Appreciate Life’s Wonders: ‘Peter Pan: Diamond Edition’

Disney’s Peter Pan is the creepy uncle of children’s movies; you love it and you at least think it means well, but there’s much to apologize for. The film’s racism is well-documented, but the sexism is perhaps more pervasive.

The women of Neverland fall into two main categories: The demure damsel in distress and the feisty, lustful siren. Wendy and Tinkerbell, of course, act as the figureheads for these two groups. Wendy, of course, acts as the figurative and almost literal mother for the group. Her nurture, stories and unconditional love for the Lost Boys fills a void in their land of perpetual play. Tink, on the other hand, is a woman cursed by Peter’s stunted growth. Her intense jealousy toward any other woman to whom Peter gives attention hints at romantic affection, but Peter isn’t (and never will be) emotionally mature enough to reciprocate.

Both women, of course, are doomed to never truly belong in Peter’s world. Tinkerbell can live forever in Neverland, but Peter will never quite catch up to her, while Wendy is destined to outgrow Neverland and leave Peter behind. While a reasonable adult might see Peter as the character worthy of pity in both scenarios, the film positions him otherwise.

Despite its shortcomings in the social conscience department, Peter Pan holds up as a family film that celebrates the joys of imagination and childhood. The worthwhile lesson that viewers young and old can take away is simple: Appreciate life’s wonders. This theme is reiterated time and again in the film, disguised as the triumph of childishness over maturity. Mr. Darling is a monster for suggesting that pre-teen Wendy stop sharing a room with her bratty younger brothers (a “punishment” most girls her age would gladly accept). Antagonists in Neverland are easily identified by their gray hairs and potbellies.

While villains are marked by age, magic is marked by the wonder in which the film begs audiences to believe. Flight takes pixie dust — but the key to unlocking its power is happy thoughts, like Christmas and moonbeams and other things grownups stop remembering to appreciate.

Perhaps its a hazard of getting older, but Disney’s Neverland seems less magical as an adult (maybe because you find yourself more hung up on the world’s political incorrectness). Neverland’s magic might dull a little as viewers grow up, but Disney makes up for it with extra shine on the blu-ray edition. As usual, Disney delivers with an incredible restoration that one imagines might be even better than watching a fresh print in 1953 and a DVD jam-packed with bonus features.

For Peter Pan fans, there are a handful of goodies that haven’t been released on previous editions of the film. The alternate ending, a storyboard and audio walk-through of a scene that shows audiences the goodbye between the Darlings and Peter, is particularly interesting. It highlights the sexist overtones mentioned above, but also provides a sense of closure to the children’s adventure that is glossed over in the final film. In this exchange, Wendy tells Peter that she realizes that he doesn’t belong in her world, the implication being that a world in which children grow up is not worthy of Peter and his whimsy.

Still, the alternate ending is just one of many treasures found for diehard fans in the extras. In addition to the alternate ending, these include another deleted scene and never-before-heard songs that didn’t make it into the final film. In the other deleted scene, Alternate Arrival, the Darling children are joined in their journey to Neverland by Nana the dog and their arrival includes a run-in with the pirates. Like the alternate ending, this scene isn’t fully animated and is instead told through storyboards and audio, which is kind of delightful for animation fans, in a kitschy way.

The songs, “Never Smile at a Crocodile” and the “The Boatswain Song”, are likely less interesting for younger fans, but will pique the interest of Disney buffs. “Never Smile at a Crocodile”, written for (but not featured in) the film, was popularized in 1953, so it’s not likely fans’ first listen to the famous tune. What makes the extra special is that it’s the original recording, sung by Henry Calvin. The less well-known “The Boatswain Song”, did not enjoy a popular release, but was found years the Peter Pan’s release by researchers at Walt Disney Records, making it a truly special feature for this edition.

In addition to the strictly Peter Pan-related bonus material, the Diamond Edition also features a mini-documentary sure to interest any fan of classic Disney animation. Growing Up with Nine Old Men follows the now very grown sons and daughters of Walt Disney’s “nine old men”, the animators who made up the young studio’s core group, as they share memories of the men who brought Disney’s beloved classics to life.

Peter Pan isn’t without its share of criticism, but fans of the classic will be wowed by the beautiful Blu-ray transfer and the respectable stable of new special features not previously available on earlier editions of the film.

RATING 6 / 10