV actor during the time) steals the show as Captain Hook and Mr. Darling. Few voices are so instantly recognizable, and Conreid injects the right amount of evil and cowardice into what became a classic Disney villain.

Teen idol Booby Driscoll voices Peter, in what would be his last big role. The voice of Alice in Wonderland, Kathryn Beaumont, voices Wendy with just the right motherly tone. Tinker Bell may be the most memorable character from the film, but Nana the dog, the children’s long suffering nanny, deserves some sort of recognition for the movie’s best acting performance. Seriously.

Some have been critical of Peter Pan for what they consider racial stereotypes in the film, including the portrayal of the Indians. Considering the Indians – or Native Americans for the politically correct – are the smartest, most sympathetic characters in the film, I find the criticism unwarranted. 

Even after 60 years, Peter Pan continues to feel fresh and very funny – the Captain Hook/Crocodile running gag never gets old. Most of the songs are memorable enough, and the tone of the film is constantly entertaining and enchanting. Other DIsney films may be more beloved and held in higher regard, but few reach the enjoyable heights Peter Pan reaches.

VIDEO AND AUDIO
How does Disney make an animated film from 1953 look this fantastic in high definition? Whether it’s pixie dust or fairy godmothers, the technical magicians at Disney have given us a video transfer that is sharp as a pirate’s sword and as bright as the second star to the right.  

OK, maybe I’m going a little overboard with the hyperbole, but this really is a fantastic transfer. Like the Cinderella Blu-ray released last year, viewers are treated to an image largely free of any film grain, and colors that pop off the screen. Unfortunately, we don’t get any special features that detail the restoration and remastering process, but the image appears to have been digitally touched up, as the blacks are incredibly inky and the reds are as deep as blood. 

The audio is a new 7.1 DTS-HD mix, and while it is very effective, the source material (especially the dialogue) isn’t quite that good, so the overall impact is limited. French and Spanish Dolby Digital mixes are also included. 

SPECIAL FEATURES
For the Blu-ray release, Disney included the special features from previous DVD releases (something few studios do) as well as a handful of new extras that fans of the film can truly appreciate. Leading off the special features is a short introduction to the film by Diane Disney Miller, the daughter of Walt. It’s a nice touch, and even provides an interesting tidbit that Peter Pan was supposed to be the follow-up to Snow White, but World War II delayed it until the 1950s.

Two never-before-seen deleted scenes are featured, in storyboard form. It is an outstanding look into the filmmaking process, as we see the original storyboard sketches (with modern actors providing voice-overs for the characters). We see an alternate ending, which included the trip back home to London from Neverland. A second deleted scene shows an extended arrival for the Darling children in Neverland.

Two songs not included in the film are presented here with original storyboards. “Never Smile at a Crocodile” is well known by fans of the film, as it was released with the film, but the words were never sung in the feature. “The Boatswain Song” was written very early in the film’s development, and the presentation includes very early concept sketches of the characters. 

Among the special features brought over from the previous DVD release are the “Song Selection” option, which plays only the film’s five songs in order (“The Second Star to the Right,” “You can Fly,” ” A Pirate’s Life,” “Following the Leader,” and “Your Mother and Mine”). A deleted song, “The Pirate Song,” is included, with an original recording playing over storyboard sketches from the unfinished scene. 

Richard Sherman, the famous Disney composer, takes a “lost” song not used in the film called “Neverland” and completes it some 60 years after it was conceived. Only lyrics from the original song exist, so Sherman added the music. Not only does Sherman discuss his approach to finishing the song, Paige O’Hara (the voice of Belle from Beauty and the Beast) also discusses the song, and a music video of the finished song featuring O’Hara singing is incuded.

A music video of the modern remake of the song “The Second Star to the Right” by the group T-Squad is included. It’s disposable pop from a group of girls (and boys, we think; the music video doesn’t make it clear), and it’s laughingly awful, even if it’s only six years old or so.

A “making of” featurette (which I remember being used in a VHS release) includes some fantastic behind-the-scenes looks in the film, including promotional clips filmed by Walt Disney himself. A featurette called “In Walt’s Words: Why I Made Peter Pan” includes a actor reading Disney’s account of why he made the film. ‘Tinker Bell: A Fairy’s Tale” is a look at the most famous pixie ever, and includes a history of the character going back to the original story. Photos from original stage plays and silent films are included.

“The Peter Pan that Almost Was” features a look at materials from the Disney archives, in which storyboards and early drafts of the script show the process of the film’s development. “The Peter Pan Story” is a 1952 promotional piece by Disney, featuring archive footage and storyboards.

Viewers can watch the film in “Disney View,” which fills the black bars on the side of your widescreen TV with artwork that matches the scene you are watching (the film is shown in the orginal square-shaped 1.33:1 aspect ratio). It is nice, but it can be distracting, as it changes with every new angle. An “intermission” feature plays interactive pirate games when you pause the film.

The audio commentary, brought over from a previous DVD release, includes a number of participants with observations pulled together from various interviews. Roy Disney, Leonard Maltin, Kathryn Beaumont, and Margaret Kelly. It is very informative and worth listening to, although it is likely to bore children.

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THE BOTTOM LINE: BUY IT OR REDBOX IT?
Ratings (1-10 scale)
Movie: 9
Video: 10
Audio: 8
Extras: 9
Overall Grade: 9

Peter Pan is an old-fashioned adventure in the best sense, with some great songs and a classic villain to give it just the right feel. Forget all the detractors who say it is politically incorrect; the characters are fun and not offensive. I loved it as a kid, but now as an adult, I can appreciate just how great this film is, especially the wicked sense of humor. The video is fantastic, with an image that looks like it was drawn yesterday. It is the definitive version Peter Pan fans have always wanted. It is an absolute must buy. 

BLU-RAY SPECS
Release date: February 5, 2013

Running time: 77 minutes

Rating: G

Aspect ratio: 1.33:1

Audio: English 7.1 DTS-HD Master Audio, French and Spanish 5.1 Dolby Digital, 5.1 Disney Enhanced Home Theater Mix (DVD only)

Subtitles: English for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing, French, Spanish

Special Features: Two deleted scenes, four deleted songs, Introduction by Diane Disney Miller, “Growing Up With Nine Old Men” featurette, Disney Intermission Interactive Features, “Song Selection” feature, two music videos (“Neverland” and “Second Star to the Right”), “You Can Fly: The Making of Peter Pan” featurette, “In Walt’s Words: Why I Made Peter Pan” featurette, “Tinker Bell: A Fairy’s Tale” featurette, “The Peter Pan That Almost Was” featurette, “The Peter Pan Story” featurette.

Audio Commentary: Participants include Roy Disney, critic Leonard Maltin, Marc Davis (the supervising animator for Tinker Bell for the film), Kathryn Beaumont (voice of Wendy), Ollie Johnston and Frank Thomas (two of the original Disney “Nine Old Men”), Jeff Kurtti (author of several Disney books), and Margaret Kelly (the live model for Tinker Bell).

Click here to order Peter Pan: Diamond Edition on Blu-ray from Amazon!