"All this has happened before and it will all happen again," begins Disney's classic adaptation of the James M. Barrie story.
In many ways, that describes Disney's newest DVD offering as well.
Peter Pan is the latest animated feature to get the Platinum Edition treatment, a 2-disc release hitting stores on Tuesday. There is much to love about the DVD. It's a spotless restoration with vivid color and a new enhanced 5.1 audio mix. It even includes a restored theatrical soundtrack in mono if you'd like to go old school. Audiences can now enjoy the sights and sounds of Peter Pan in a manner never before realized, "the way the artist would’ve intended," as Disney animator Dave Bossert has said.
If only the bonus features weren't so familiar.
Disney last released Peter Pan in a Special Edition DVD in 2002. Five years later they've recycled much of the extra content for this year's version. Owners of the Special Edition will be annoyed to discover (as I was) that the Platinum Edition contains the exact same audio commentary (Roy Disney with guests Marc Davis, Ollie Johnston, Frank Thomas, Leonard Maltin, Kathryn Beaumont and others) along with repeats of the making-of doc "You Can Fly!," the 1952 featurette "The Peter Pan Story" and the DVD storybook "Peter's Playful Prank."
There are new bonus features, of course--gotta fill up those 2 DVD's--but the results are hit and miss. Tops on the list are "The Peter Pan That Almost Wasn't," spotlighting the many story elements that were changed or tossed as the movie developed (Peter Pan kidnaps Wendy, Nana joins the children in Neverland, Mrs. Darling is the keeper of Peter's shadow, who knew?), and "Tinker Bell: A Fairy's Tale" which pays tribute to the feisty, moody pixie and cites her as the inspiration for future strong Disney heroines like Ariel, Belle and Princess Jasmine. At the bottom of the list are the cringe-inducing "Second Star to the Right" music video by kiddie-pop group T-Squad and a pointless CG-animated flythrough of London and Neverland (pretty to look at, but why?).
Ultimately though, it's about the movie, and after more than 50 years Peter Pan still stands as one of Disney's all-time bests, second only to Cinderella among the studio's post-WWII animated films. The story begins in the nursery of the Darling family household where older sister Wendy, much to the chagrin of her overly serious father George, tells tales to her younger brothers John and Michael about the adventurous Peter Pan, the boy who won't grow up. The children are looked after by their dog nursemaid Nana, who dutifully goes about her business of straightening their beds and preparing their nightly spoonfuls of tonic. Determined that his daughter grow up, George announces that this will be Wendy's last night in the nursery. He then ties up Nana outside before leaving for a party with his loving wife Mary, who may know a thing or two about Peter Pan herself.
Peter soon arrives at the nursery with his pixie companion Tinker Bell to retrieve his shadow, which Wendy has acquired and locked away. As the children awaken to discover Peter, boy and shadow are reunited and the jealous Tink finds an imagined rival in Wendy. Faith, trust and pixie dust ensue and the group soars over nighttime London on their way to the "second star to the right, and straight on 'til morning" destination of Neverland.
Once in Neverland, the adventures continue on an island inhabited by Lost Boys, mermaids, Indians and Peter's archenemy, the nefarious pirate Captain Hook. Hook lost his left hand in a swordfight with Peter, who then tossed it to a ravenous crocodile. Not satisfied with a mere taste of the good captain now, the croc stalks Hook day and night, hoping to finish him off.
Will the children survive their adventures and make it home safely? Will Hook get his revenge on Peter? Will Tink sort out her jealousy issues? Will George find that one remaining hint of childlike joy inside him?
Like you don't already know.
Whether you've seen Peter Pan once or fifty times, it remains an exhilarating and timeless tribute to childhood imagination. All the elements are there: a well paced story, inspired voice casting (Bobby Driscoll as Peter, Kathryn Beaumont as Wendy and the sublime Hans Conried as Captain Hook), gorgeous animation (the flight over London still brings chills) and a memorable song score ("You Can Fly," "The Second Star to the Right," "Following the Leader," "The Elegant Captain Hook").
The Disney Restoration Team has lovingly brought the sparkle and magic back to Peter Pan with a corrected color palette that matches the original animation artwork. The colors are warmer and more vivid and the outlines are softer, giving the film a dreamier, more visually appealing look. Compare these screenshots from the 2002 Special Edition (left) with those of the new Platinum Edition (right):
All images © Disney Brighter rainbows and bolder blues surround Neverland.
Tinker Bell has a warmer magical glow.
Is that even the same jacket? Hook dresses in a richer, less cartoony red, while the background has more interesting and realistic contrasts.
The pixie-dusted pirate ship positively glows.
If you've yet to add Peter Pan to your DVD collection, now's the time. If you already have the Special Edition and don't mind the redundancy of the bonus features, it's worth the upgrade. You'll be rewarded with a better looking, better sounding piece of classic Disney animation art.