Uh, you'll have to forgive me for asking, but didn't Disney just issue this movie in a special edition a few years ago? Well, yeah. But this time they've added even more extras, filling a whole second disc in a new Platinum Edition.
Let's begin, though, with the movie. Based on James M. Barrie's popular 1904 play, Disney's 1953 animated version of "Peter Pan" tries hard but doesn't quite live up to its famous stage counterpart. Is it any wonder? The stage play took on a life of its own, becoming a public phenomenon. Not even Disney could match its reputation. Nevertheless, the film is colorful, spirited fun and provides its own particular delights. What's more, the new 2-disc edition offers pleasures of its own, with a host of bonus features.
In Disney's movie we find all of Barrie's imaginative characters, plus a few new ones. Peter and his pixie partner, Tinker Bell, whisk the Darling children--Wendy, John, and Michael--off to Never Land. There, they meet up with the creations of Wendy's fantasies: Captain Hook, Mr. Smee, the crocodile that swallowed the clock, Princess Tiger Lily, the Lost Boys, and they have to do battle with pirates and Indians to win their way back home.
The highlight of the film is undoubtedly Hook. He is a fine, dastardly villain. So good, in fact, that when Robin Williams and Dustin Hoffman made the 1991 live-action update, the producers were canny enough to realize it was the pirate's story and name it "Hook." Voiced in the Disney film by versatile comic actor Hans Conried (who also does the father, Mr. Darling), Hook combines the perfect degree of menace and humor to entertain children and adults. Peter, on the other hand, comes off rather one-dimensionally, almost always acting the prankish rogue. Young Bobby Driscoll, who had previously done, among other things, Disney's "Treasure Island," appropriately voices the character.
As much as I like Disney's "Peter Pan" and as petty as it may seem of me to say, I see the film suffering several distinct drawbacks. First, there is no single musical number to associate with the story; indeed, there are no songs that are particularly memorable. "You Can Fly" and "A Pirate's Life" are the only pieces I could recall from previous viewings, with "The Second Star to the Right" following behind. Next, the comedy is mostly slapstick, lots of chases and pratfalls, and not always too funny. I liked this as a kid, but now I'm a little disappointed that Disney didn't attempt to capture more of the the stage play's sweet charm. In addition, the art work is not quite up to the standards of Disney's earliest first-length features. Like everybody else, the Disney studios were feeling certain financial constraints in the 1950s, and they chose to forego some of the lavishly painted backgrounds they had used in the past. Finally, in this age of political correctness I'm sure that more than a few people may take offense at Disney's depiction of Native Americans, in terms of their stereotyped appearance and speech and all.
These shortcomings are probably not serious enough to dampen most viewers' spirits, however, certainly not youngsters'; but for me they keep the movie from consideration as an absolutely top-drawer Disney classic.
This new Platinum Edition announces on the keep case that the transfer is an "all-new digital restoration with enhanced picture and sound." I'm not sure exactly what that means, but the picture looks to me pretty much the same as the one the studio produced for their "Peter Pan" Special Edition just a few years before. Indeed, a comparison of the bit rates for each edition also shows that they are practically the same.
In any case, one can hardly fault the picture quality. The colors are rich and vivid, reasonably bright, and clean, with objects clearly delineated. Even though Disney's animation style here is nowhere near as detailed or well textured as it was in "Pinocchio" or "Snow White," there is still much to admire in the radiant tones and brilliant hues. Hook again looks resplendent in his refulgent scarlet coat.
The disc presents the sound in "5.1 Disney enhanced Dolby Digital," and while it doesn't compare to today's discrete five-channel affairs, the audio, like the picture quality, is clean and clear, and the engineers have reproduced the limited frequency response and dynamics of its day as well as possible under the circumstances. They appear to have made an effort to keep voices in the front center channel and orchestral music spread out in the left and right speakers, but little meaningful information reaches the rear channels. Still, it's pleasant enough sound. Moreover, for those purists among you, there is also the restored original theatrical mono soundtrack to enjoy.
Disc one contains the feature film; English, French, and Spanish spoken languages; and English captions for the hearing impaired. In addition, it has an audio commentary hosted by Roy Disney that includes the words of animators, film historians, film critic Leonard Maltin, and several of the people who worked on the original production. Yes, it is the same commentary contained on the Special Edition set of a few years back, but what the heck. The first disc also has a sneak peek at Disney's upcoming "Tinker Bell," which IMDb indicates will be a straight-to-video production; a Disney song selection, which takes one to each of the movie's songs, with or without on-screen lyrics; and a storybook segment called "Peter's Playful Prank," which children can read for themselves or read along with a narrator. Things conclude on disc one with a generous thirty-one scene selections and Sneak Peeks at eleven other Disney products.
You'll find disc two crammed with even more bonus items. Fortunately, there is not only a standard menu but a complete index of all the contents, plus a keep-case insert to help one navigate through all the stuff. The first thing you'll see is "Peter Pan's Virtual Flight," where you fly around London and Never Land with Peter. You can set it to loop, too, so you can fly on, presumably, forever.
Next, we have an English read-along for the movie, where we find all the words to the story printed at the bottom of the screen. I'm not sure how this differs from the English captions, but, again, what the heck. After that is a series of games and activities labeled "Camp Never Land." They include "Smee's Sudoku Challenge," "Tarrrget Practice," and "Tink's Fantasy Flight."
Then, there are the songs. These include a deleted one, "The Pirate Song," and a lost one, "Never Land," reconstructed by composer Richard Sherman. Following his introduction, there is the music video of it performed by Paige O'Hara. After that is another music video, an updated, upbeat version of "The Second Star to the Right," performed by a young group called T-Squad and aimed mainly at children.
The final segments of disc two, labeled "Backstage Disney," may be the most attractive to adults. Here, you'll find the fifteen-minute documentary "You Can Fly: The Making of Peter Pan"; the seven-minute featurette "In Walt's Words: Why I Made Peter Pan," taken from an article Uncle Walt once wrote; the eight-minute featurette "Tinker Bell: A Fairy's Tale," about the character's creation; the twenty-minute featurette "The Peter Pan That Almost Was," a history of the film; and the vintage, 1952 featurette "The Peter Pan Story," in black-and-white and obviously made to help promote the film at the time of its opening. The extras wrap up with nine galleries of still art, covering everything from visual development through publicity.
The two discs come housed in a double, slim-line keep case, further enclosed in a colorful and embossed cardboard slipcover.
I'm probably being a fuddy-duddy for criticizing the film itself. Children always seem to love it, and adults will have already made up their minds about it. Its first half holds up well; it's by the last third that the action begins to flag. For a lot of folks these days, Disney's "Peter Pan" is the only version of the James M. Barrie tale they know, even "Hook" beginning to fade from memory. Yet, if we must have only one enduring account of Barrie's creations, we could do worse.