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Peter Pan: Special Edition DVD Review

"Peter Pan" (1953) movie poster Peter Pan

Theatrical Release: February 5, 1953 / Running Time: 76 Minutes / Rating: G

Directors: Clyde Geronimi, Wilfred Jackson, Hamilton Luske

Voice Cast: Bobby Driscoll (Peter Pan), Kathryn Beaumont (Wendy Darling), Hans Conried (Captain Hook/Mr. Darling), Bill Thompson (Mr. Smee), Heather Angel (Mrs. Darling), Paul Collins (John), Tommy Luske (Michael), Candy Candido (Indian Chief), Tom Conway (Narrator)

Songs: "The Second Star to the Right", "You Can Fly!", "A Pirate's Life", "Never Smile at a Crocodile", "Following the Leader", "What Makes the Red Man Red?", "Your Mother and Mine", "The Elegant Captain Hook"

Click to buy "Peter Pan: Platinum Edition", coming soon to Disney DVD.

Disney reissued Peter Pan as a 2-Disc Platinum Edition DVD on March 6, 2007. This new two-disc release boasts a digitally remastered transfer and new Dolby Digital 5.1 Disney Enhanced Home Theater Remix soundtrack. It also includes "In Walt's Words: Why I Made Peter Pan", a deleted song, an alternate opening, the making-of featurette "You Can Fly", a sneak peek at the upcoming movie Tinker Bell, Camp Never Land set-top games, Peter's Playful Prank DVD storybook, and a magical environment.
Click here for our review, here to buy Peter Pan: 2-Disc Platinum Edition from Amazon.com, or read on for a full critique of the out of print Special Edition disc.


Review by Jason Seiver

The 1950s were one of the most interesting times in Disney animation’s history. Right at the start of the decade, the studio made a leap from the wartime “package movies” that dominated the second half of the '40s, to Cinderella - the triumphant return to full-length motion pictures devoted to telling single stories.
Then came Alice in Wonderland, which resulted in quite a backlash from critics, an apology from Walt himself, and a reduction to being considered one of his lesser films by many. It seemed as if his next film would surely be the focus of close scrutiny after two extremes having come before it. Peter Pan was that next film, and I think it probably is the best film of the decade, and one of the most magical Disney ever made.

I’m sure most are familiar with the movie’s story –- a boy who can fly whisks off a group of children to have adventures in a place where you can’t grow up, Never Land (you were thinking of Whacko Jacko’s ranch, weren’t you?). The concept definitely lends itself to being a Disney animated movie, and comes out as reminding me of Alice in Wonderland, only it has a definite plot. Both films focus on a girl who finds herself in strange, other world (incidentally, the girls from both films are voiced by Kathryn Beaumont). Both are basically composed of several encounters with the inhabitants of those worlds. Peter Pan, however, links together those encounters with a story about a revenge attempt at its title character. Therefore, it doesn’t feel overly episodic and comes off as a cohesive whole moreso than Alice (that’s not a knock at Alice; I view it as just a different type of movie).

Peter Pan impresses the mermaids with his tales. Hook is more than this pirate's name; it's also what's at the end of his left arm.

Peter Pan is one of the few Disney productions that is just pure fun, with no real sense of darkness or sadness. It’s one of their first attempts at an entirely comical villain, and in my opinion, their best.
Captain Hook is one of the most memorable antagonists in any of Walt’s films, because he’s so funny, but at the same time, can be viewed as a real threat to the hero. I find this really effective, because Hook gives the kids in the movie a feeling of intimidation at times, but in the end, they feel confident they can beat him – isn’t that the way we as children all liked to view our real fears?

There are times when Pan's spirit of fun may go too far, depending on the viewer. Almost every female character in the movie is portrayed as being ridiculously jealous of one another. Also, there's some blatant racial stereotyping whenever there’s a scene involving the Never Land Indians. However, I recommend that when going into the movie, one should just have the mindset that this is from an earlier and very different time period. Neither of the above mentioned incidents is mean spirited, and they are done with a sense of light-hearted fun.

