I was one of those kids who liked all the educational stuff on Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood, but always got fidgety when he dragged us along to The Neighborhood of Make Believe. I have a similar reaction Disney’s Peter Pan. I love the opening scenes at the Darling household, but my mind starts to wander when we get to Neverland. Having said that, it’s impossible not to appreciate the fanciful humor and stunning animation in this 1953 classic. The film is nicely preserved and packed with extras in the Diamond Edition.
When Michael and Jonathan’s spirited reenactment of one of Wendy’s Peter Pan stories gets in the way of Mr. Darling’s dinner plans, he announces that Wendy is too old for the nursery and will be given her own grown-up room the very next day. He banishes Nana (the Saint Bernard/nanny) to the backyard, and leaves with Mrs. Darling for the evening. Realizing that life in the nursery will never be the same, the children fall into a funk. The sudden arrival of Peter Pan quickly cheers them up, but for me, the movie’s charm quickly deteriorates from here.
Upon hearing that Wendy will have to grow up in the morning, Peter Pan teaches the children how to fly and whisks them off to Neverland where it’s possible to remain a child forever. There they meet the Lost Boys, tangle with Indians, and face the wrath of Captain Hook. I know a little boy who goes into a Disney Coma while watching this movie, and can’t be roused even to eat. He sits one inch from the screen and doesn’t move until the credits roll. He’s proof that the shenanigans in Neverland are a big hit with kids, but they put me into my own Disney Coma of boredom and irritation. Compared to the deft, linear story-telling in other Disney classics, the bulk of Peter Pan feels random and messy.
Part of the problem may be that I grew up with a giant story book of Disney’s Peter Pan. It had gorgeous illustrations that led me to imagine that Tinkerbell was cute and sweet, Peter Pan was nimble and fun, and The Lost Boys were kids I really wanted to meet. I was immensely disappointed to see the movie as an adult and learn that Tink is a jealous little bit- er, little-bitty pixie, Peter Pan is a mischievous smarty boots, and the Lost Boys are a noisy, nameless lot. What’s worse is that Tinkerbell isn’t alone in her catty, jealous tendencies. All the girls want a piece of Peter, whether it’s Tink, Wendy, or The Mermaids, and they happily turn on one another when they feel threatened. The Indians don’t fare much better, and are depicted in a stereotypical, politically-incorrect manner. Why in the world would American Indians be in Neverland anyway? There are hippos and rhinos roaming around, so we’re clearly not in Kansas any more.
After a dramatic showdown with Captain Hook, the Darling children are somewhat relieved to return home. Though they will have to grow up someday, they find comfort in their mother’s arms and the familiar trappings of home. By this time, even Mr. Darling has had a change of heart, and he wistfully remembers his own boyhood journey with Peter Pan. Despite its imperfections, the film is a reminder to embrace the child in us all.
The Blu-ray Diamond Edition of Peter Pan is absolutely bursting with extras. New to this edition are never-seen deleted scenes and a deleted song. There is also the affectionate mini-doc “Growing Up with Nine Old Men” profiling Disney’s lead animators. After 77 minutes in front of the tube, kids can exercise their brains with a Peter Pan sing-along or delve into the age appropriate games and activities using the Disney Intermission function (like Pirate Training!). Older viewers will enjoy commentary by Roy Disney, as well as an in-depth look into the making of this classic animated feature. While some of the seemingly endless “Classic DVD” behind-the-scenes featurettes are truly interesting, they can be a bit repetitive, and at times you get the sense that they were grasping at straws—particularly when we come to the “reenactment of an abridgement of an article by Walt Disney”. The best bit reveals the voices of Wendy and Peter—Kathryn Beaumont (who also voiced Alice in Wonderland) and Peter Driscoll (of Treasure Island and Song of the South), and shows Beaumont blocking out scenes for the animators. For better or worse, the extra features make it clear that Peter Pan truly was a labor of love for Walt Disney.