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Peter Pan: Diamond Edition (Blu-ray Review)

25 Feb, 2013 By: Mike Clark

$39.99 BD/DVD, $44.99 BD/DVD/digital
Rated ‘G.’

Just to establish some vantage point bearings here, my PP attitudinizing (moving image sub-category) goes something like this: the 1924 Betty Bronson version is one of my favorite silents of all time; at age 7, I saw the famed Mary Martin NBC special on its first airing in 1955 and liked it to a point — though even then, it seemed pretty fey for a kid whose father was a former Marine Corps drill sergeant; and Steven Spielberg’s Hook, of course, remains one of the most profound transgressions ever performed against humanity and probably the single biggest blight on his career.

Judging from personal experience that I suspect is fairly representative, the ’53 Disney version was probably the studio’s first animated feature to hit baby boomers right between the eyes — Cinderella having been released early in 1950 and Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs having been nationally re-issued early in 1952, placements likely too early in time to have constituted a direct hit. Pan (a limited opening in February but the Goldwyn Hans Christian Andersen’s Easter competition when it went wide a couple months later) would have been timed just right; I myself was 5-and-a-half.

Somewhat underrated at the time, Pan has weathered the years rather well and remains tight at 77 minutes. You can argue over whether the crocodile manages to out-ham Captain Hook (voice of Hans Conried, who also supplies the pipes for the Darling children’s father), but both are born naturals to play off the behaving-themselves straightness of the children (nor is there anything particularly idiosyncratic about Peter, for that matter). There’s been some controversy over the years about how home version re-issues of Pan have fooled around (and at this point, apparently permanently) with the production’s original color schemes — something I’m not up to snuff enough about to have noticed first hand but something that should be taken seriously.

On the other hand, the sound quality here is pretty much beyond criticism, given the movie’s age. New Blu-ray features, as opposed to those carried over from DVD predecessors, include a mild 41-minute documentary that interviews children of the famed “Nine Old Men” of Disney animators — who naturally included Frank Thomas and Ollie Johnston of 1995’s Frank and Ollie documentary, still one of the best filmed portraits of lifelong friendship that I’ve ever seen.

In addition to storyboards of unrealized scenes (including an alternate finale), there’s also recognition of two proposed tunes that were deleted from the final print, including the conspicuously MIA “Never Smile at a Crocodile.” Its melody is fairly prominent on the movie’s soundtrack, but the song was never actually performed, which struck me as odd even in ’53 because Capitol released it as a super Jerry Lewis single that I had — and still do on my iPod. The other thing to remember about Peter is that its title voiceover ended up being the final major movie assignment of Bobby Driscoll — one of the great child actors ever and certainly one of the most drug-influenced tragedies.

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