DVD Review

[DVD Review - Peter Pan]

Fifty-four years after its original release, Walt Disney's animated classic Peter Pan finally gets the special edition treatment in a new 2-disc "Platinum Edition" DVD release. Where some of the past Platinum Edition releases were brimming over with a wealth of supplemental material, this set is only modestly packed, providing enough extras to keep casual fans - especially those with kids - happy, but leaving the rest of us wanting more.

Disc 1: The first disc contains the feature film, which runs 77-minutes long, and has been meticulously restored for the digital presentation. An excellent job was done with the picture quality, as there is nary a speck or scratch to be found; the opening titles alone will have you gawking at the screen. The audio has been remixed in a new 5.1 home theater mix, which doesn't seem to do too much aside from widen the music and effects a tad, but thankfully the original mono track is included, as well as French and Spanish language tracks. Oliver Wallace's score is decently mixed, and the songs sound good, considering the limited fidelity of the recording technology at the time.

The only real extra on this disc is the commentary, comprised of numerous interview snippets, all moderated by Roy Disney. Film historian and critic Leonard Maltin chimes in, and discusses the film in historical context as it relates to the stage play, book, and musical. Animators Marc Davis, Ollie Johnston, Frank Thomas and Ward Kimball discuss their approaches to working on the production. Most interesting was their thoughts on the evolution from using live-action character studies to aid the animation process into actually filming reference footage to allow for efficiency and story editing. Two of the ladies who dealt with that first hand - Kathryn Beaumont, who played Wendy Darling, and Margaret Kerry, who played Tinker Bell - also discuss this approach to animation, as well as their own character evolutions. Topping it off is Walt Disney, from archival interviews. Finishing off the first disc is a sneak-peek at the new direct-to-video Tinker Bell movie, and a storybook with read-along option for the kids.

Disc 2: Starting with the informative section of this disc, "Backstage Disney", we're treated to a few featurettes on the making of Peter Pan. "You Can Fly: The Making of Peter Pan" is a 16-minute long piece that was originally found on the laserdisc release from 1998. Considering the short running time, there is a wealth of information presented here, from developing the story, casting the voice talent, and some of the live action reference mentioned above. "In Walt's Words: Why I Made Peter Pan" is an interesting piece that shows how personal the story of Peter Pan was to Walt Disney. Based on an essay he wrote around the time of the film's release, archival footage, photos and artwork are creatively used to bring this essay to life. "Tinker Bell: A Fairy's Tale" looks at the evolution of the character from a small supporting role to a strong identifying presence for the Walt Disney Company as a whole.

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The longest featurette on the disc is "The Peter Pan That Almost Wasn't", and it focuses extensively on abandoned scenes, alternate concepts, and even a completely different opening to the film. It's very interesting, and gives us a taste of what could have been. The usual extensive art galleries are included, as well as the original 1952 black & white featurette, "The Peter Pan Story", which showcases plenty of archival and behind-the-scenes footage. It's all very informative, but you get the sense that there could be something more in-depth presented.

In the "Music & More" section of the disc, we're shown a deleted song, "The Pirate Song", which is presented with the original demo recording along with the storyboard. The best part of this section is the "Never Land: The Lost Song" portion. Apparently lyrics to a song from an unproduced 1940s version of Peter Pan were found in the Disney vaults, and so legendary Disney songwriter/composer Richard Sherman took the lyrics and came up with a melody. This short featurette talks about bringing this song to life, and the music video of the final produced song being sung by Paige O'Hara ("Belle" from Beauty and the Beast) is also included. For the kids, a video of the new cover of "The Second Star to the Right" performed by hip-hop/pop group T-Squad is presented as well.

"Peter Pan's Virtual Flight" is a CGI-rendered flythrough of period London, and then a quick tour of Never Land. It contains voice-over that is meant to be entertaining for the kids, but if played on "loop" mode, will get old very fast. In the "Games & Activities" section, America's new favorite pastime has arrived on Disney DVD: "Smee's Sudoku Challenge". This sudoku game uses imagery icons from the movie instead of numbers, but the premise is the same, and there are three different levels of difficulty to play. Two other games ("Tarrrget Practice" and "Tink's Fantasy Flight") involve using your remote to shoot at targets or avoid obstacles as the DVD video playback branches. It's all good fun for the kiddies, and the last extra on the disc is an "English Read-Along" of the entire film, with graphical subtitles allowing you and your child to read every bit of dialogue there is.

I was a little disappointed that there was very little in the way of behind-the-scenes material on the music. There are some good thoughts discussed in the commentary tracks, including how the famous song "Never Smile at a Crocodile" actually never shows up in the film - just the melody appears in the underscore. Still it would have been good to have some more material about the development of the music in the film. Also sorely missing are any of the trailers. But the negatives are significantly outweighed by the positives, especially the exceptional transfer and restoration of the film itself. Peter Pan is only available for a limited time, so fly out and get yours today!

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