Peter Pan (1953)
It’s that time again. The Walt Disney Studios has once again opened their world famous film vault to revitalize another movie from their canon of animated films. Every year I look forward to which movies would be elevated to the exalted position of induction into the ranks of their Diamond Collection Blu-rays. The latest inductee is a movie that not only enchanted several generations in most families but provided the Disney Company one of their most recognizable corporate icons. ‘Peter Pan’ was originally released in 1953 bringing the beloved character of children’s stories to children of all ages through a remarkably animated film. It also introduced the glittering fairy, Tinkle bell. Previously a part of most incarnations of the J. M. Barrie classic play Peter Pan or The Boy Who Wouldn't Grow Up’ but in this movie she was given the wings and look that has remained virtually unchanged for the last sixty years. More recently Tinker Bell has taken center stage in her own Pixy Hollow Friaries franchise. But more about Tink later, this release is all about here first ‘boyfriend’. Peter Pan entered the collective consciousness of our culture in 1904 when Barrie’s play was first produced. Since then there have been a plethora on incarnations ranging from the play featuring Mary Martin in the title role shown of television to a reimagining of the SyFy Channel under the tile ‘Neverland’. Although many pieces of classic entertainment are revisited at a fairly regular basis there is something undeniably special, most would say, magical, about the story off a young boy who never grows up. From the perspective of a child growing up seems impossibly far off. To an adult it is a time we dream of recapturing. The lure of adventure and vitality of youthful innocence is captured in this story in a fashion that has never really been rivaled. For many of us this animated feature was our initial foray into the enchanted realm of Neverland and our introduction to characters that would remain with us throughout our lives. Now we have been given the opportunity to add the best possible presentation. The most fantastic thing about the Diamond collection is the care given to the re-mastering of the audio and video making this treasure look and sound better than we could have ever imagined.
The story is iconic and well known by most people around the globe. Set in Edwardian London the tale focuses on the Darling children, Wendy (voiced by Kathryn Beaumont), John (voiced by Paul Collins) and youngest Michael (voiced by Tommy Luske) usually with his stuffed bear in tow. Wendy is on the verge of leaving childhood behind as she prepares to turn thirteen. With this pending milestone she has become moody, demanding her parents finally let her move out of the nursery. John, the middle child tries to demonstrate his maturity by adopting the affectations of an English gentleman, a top hat and umbrella. Adding to the typically Disney whimsy the darling children have a St. Barnard as their nanny. Their lives are changed forever when a boy flies into their nursery, Peter Pan (voiced by Bobby Driscoll). He explains that with the help of his fairy friend Tinker Bell and her pixy dust he has the magical ability to fly. He offers the Darling kids the unprecedented opportunity to share an adventure with them. Adventure is promised and delivered in good measure. To the delight of the audience we encounter the solemn leadership of an Indian chief (voiced by Candy Candido), stern of face yet soft of heart. His beautiful daughter Tiger Lilly (Corinne Orr) is a close friend of Peter’s and is crucial to the plot as it unfolds. The Darlings are introduced to the younger boys that are in Peter’s care, the Lost Boys and thing kick into high gear. The villain presented here is now legendary, the nefarious Captain Hook, voiced by the great character actor, Hans Conried. He blames Peter for the loss of his hand to the Crocodile with the ticking alarm clock in his stomach.
I haven’t seen this film in a number of years; not since I introduced my daughter to it about twenty years ago. Experiencing it again, especially in Blu-ray, was like seeing it for the first time. That is frequently said when referring to a beloved film that has be reprocessed for high definition but in this instance it goes way beyond the appreciation of the greater resolution and expansive sound stage. The magic surrounding this movie is infused in the fiber of the story. With pirates, mermaids, Indians and an intrepid band of lost boys the story embodies the fantasy of childhood. You don’t need pixy dust to soar along with Peter and his friends; the wonderment infused in this movie is still able take you away from the mundane real world back in time to a simpler time when such magic existed. The technical artisans at Disney have managed to preserve the astonishment we held as children while reinvigorating the technical specification to those currently embraced. Each frame of the film has been painstakingly brought to the 1080p standards; there have been a couple of controversies surrounding the re-releases of this title that might present some valid points but are unable to mar the way the movie speaks to the imagination of young and old alike.
The color palette has been revised with the 2002 release to the consternation of diehard purist. Their complaint was it removed the ‘organic ’look and feel present in the original. I have several copies of Peter Pan available and was able to do a head to head comparison. I’m all for retaining the virtues of the original; the colors are different from what I remember when I first watched this movie in the theater so long ago. With that said the brighter colors did spark a set of memories from that seat in the dark. Back then the colors were like nothing ever seen; they burst off the screen. Combined with the minute details revealed by the high definition the color s of this edition seemed to inspire the same feeling of imagination. Other than this the executive decision at Disney was not to clean up every possible artifact but to retrain the film as close as possible to the original prints. The pallet issue can be regarded as part of the necessary processing for HD. You can also not fault the film for the very un-PC references to Native Americans. It is not intended to be derogatory or demeaning; keep in mind the story was from the vantage point of a child in Edwardian London. In all this is a masterpiece of imagination and a time capsule to our youth.