Walt Disney synergy is in full bloom this week with the arrival of the video and DVD of the "Peter Pan Special Edition," timed to the release of the feature film sequel to the 1953 original, "Peter Pan: Return to Never Land." The Disney team didn't miss a trick: Specially marked DVDs and videos include a free movie ticket to "Return to Never Land." There is also a preview of the new movie on the VHS and digital editions of "Peter Pan."
Despite the overt commercialism in releasing "Peter Pan" now, the DVD ($30) is a must for all Disney animation buffs. The Technicolor production has been beautifully restored and remastered, and the sound quality is sparkling. The disc includes extras for the kids as well as parents. Viewers must answer several questions hidden throughout Never Land in the "Pirate Treasure Hunt Game."
There's also a "Following the Leader" sing-along, plus "Peter's Playful Prank," a DVD storybook hosted by Wendy and a still-frame gallery that includes drawings--some used, others not--for this enchanting adaptation of James M. Barrie's beloved children's story about the little boy who refuses to grow up.
The documentary "You Can Fly," which is part of both the DVD and VHS tape, is a fascinating look at the making of "Peter Pan." Film historian Leonard Maltin, animators Frank Thomas, Ollie Johnston and Marc Davis, and Kathryn Beaumont--the voice of Wendy--offer insight into the production.
Walt Disney first came upon the idea of making an animated film based on "Peter Pan" around 1935. Four years later, he acquired the rights from the Great Ormond Street Hospital in London; Barrie had given the hospital the rights to his play. Disney then ordered concept drawings for "Peter Pan," which, as illustrated in the documentary, offered a far darker rendering of the fantasy.
Production was halted when World War II began. After the war, Disney and animators resumed plans for the film, and in 1950 it began in earnest.
Bobby Driscoll, who had appeared in such popular Disney films as "Song of the South" and "Treasure Island," was cast as the voice of Peter. Beaumont, who was also the voice of Alice in "Alice in Wonderland," came on board as the voice of Wendy. Hans Conreid was the voice of Mr. Darling and Captain Hook.
Sammy Cahn and Sammy Fain, Oliver Wallace, Erdman Penner, Winston Hibler, Frank Churchill and Jack Lawrence penned the score, which includes such tunes as "You Can Fly! You Can Fly! You Can Fly!"
Disney's version of "Peter Pan" marked the first time that Peter was actually played by a boy. In the stage versions and the silent movie version from the 1920s, a woman played Peter.
The documentary also shows how after the actors recorded their lines, they "performed" in costume for a movie version of "Peter Pan" that was made for the animators so they could capture the actors' expressions and movements.
The DVD also features the 1952 featurette "The Peter Pan Story" and wonderful commentary from Maltin, Thomas, Johnston, Davis and Beaumont.
On a sad note, Driscoll's life after "Peter Pan" was tragic. As he got older, his career went into a tailspin, and he became a heavy drug user. His body was found in an abandoned Greenwich Village tenement in 1968. Two children who were playing in the building found Driscoll, who had even won a juvenile Oscar for 1949's "The Window."
When he was found, however, Driscoll's identity was unknown, and he was buried in a pauper's grave. A year later, his identity was revealed through fingerprints.