In the end, this movie is all about complete escapism and showing the audience a wonderfully good time. It’s brisk in pace, and every scene is just plain magical. I think its highest attribute is the fact that it’s essentially an ode to childhood. That is something that the very young, the very old, and everyone in between can truly appreciate.

Although Peter Pan was originally released on DVD as one of Disney’s 9 Limited Edition titles, it was re-released in a new “Special Edition” version during 2002 that has since gone out of print. Don’t let the label fool you though, despite its resemblance to 2-Disc sets like Sleeping Beauty – this reissue is only 1 disc. That being said, it’s still a pretty packed little DVD. It comes in a standard amaray case, with a 4-page insert that describes the bonus materials and indexes the chapter listings.

Buy Peter Pan: Special Edition DVD from Amazon.com Marketplace DVD Details

1.33:1 Original Aspect Ratio (Fullscreen)
Dolby Digital Mono & 5.1 (English)
Subtitles: English; Closed Captioned
Release Date: February 12, 2002
Discontinued: January 31, 2003
Single-sided, dual-layered disc (DVD-9)
Suggested Retail Price: $29.99
White Keepcase
Previously Released as Limited Issue DVD
Subsequently released as 2-Disc Platinum Edition DVD

VIDEO and AUDIO

Peter Pan is presented in its original aspect ratio of 1:33.1, the last Disney movie before Walt opted to begin creating the films in widescreen. The movie looks the best it ever has, with crystal clear sharpness. It’s one of the more colorful animated movies, and it comes across beautifully on screen. This Special Edition is definitely a step-up over the Limited Issue's video transfer.

As standard for the recent Disney DVDs of older titles, a 5.1 Dolby Digital remix is available, opposed to the 4.0 mix on the Limited Edition. Like the other remixes, it’s not consistently active in the rear channels, mostly staying in the front for the endurance of the film. The one time I remember a recognizable surround effect is when a bomb goes off, and the sound of the explosion reaches to the back speakers. Nevertheless, the quality of sound is great, and it’s a suitable mix for a 1950s picture.

Peter Pan: Special Edition DVD Main Menu

BONUS MATERIALS

The menu for the disc is a layout of Never Land,
meaning that when you choose a menu option, you will be taken by Tinker Bell to a certain area of the place Peter Pan calls home, such as Mermaid Lagoon or Skull Rock. The extra features are found on Captain Hook’s pirate ship.

An audio commentary is available to play during the movie, and is quite similar to those on Fantasia and Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. Hosted by Roy E. Disney, the track’s participants include film historians Leonard Maltin, John Canemaker, and Jeff Kurtti, live-action references for animation Kathryn Beaumont and Margaret Kerry, and animators who worked on the film Frank Thomas, Ollie Johnston, Ward Kimball, and Marc Davis. Last but certainly not least is an archival excerpt of Walt Disney commenting on the film, who was apparently disappointed with the film’s outcome. As with the other tracks like this, it’s not specific as to what’s going on on-screen, but rather focuses on the aspects of the production. I highly recommend it for those who like commentaries.

Walt Disney rubs the pixie dust Bobby Driscoll, the voice of Peter Pan

“You Can Fly: The Making of Peter Pan” (15:59) is a featurette made in 1998 that was originally included on the laserdisc release. Many of the participants of the audio commentary are back to offer their perspectives on the creating of the movie.
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Information on the story and its author J.M. Barrie, early concept art, a deleted song, voice talent, and live action reference is offered. This is one of the better featurettes I’ve found on Disney DVDs, as it’s never fluffy, and is an excellent documentary for its running time.

Next up is a promotional piece from the time of the film’s original release, called “The Peter Pan Story” (12:03). It contains a brief history of all the facets of art, introduces Disney’s movie and its characters, explains the process of bringing it to the screen, and features clips of the completed film.

