|Peter Pan (Special Edition)|
|Written by Mel Odom|
|Tuesday, 12 February 2002|
Just the name Peter Pan evokes restlessness in children everywhere, a need to go adventuring. Children who see the show become enamored of flying around rooms and homes, and pick up sticks and brooms to use as swords to fight evil pirates. The boy who would never grow up has become an icon in American life, and there has never been as grand a place invented as Never Land or a villain as black-hearted as Captain Hook.
"Peter Pan" had long been a dream of Walt Disney’s. As the viewer discovers when perusing the special features section of this DVD, Disney saw a stage presentation of James M. Barrie’s story and worked on acquiring the property for over 10 years before the movie was finally made. Even after several stage presentations and a 1924 live action movie of "Peter Pan," audiences sat enraptured by the Disney storytelling and animated movie magic.
The movie begins in the Darling household in London. Wendy, John and Michael are the Darling children. Wendy is the keeper of stories, the one who doles out the fantastic tales of Peter Pan to her younger siblings. One night, as Mr. Darling tries to get ready to go to a function, he’s angered by the fact that his cufflinks and clothing have been used as pirate treasure and to draw a map. He outlaws Peter Pan in his household and tells Wendy she has to grow up.
In Chapter 3, prior to the confrontation that takes place between parents and children, the viewer gets an idea of the changes that have been done to the sound portion of the film for this special edition. The sound mix isn’t as good a most mixes on movies and animated features these days, but the sound engineering in the early 1950s didn’t approach the quality of today’s audio for film. The people who re-engineered the sound had to work with what they had rather than making a new soundtrack, and they did a good job.
During the comedic depiction of family dog Nana getting the children ready for bed, the center speaker(s) carry the voices while the left and right mains carry the violin music and the various crashes and thumps. This division of auditory labor continues through Mr. Darling’s dramatic search for his missing attire and his angry declaration that Wendy has to grow up in the morning.
Mr. Darling’s and Nana’s voices are actually split off quite well in Chapter 4. Through with children and dogs in general, Mr. Darling escorts Nana outside and ties her up. As they walk across the screen, their voices (his dialogue and her pitiful cries) shift from the center speaker(s) to the left and right, giving the viewer the illusion of distance.
When Mr. Darling continues his tirade in Chapter 5 and finally goes off to his function with his wife, the viewer again hears his voice recede. Peter Pan arrives, looking for his shadow, which Nana has managed to take while he was visiting at another time. Peter’s voices echoes all around the viewer for a time, before again retreating to the center speaker(s). Tinkerbell’s fairy tinkling as she moves is clear as, well, a bell, and echoes throughout the room.
Also in Chapter 5, Peter’s pursuit of his own fugitive shadow rolls through the center and main speakers, backed by the music. Then, as the story settles in again in Chapter 6 and Peter finds out about the plight of the Darling children, the audio returns to the center speaker(s) while the music echoes through the mains.
In Chapter 9, Peter and the children fly out of the Darling house and begin their journey to Never Land. They use Big Ben as a way stop, and the clock tower’s sonorous bonging echoes through the surround sound.
Captain Hook gets a really proper introduction in Chapter 10 when he shoots a pirate from the rigging for singing. The audio portion of the DVD kicks in again with the first appearance of the crocodile that ate Hook’s hand. Since the foul beast also devoured an alarm clock, the "tick-tock" sound of the clock’s mechanism becomes a signature sound for the crocodile. The "tick-tock, tick-tock" sound pumps from the surround sound system, making the viewer feel as though the crocodile is on top of him or her.
Chapter 11 reveals some missed opportunities for the sound engineers that could have enhanced the audio portion of the DVD. As Hook paces and rants at his crew, the sound would have been more dynamic if his words had gone from center to main speakers and back again. In another example, the cannon discharges might have been more impressive if they rolled through the speaker system as well.
Despite these omissions on the part of the sound portion of the film, "Peter Pan" remains a visual treat. A perfect example of Disney Studios’ creativity comes in Chapter 12 when Tinkerbell gets upset with Wendy and Peter. While rendezvousing with the Lost Boys, Tinkerbell sabotages Wendy’s arrival. When Peter chastises her, Tinkerbell becomes livid and turns red, getting hot enough to burn her way through a leaf.
In Chapter 15, the viewer is again exposed to the startling visual beauty that made Disney Studios such a powerhouse back in the 1950s. Wendy accompanies Peter to visit the mermaids and the surroundings are purest fantasy. The characterizations are dead on, too, as Wendy gets into an argument with the mermaids. The mermaids make fun of Wendy and Peter, the epitome of boyhood, doesn’t think the mermaids mean anything by the biting exchange.
Chapter 16 heralds the return of the crocodile. His arrival doesn’t quite echo through the surround sound system the way his first appearance did. However, the bird cries around Skull Rock emanate from all the speakers for a short time, then fade into the background. When Captain Hook is chased away by the crocodile later in the same chapter, the boat skips across the water through the main and center speakers.
The crocodile returns, with his trademark "tick-tock" noise in Chapter 18, but the Disney surround sound on this movie doesn’t shine again until the Indians sing in Chapter 21. Their song thumps through the subwoofer and rolls through the main and center speakers. Chapter 23 continues with the drumbeat as the Lost Boys, with Wendy in tow, return to the tree hideout.
Captain Hook gets his own song in Chapter 25, and comes up with the idea of leaving Peter Pan a time bomb. The ticking of the deadly mechanism echoes through the speakers.
In Chapter 26, the time bomb explodes, jarring the subwoofer into sudden and inspired life while the detonation rolls throughout the rest of the speaker system. For a few seconds, the viewer feels like he or she is at ground zero.
Thinking Peter is dead, Captain Hook solicits the Lost Boys, and Wendy, John, and Michael, to join his crew. When they refuse, he makes Wendy walk the plank first, seemingly to her doom. The drum roll during this tense section of the movie issues from the main and center speakers, amping up the viewer’s interest.
After Peter arrives, Hook is enraged and pushes a crewman into the water. The splash this time, absent when Wendy disappeared over the end of the plank, rocks through the subwoofer as well. Later, when Tinkerbell uses her pixie dust and gives the ship the ability to fly, the music soars again.
Overall, the sound is improved on the special edition of the DVD, but if you already have the original release DVD of "Peter Pan," you might want to stick with that version. Of course, the new cover on the DVD case is absolutely beautiful, and the extras packed onto the disc are definitely worth taking time to explore. The commentaries with Roy Disney and Leonard Maltin add a lot of information to viewers about the making of the movie and Disney Studios at the time.
Walt Disney was at the height of his career during the making of "Peter Pan" and the insight into his industry is invaluable. One of the surprising things that a viewer may learn is that Tinkerbell’s movements, as well as key movements and scenes in the cartoon, were actually played out by real actors while being filmed and photographed. The process was a reverse of the storyboarding that is currently done for many big-budget feature films.
If you don’t have "Peter Pan" in your collection and you’re a fan of Disney and/or animation in general, or just good storytelling that is fun, pick up this DVD. While you’re watching the film, you don’t have to grow up. Join Peter on the adventure of a lifetime journeying through fantastic lands and fighting fierce foes. This is a DVD that can be shared and watched a number of times.