Walt Disney's Peter Pan

Peter Pan
Release Date: February 12, 2002
Run Time: approximately 76 minutes
Ten-second Rundown: Supernatural being kidnaps young girl, forcing her to care for his immortal children while he continues his eternal combat with a maimed but foppish force of evil.
Version: Special Edition
Disc: Dual-layered

  • Audio Commentary led by Roy O. Disney
  • Documentary: "The Making of Peter Pan"
  • Promotional featurette: "The Peter Pan Story"
  • Still Gallery of early design work
  • DVD Storybook: "Peter's Playful Prank"
  • Sing-along Song: "Following The Leader"
  • Pirate Treasure Hunt Game
  • Tech Specs: Full Screen 1.33:1 (original release specs), English Dolby Digital 5.1, French, Spanish, English subtitles, THX Certified.

    As Leonard Maltin points out in one of the documentaries included here, Disney's Peter Pan stands out as one of the few stories in which "The Disney Version" isn't the one people necessarily take to heart first. They're just as likely to have seen it done by a community theater, or Cathy Rigby, or the old TV version with Mary Martin.

    But the Disney film also stands out as the one which really captures what the story is supposed to be about, without the distraction of seeing a woman play a young boy, or a Ken doll on a string simulating Peter flying.

    Never smile at a crocodile. Or let him eat your hand.
    Peter Pan comes from a time when children's movies (and especially Disney movies) weren't afraid to be a little bit dark. Captain Hook isn't just a simpering fashion plate; he casually kills his own men and would no doubt sincerely like to skewer Pan. There's also no hiding that the crocodile isn't just a man-eater - it already has fed off of Hook. (And what children's film today would laud a boy who cut off a man's hand and threw it to the crocodile just for fun?) By modern standards, there is some twisted stuff going on here, and this is a beloved children's classic.

    Yes, Disney has released this film on DVD before, but that was before the studio (and consumers) had fully embraced the capabilities of the medium. And while this isn't as comprehensive a package as last fall's Snow White and the Seven Dwarves (which is amazingly detailed), Disney still does right by fans and, of course, kids.

    The re-mastered print, though used for the previous release, cleans up the film considerably. So sharp is it, you'd swear that the animation is less than a decade old. Disney has accidentally thrown in a good comparison so you can see how the print had suffered previously: the "Sing-along Song" has been lifted right out of a video release of the '80's with no clean-up. That segment is scratchy, murky, uneven in coloring, and even missing a few frames. Thank heavens technology has allowed this to be fixed.

    Be thankful, too, that Disney had the good sense to get a lot of commentary in the last few years while they still have some of the original animators. Rather than actually sitting around and having people comment as they watch the film, the studio merely inserts chunks of observations, tied together by Walt's nephew (and current keeper of the animation flame) Roy. While the relation between commentary and actual scene on screen ends up being coincidental more often than not, there's still an awful lot of good stuff here for those interested in the way Disney did things.

    Some of it also pops up in one of the two documentaries included on the disc. The one actually made in 1952 seems more quaint than informative, with a meandering introduction meant to hype a '50's audience into seeing the film. In these days of "re-imaginings," it's kind of cool to think that 50 years ago, people actually talked about the original books. Or heck, even read them.

    What do you mean I'm not Wendy anymore?
    The modern "making of" documentary has a lot to offer. It includes clips from a silent film version of Peter Pan, pointing out the theatrical conventions used. The featurette also talks about Walt's false starts on the project, explaining some of the pre-production art (included in the gallery as well) and putting it in context of the various times. And it has a fairly extensive interview with Kathryn Beaumont, the voice of Wendy (oddly, not used for Return To Neverland, though they do use her for Alice on the current House of Mouse). Included, too, are bits of the TV specials Walt did that incorporated Peter Pan. It's all too easy to forget what a showman Walt Disney could be when needed. What studio head can say that now?

    Because this is ostensibly a children's film, the DVD also has extras just for the kids. Technically, they're fine, but they seem to be little more than afterthoughts. The storybook comes off a little jarring, just because the narrator is supposed to be Wendy, and sounds very different from Beaumont.

    As has become de rigeur for the Disney DVDs, the disc has a trivia game, disguised as a Treasure Hunt. But it does have an interface more suitable for the younger viewers who will know the answers, and an actual goal. Unfortunately, it also devolves into just random guessing, which may frustrate kids. Okay, okay. It frustrated me. ("Which pirate has the key to the Captain's Quarters?" is not a trivia question. I'm ready to sic Gollum on Disney for that one.)

    If you have the previous release, Disney even thoughtfully offers a $5 rebate (with proof that you had the earlier DVD, of course), along with a children's ticket for Return To Neverland. (Why doesn't AMC ever participate in these things?)

    And if the only copy you have of Peter Pan is a faded videotape, you should run, don't walk, to buy this, especially if you have kids. Having the DVD allows for much easier replaying of "Following The Leader," a blessing and a curse.

    Run to get it here.

    Derek McCaw


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