“An Exclusive Look at Walt Disney’s Return to Never Land” is a trailer at the sequel to Peter Pan that was about to come out when this DVD was released. I have to say that I find it wrong to do a sequel to a Walt-era film, and I think it’s ridiculous that they label the new follow-up as “Walt Disney’s” when he had nothing to do with it.

“The Peter Pan Still Frame Gallery” contains over 60 images of abandoned concepts, character development, and visual development. Most of the artwork that is partially showcased in the aforementioned featurettes is available here.

Concept artwork of Peter Pan Is this set-top game piratey enough for you?

Rounding out the supplements are interactive programs aimed at children. The standard Sing-Along Song makes its appearance for the musical number “Following the Leader.” “Peter’s Playful Prank” is a story about Peter Pan and Captain Hook that is presented in a theater, which can either be read aloud, or left to the viewer to read by him or herself. Lastly, the “Pirate Treasure Hunt Game” takes the player on a tour of Never Land, requiring answers to very easy trivia questions about the movie, and rewards correct ones with facts about real-life Pirates. What’s funny is that it’s called a ‘treasure hunt’, but at the end of the game, there is no prize at all. Go figure.

Outdated “Sneak Peeks” are available for Beauty and the Beast: Special Edition, Cinderella II: Dreams Come True, The Hunchback of Notre Dame II, The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh, Tarzan & Jane, 101 Dalmatians II: Patch’s London Adventure, and “Magic Happens” – a touching little vignette about a boy giving his father a Pooh plush to take with him on a business trip so he won’t be lonely. Awww. (The father proceeds to rip Pooh’s head off in anger.)

Peter Pan stays afloat outside Wendy Darling's bedroom window.

CLOSING THOUGHTS

For a single disc release, this is an excellent presentation of a completely charming film and obviously an improvement from the Limited Edition. Supposedly, Disney plans to re-issue it yet again in a 2-Disc set sometime in the next several years. So for those of you who aren’t big fans of the movie, I suggest waiting. But for those who really enjoy it, I would recommend this release any day.

Buy Special Edition DVD from Amazon.com Marketplace / Buy the Platinum Edition DVD

Buy from Amazon.com Marketplace

Click to buy "Peter Pan: Platinum Edition."

Disney reissued Peter Pan as a 2-Disc Platinum Edition DVD on March 6, 2007. This new two-disc release boasts a digitally remastered transfer and new Dolby Digital 5.1 Disney Enhanced Home Theater Remix soundtrack. It also includes "In Walt's Words: Why I Made Peter Pan", a deleted song, an alternate opening, the making-of featurette "You Can Fly", a sneak peek at the upcoming movie Tinker Bell, Camp Never Land set-top games, Peter's Playful Prank DVD storybook, and a magical environment.
Click here to buy Peter Pan: 2-Disc Platinum Edition from Amazon.com or click here for our review.

Related Reviews:
Peter Pan (Platinum Edition) • Return to Never Land (Pixie-Powered Edition) • Tinker BellTinker Bell and the Lost Treasure
Alice in Wonderland (1951) (Un-Anniversary Edition) • Lady and the Tramp (Platinum Edition) • Finding Neverland
Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl (2003) • Treasure Island (1950)
Cinderella (1950) • Walt Disney Treasures: The Mickey Mouse Club (1955)
Sing Along Songs: You Can Fly! - Peter PanThe Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh (Friendship Edition)
Fantasia & Fantasia 2000: The Fantasia Anthology (1940, 2000) • The Little Mermaid (1989)

Related Pages:
Top 20 Disney Animated Classics Countdown (featuring Peter Pan)
Top 100 Disney Songs Countdown (featuring "The Second Star to the Right" and "You Can Fly! You Can Fly! You Can Fly!")
Top 50 Heroes & Heroines Countdown (featuring Peter Pan)
Top 30 Disney Villains Countdown (featuring Captain Hook)

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Reviewed February 15, 2004.