Today’s Diamond Edition release of Peter Pan marks the Blu-ray debut of this 1953 animated feature from Walt Disney Studios. Now, I must admit before delving too deep the picture that, while considered a classic by many, Peter Pan isn’t really one of Disney’s best pictures. However, the reasons for this frankly aren’t as interesting to write about for me as are the film’s more beneficial applications. After all, along with Alice in Wonderland (1951) and The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh (1977)to a certain extent, Peter Pan is notable as one of the few animated features from Disney to deal specifically in the machinations of children’s imaginations.
The film never explicitly states whether or not the adventures of the Darling children in Neverland depicted ever actually occurred within the film at all, and leaves it up to the audience to make that determination. However, rather than viewing this as an opportunity to figure out which of your friends are optimists and which pessimists based on who thinks it was all Wendy’s dream, I suggest viewing this as a potential tool in parenting. As a film that makes no official statement on the legitimacy of Wendy’s claims that they traveled to Neverland, we can view those fantastical scenes as manifestations of children’s imaginations. By exposing your children to such fantasy-making in film, you are in fact encouraging them to make use of their own imaginations, something that’s of vital importance to a child’s success later in life. For in exercising their imaginative faculties, children develop problem-solving, social, storytelling, and leadership skills that make for more productive, forward-thinking adults. Thus, the film may be regarded unfavorably among critics for its occasionally mean-spirited representation of Peter Pan and its overall pandering to children, but the fact that the film can be incorporated into a child’s viewing habits and have beneficial applications for them shows that Peter Pan is certainly worthwhile, if not necessarily great, cinema.
That said, you have to be careful when screening the film for your children how you approach the problematic representations of Native Americans therein. In this, you have three options as I see it. (1.) Don’t show them the film all and avoid the subject altogether, thereby making it harder for them to interpret such signs when they finally do encounter them elsewhere in the world. (2.) Show it to them and don’t even mention it, thereby potentially allowing them to harbor problematic stereotypes of Native Americans as they mature into adulthood. Or (3.) view this as an opportunity to teach them something about American history and how stereotypical representations must be seen as products of their time rather than timeless. Of course, I recommend the third option, as I strongly feel that parental guidance is required for children to make sense of these representations and that the potential for learning inherent in such discussions is but one more benefit of viewing Peter Pan.
The Diamond Edition Blu-ray of Peter Pan comes packaged in a 3-disc set which also includes a DVD version of the film, a digital copy, and access to a Peter Pan storybook app. As you no doubt have come to expect of Disney’s Blu-ray releases if you’ve been keeping up with them, the transfer of Peter Pan here is absolutely stunning, with one drawback, which is an admittedly serious one in my book. The audio is presented in an incredible DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 surround mix and the video is gorgeous with crisper lines and more vibrant colors than we’ve ever seen on a home video release of Peter Pan. That said, as stunning as the visuals are, the film grain has notably been scrubbed completely off the picture, something that to me marks a crime against the picture itself. Still, the grain-scrubbing and some minor color alterations will go unnoticed by most viewers. And even I can’t complain that much about it because the transfer of the film here is by far superior to the prior releases of the picture I have on hand.
Special features on this collection include:
-a brand new introduction by Diane Disney Miller;
-the documentary “Growing Up With Nine Old Men,” which features extensive interviews with the children of the nine animators whose work most prominently influenced the Disney style;
-“Disney Intermission,” which, as perhaps the most nonsensical feature I’ve ever seen, starts playing other, really noisy crap when you try to pause the movie, thereby defeating the purpose of the “Pause” button;
-“DisneyView,” that sidebar-filling feature I’ve complained so much about that panders to those interested in ruining the viewing experience of a properly-formatted film by jamming some loosely-related artwork into the black bars on the side of the proper frame;
-and, of course, the classic DVD special features.
(Author’s Note: I’d like to thank Amber Burnham for her role in this review. Her contributions to our discussion about the educational benefits of the film were instrumental in my crafting this piece.)