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Disney's latest classic animation high-def upgrade is predictably excellent on almost all fronts....
Buena Vista / 77 Minutes / 1953 / Rated G / Street Date: February 5, 2013
Peter Pan was intended to be Walt’s second feature-length animated film following the success of Disney’s Snow White. However, a series of events (including WWII) resulted in delays, and Peter Pan found its way to the screen some sixteen years later in 1953. As you’ll discover in the special features on this disc, Peter Pan made a significant impression on Walt Disney as a child when he saw Maude Adams perform Peter in a stage play in the early 1900s, and so bringing this story to the screen was the fulfillment of a very personal dream for Disney.
Written by James Matthew Barrie in 1904 (upon who’s life the film Finding Neverland is based), Peter Pan is a story that speaks to the joys of youth and imagination and begs the question of balancing that innocence with the unavoidable demands of adulthood. Disney’s adaptation preserves the story’s most important themes including deeper and slightly darker undertones that might go unnoticed by child viewers. Peter Pan is deceptively lighthearted on the surface. But infused into Peter’s fantasy-inspired Neverland is the fallacy of his childish selfishness that makes him unable to empathize with those around him. Ultimately, Peter’s tale serves to inspire us with the mysticism of youthful innocence, but also to compel us to embrace the unfolding responsibilities of adulthood as seen born out in the character of Wendy.
In common with many other historical works from this era, there are some racial representations in Peter Pan that do not meet with a respectful understanding of groups seen as “the other” from a 1950’s Caucasian viewpoint. The offense of Pan most heavily affects portrayals of Native Americans as unintelligent savages (the pirates are also portrayed without intellect, so it’s not a representation intended to malign Native American peoples). However, I’m certain that all well-meaning parents will take the opportunity to engage with their children to discuss questions of race, culture, ethnicity, and how sometimes stories, even very good ones, don’t fairly represent every side and shouldn’t be accepted as fact. Used to such advantage, the weaknesses of this story can actually serve to raise awareness of these important issues with your children who will no doubt encounter other instances of racial and ethnic stereotyping in their daily lives.
Despite these minor grievances (no film is free from imperfection, Disney or otherwise), Peter Pan is a part of American culture and is filled with imagination, adventure, and life-lessons well worth sharing with a new generation. At the same time, it can be enjoyed again and again by those of us catching a glimpse through the window of the pirate’s ship sailing off to Neverland.