Disney’s animated classic Peter Pan could have suffered from today’s politically correct prism.
The 1953 animated film depicts Native Americans in a fashion that would never pass muster today. The film’s new Blu-ray release keeps every element of the film intact, which means the battles between Peter Pan and the nefarious Captain Hook can delight a new generation.
Seen in historical context, Peter Pan is a second-tier Disney gem, brimming with the lush animation that typified the studio’s early years without equaling the storytelling splendor of prior classics.
The film’s Blu-ray release, dubbed the Diamond Edition, celebrates the film’s 60th anniversary with crystal clear picture and plenty of extras. Load times are slightly pokey with the release, but the crystal clear visuals more than make amends for the delay.
The story, drawn from author J.M. Barrie’s oft-told tale, follows a young girl named Wendy (Kathryn Beaumont) who prattles on about a sprightly figure who visits her home when her parents aren’t looking. Young Peter Pan (Bobby Driscoll) refuses to grow up, one reason he so eagerly leads Wendy and her brothers into a thrilling adventure where they meet Captain Hook. Along the way the children learn the power of happy thoughts, discover what it means to walk the plank and learn a lad who clings to his youth can be rather troublesome at times.
That Disney animation in all its buttery goodness is on full display in Peter Pan, but it’s the composition that remind us of why the studio soared during the middle of the 20th century. Oliver Wallace’s score is bombastic when it needs to be, making our tiny heroes seem all the more brave as they square off against those surly pirates.
The title character impresses older audiences with his complicated moods, like when he casts aside the loyal Tinkerbell on a whim and how he treats getting older as if it were a disease to which there is no cure.
Peter Pan lacks the whimsical supporting characters of some Disney features, although voice veteran Hans Conried gives Hook a lip-smackingly evil tone that makes the threat our heroes face substantial.
And then there are the Native American sequences, full of stereotypical banter, canned catch phrases (“How!”) and talk of savagery than instantly remind us of the film’s 60 years. We can applaud Team Disney for not censoring them out of existence, but rather leaving parents with “teachable moments” for their children to absorb.
The Blu-ray extras include never before released deleted scenes (recreated from lively sketches) and two “new” songs including Never Smile at a Crocodile, plus an homage to those “Nine Old Men” who brought Walt Disney’s visions to animated life. The latter featurette gives us the personal side of the pioneering animators. Most of the men had children, who gather here to share what it was like to grow up Disney.
“I had a charmed childhood. I wouldn’t change it for anything,” one of the now-adult children says.