I used to imagine that opening the Disney Vault involved walks down several long corridors flanked by a cadre of stone-faced security guards, a rainbow of specialized badges and access cards, giant metal doors opened via retinal scan and an esoteric lexicon of passwords and handshakes. The main door would thunder back with a groan of hidden gears, a crack of ice and a theatric rush of steam, revealing a treasure trove of all the secured Disney classics. The custodian of this cave of media wonder would likely be a chirpy and helpful robot, capped with the reanimated noggin of Walt himself. All those who entered would be sworn to secrecy, and those who broke the bond would be transformed into one of the tiny denizens of the “It’s a Small World” ride.
When I was a kid, hearing that They were opening the Disney Vault had a sense of occasion on par with a golden Wonka ticket. Now, I realize that, like the McRib, perceived scarcity can drive an otherwise inexplicable spike in sales, and the Disney Vault is probably just a dusty warehouse in Anaheim with a screen door that flaps in the polluted breeze.
That’s not to say that my sense of childhood wonder is dead. Cynicism is just a suit of armor adults use to protect the fragility of their youth. The inherit danger of this approach is becoming so enamored with your armor or obsessed with its maintenance that you forget what you were protecting in the first place.
I’ve always tried to hold onto my childhood. I think it’s possible to grow old and never grow up. It’s not easy, though, in our cutthroat world of protocol and pirates, and leading with your heart as an adult can often get you hurt.
I think that’s the true joy of the Disney classics. There is something about them that can never be duplicated. Just watching the opening title cards of Peter Pan gave me a nostalgic chill. It’s like you’re sitting next to a five-year old version of yourself, seeing him smile and react with an abandon you thought had been burned out from prolonged exposure to life.
Having said that, I was surprised by how much of this movie was completely unfamiliar to me. I remembered the big set pieces, main characters and most of the songs, but some things caught me totally off guard. For instance, the interaction with the Indian tribe seems completely inappropriate by today’s standards. An entire race of people is described in one sentence as “savages” and “not too bright,” and they perform a song called “What Makes the Red Man Red?”
I think it’s great that Disney retained all the elements that could very well be perceived as socially inappropriate by today’s standards. I don’t think that whitewashing the past is in any way responsible or an acceptable apology to those that might be offended. The past is the past, and it needs to be there for us all to look. Whether keeping these elements intact was an oversight, a bold statement or Disney remaining obdurate to an ubiquitous wave of social nicety remains to be stated. However, I don’t think we’ll be seeing the Blu-ray release of Song of the South anytime soon.
But that’s my adult side talking; full of worry and protocol. I felt the wonder when I realized that this movie was made 60 years ago, and the artists had to hand animate pixie dust. I smiled like a five-year old when Peter Pan whipped his newly sewn shadow back up onto the wall. I actually laughed aloud when Nana readjusted the blocks at the top of the block tower to read “A-B-C” in the proper order.
Peter Pan still has the ability to reach the child in each of us. Although, I do have a bit more sympathy for Captain Hook this time around. The lesson here is that Neverland is always there for those that believe, and those that cannot find the beauty in life are cursed to live in fear of death.
This movie looks really great in the Blu-ray presentation. The aspect ratio is 1:33:1, the universal video format of the 20th century, but that is the only remnant of the old guard. The character colors are vibrant and solid, and the hand-painted backgrounds are so clear you can see brushstrokes.
The extras really do include great things for every family member. I doubt any small children would want to sit through “Growing Up with Nine Old Men,” but I thought it was a really interesting look behind the scenes at a group of animators way ahead of their time. Also included are new scenes and a new song, but these are presented as storyboards. That might be a turnoff to some, but I thought seeing the rough sketches and early ideas really augmented the final cut.