Tuesday, 22 May 2007

Peter Pan (DVD) (1953)

What a timely release of the platinum edition of Peter Pan! For one thing, Disney Animation Studios had recently announced its decision to overturn its wrongheaded decision to abandon traditional (read 2D) animation - what better way to celebrate this than releasing a platinum edition for all the Walt Disney Classics? The only possible cure for people who are convinced that 3D animation is the wave of the future, and that traditional animation is just hopelessly déclassé, who have never seen the wonders that Studio Ghibli trots using that outdated medium, is to let them watch the old classics again.

But hasn't everyone watched Peter Pan before? Surely on an old television broadcast, or on a VHS tape in the 1980s - but for the platinum edition, DVD visuals have been restored - dirty spots in degrading prints cleaned up, but not intrusively enhanced - while the audio has been remastered to 5.1 Dolby sound. The result may be more farreaching than you think: for once, it is possible to view this movie as Walt Disney and audiences in 1952 did. It certainly is easier now to see what's so great about Peter Pan (and the rest of the classics) - there's a kind of magical fluidity to movements, a complex choreography that seems more and more rare despite the technical advancements that 3D animation offers. There's the marriage of incidental music and pop music of the day to film sequences that just isn't done anymore (changes in musical taste may have something to do with it). And there's the strange realisation that somehow, backgrounds and characters, even though composed using traditional, visually boring, 2D ("flat") methods, can impart a sense of wonderment, of imagination beyond the over-literal mode of CGI.

And this is what the platinum edition of Peter Pan promises: a return to eternal wonderment, the evocation of magic, the eternal childhood. The story may feel dated - no thanks to our more politically correct age where it's not cool to depict Indians as gutteral-voiced, slope faced tomtom-banging hunters, and no thanks to a certain entertainer who has turned "Neverland" into a name of ill repute - but the animation technique creating challenges for animators in complex yet unflashy sequences and the beauty of well-composed music will speak to audiences' hearts through the ages, for yet another 50 years.

DVD review

Walt Disney thought very highly of JM Barrie's Peter Pan, taking more than 10 years to produce it with a gargantuan committee of animators, writers, artists, and live action models before he gave the go-ahead. The special features on the platinum edition make full use of currently available material from the Disney archives, and it shows.

On Disc 1, the commentary is not so much on what is happening right there and then in the animation, but it is a series of interviews by various voice-over artists, animators, scriptwriters and many many people involved in the decade-long production process. Some of these interviews or reminiscences have been recorded years ago, others are brand new. There's alot of stuff to entertain and inform adults revisiting this classic, animation history buffs - mostly because all the commentors have the benefit of decades separating their interviews with their roles in the film.

Disc 2 has all sorts of goodies for the animation historian. Under "Backstage Disney" are 6 features, each 7 to 15 minutes long, about the history and mechanics of making Peter Pan. Of note is "You can fly", which compares Disney's animated feature to previous stage productions. You'll appreciate the innovativeness of Walt Disney even more after watching this one. Also an eye-opening is "The Peter Pan that almost was", which has an alternate opening sequence and other deleted scenes - some in almost-completed stage, others in storyboard form - thanks to the fact that Walt Disney took his time to fully think through the script and experiment with ideas before fully committing them to film.

Everything that can possibly be in this platinum disc is here, except for the live-action model videos which the Disney animators shot to help them study and realise the characters on film. Footages of these videos are few and far in between, appearing in various featurettes on disc 2, but they're extremely good. One hopes that the full videos can be found in some buried corner of the Disney archives one day, so that the studio can release an ultimate version!

First published at incinemas on 21 May 2007

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