BluRay/DVD Reviews

PETER PAN

By • Feb 10th, 2013 •

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This is the one!

I was nine years old, and I made family members take me to the New Rochelle movie theater over and over and over, never tiring of this mythic tale. I even made one tolerant soul sit through it with me twice. But all that PP overdose was strictly visceral. Only now can I see how deftly the hands and voices of those animators and actors, the music composer and sound editors, worked their endless wonders on me. It enchants me all over again, and for aesthetic reasons now as well as the original ones.

The voice actors are marvelous, particularly Hans (Snideley Whiplash, THE MONSTER THAT CHALLENGED THE WORLD, THE 5000 FINGERS OF DR. T.) Conried as Hook, and Bill (Adolf Wolf in BLITZ WOLF) Thompson as Smee. Tom Conway narrates the story, and fourteen years later his brother, George Sanders, would essay the role of Shere Kahn the Tiger in the last animated feature Disney would supervise, THE JUNGLE BOOK.

Oliver Wallace graces the film with his score. At times I was reminded of his music for DARBY O’GILL AND THE LITTLE PEOPLE – a wind instrument here, an underscore there. ‘Mickey-mousing’ has gotten a bad name over the century, but in Wallace’s hands it was not only painless but joyous. I love every accent, every extended cue. He was a great composer, and am I to understand that he wrote the songs as well? I mean, what can you say about “What makes the Red Man Red?” It ain’t exactly PC nowadays, but if you can willingly suspend your reservoir of modern indignation, it’s also disarming fun (I hope…), and the Indian Princess, if not the song, was part of Barrie’s original narrative (and it, also, received criticism for its depiction of native Americans). And if you find it intolerable, that’s what fast forward buttons are for on your BluRay controls.

I remember even at age nine being attracted to Tinker Bell, but it was a relatively innocent thing. Who was this feisty, A D H D inflicted little creature modeled after? I gather it was Margaret Kerry, who was a fulsome lass, but I also detect notes of Mitzi Gaynor. I saw the play with my parents on Broadway the following year, with Mary Martin and Cyril Ritchard as Pan and Hook, and Tink played by a beam of light accompanied by chiming bells to represent her voice. Disney’s petulant, over-heated Tinker Bell was just fine.

And the two hyper-energized battle-to-the-death scenes between Hook and the Crocodile are as breath-taking as any fight scene I’ve witnessed in live action films.

While I agree with Disney, who felt that the character of Peter Pan was not likeable, there needed to be a harsh undercurrent about this tale of childhood’s end. Pan’s aura suggests this, and even beyond him, there was a constant threat, as there always was in Disney’s early work, of some dread evil lurking ever nearby. Hook, for instance, is a masterpiece of character animation (bravo, Frank Thomas), all bluster and buffoonery, but he still worried me greatly when I saw this as a child.

The one thing I have mixed feelings about on the immaculate BluRay transfer is Hook’s coat. I had a 16mm Technicolor print long ago, and it was the most dazzling color red I can remember on celluloid. I determined that I would always measure incarnations of the film by how well they captured that brilliant red. This BluRay version goes in a different direction intentionally, shifting the spectrum a bit and adding darker tones. The end result is very nice, so I can’t make up my mind how I feel about it.

PETER PAN is a smaller animated event than PINOCCHIO, SNOW WHITE or BAMBI. Can’t say exactly why, but its scope is tighter and less epic, despite the soaring shots over London, and the unmatched action scenes between Hook and his reptilian nemesis. It is what it is, and I can’t hold its scope against it. There are just too many lyrical wonders to behold and enjoy within its perimeters.

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