When it comes to classic Disney movies, usually, the older the title the more fascinating the film. Now that doesn’t have to do with the plot of story itself but rather the story behind the picture and how it all came to be. Back before computers, hand drawn animation was immensely challenging and time consuming to say the very least. But once completed, and exhibited on the silver screen, it soon became a feast for the eyes as well as the imagination. The result was something that would serve as inspiration to an entire generation of people both young and old. But like any great story there’s an even better back story. So considering this Diamond Edition of Disney’s Peter Pan, how much actually goes into making a swift 77 minute fairy tale feature? Answer – a lot, and ever so much more than Peter’s trademark faith, trust and a little bit of pixie dust.
It’s funny to think that a film, a quaint 1 hour and 17 minutes, was actually was 16 years in the making. J. M. Barry’s fanciful story of the boy who never grew up was one of the most influential stories the founder of the Mouse House could have dwelled on. As a child, and budding storyteller, it would serve as his inspiration for years to come. He loved the story of so much that after his first feature film, Snow White and the Seven Dwarves, he made it a goal to bring his vision of this fanciful fairy tale and give justice to Barry’s universally loved character. Taking into account WWII and the time it took to get the story (and songs) just right, it’s the production timeline that makes this, like other classic Disney stories, all the more fascinating and fulfilling to watch.
The last time Walt Disney Home Entertainment released Peter Pan was on the DVD which sported a hefty amount of behind the scenes information (which are repackaged in this release). Most people have heard of Disney’s fabled Nine Old Men, a cute and affectionate nickname for the 9 animators who help him produce films that made the Disney label so legendary, but few people knew who they were outside the drafting studio. A brand new feature is devoted to their memory and offers a glimpse into the lives of those mythical animators. Clocking in at 41 minutes this well-rounded feature is kind of light and unfortunately doesn’t really give justice to those masterful animators. Still, for what it’s worth, we are given candid insight into the kind of people they were from perspectives of their children.
Peter Pan is one of those films that has its place in history and is loved by people across the globe. But it is not one of my favorite Disney films. Frankly, I rank it with Lady and the Tramp and in that sense find it kind of boring. It might have been an unrivaled visual spectacle in ’53 but now it still seems silly and one of the weaker Disney films. But the film’s underlying greatness, like early Disney features, is that it’s less about the grand adventure and more about the smaller, more character driven moments. The look of mischievous glee when Peter’s face is silhouetted by Tink’s glow, the care to which Nana tires to pour the children’s medicine, the look that Wendy has when caring for The Lost Boys, the Croc patiently waiting for Hook to plunge in the water, etc. Each of these slower elegant moments showcase the artistry of the animators and make the characters seem more substantial than the story they inhabit.
Walt Disney Home Entertainment and their Blu-Ray transfers are among the finest in the industry. This edition of Peter Pan is no exception; it is vibrantly colored, wonderfully crisp, and easily better than it was at the time it was released 60 years ago. That said, unless you grew up with this film or have young children who love it, Peter Pan, like many other early Disney titles, has a broken narrative structure that feels a bit flat in addition to the slow story. However a lot of that is attributed to the advances in storytelling and animation that have transpired these past six decades. Still that doesn’t keep Peter Pan from being recognized as one of the most imaginative and amazing things ever put on screen. Really, it still holds up quite well, however what makes this release so enthralling, again, are the stories, deleted scenes/songs, and other tidbits about the production that show what a process it was to bring this to light over a 16 year period.
In addition to the beautiful animation and timeless character, delving into these features (which more than triples the runtime of Peter Pan) it’s fascinating to see what went into crafting this classic Walt Disney pictures. That in and of itself is the intangible magic that Walt brought to this and other one of a kind feature films that has delighted audiences for decades. Also seeing Disney himself, a consummate perfectionist, care so much about the story that even though things sounded great on paper it was best to try and fail in order to get the best story to screen. These rare looks into the production and how Walt and his team worked more than make up for any irreverent or nonsensical musical numbers and narrative problems.