Though the J.M. Barrie biopic Finding Neverland earned a measure of middlebrow respectability, the Peter Pan myth has lost much of its luster in recent years, not least because Michael Jackson lent the word "Neverland" such unsavory connotations. Once a magical expression of boyish imagination, Peter Pan has become a complex to overcome, shorthand to describe a man-child whose refusal to grow up leads to retarded and even deviant sexuality. At the very least, the reissue of Walt Disney's sprightly 1953 animated version restores some innocence to the bright-eyed hero, a mischief-maker whose devotion to play is both his worst and his most disarming quality. Still, time hasn't been kind to Peter Pan, and ironically, Peter himself is the least of its problems. The charges of racism and sexism that tagged Barrie's Peter Pan And Wendy carried over to Disney's film intact, from its infamous Native American stereotypes (including the song "What Makes The Red Man Red?") to a bevy of sexualized harlots fit to make The Little Mermaid blush.
Produced during Disney's second wave of animated "classics," when the creative team was still trying to find its voice after World War II, Peter Pan is simply drawn against flat backdrops. Neverland isn't a world that's likely to inspire childlike wonderment, but the action in the foreground is crisply paced and appropriately adventurous, so its spare look often becomes an asset. On her last night of childhood, before Daddy banishes her from the nursery, Wendy Darling enthralls her younger brothers with storybook tales of Peter Pan, the boy who never grew up. After Peter and his pixie friend Tinkerbell show up to retrieve his lost shadow from Wendy, he coaxes them to fly with him to Neverland, where they do battle against the local Indians and the dastardly Captain Hook.
Though Barrie's stories are about a rite of passage into adulthood, Disney's Peter Pan treats the issue superficially, retreating from the dark places of movies like Pinocchio in favor of amped-up tomfoolery. Precocious and a little dim, Peter seems unworthy of the many women (Wendy, Tinkerbell, the Indian princess Tigerlily, the mermaids) vying for his attention, sometimes nastily. But the movie is saved by Hook, whose comic bumbling may make him the least menacing Disney villain, but undoubtedly one of its most entertaining.
Key features: The two-disc version includes a team commentary track hosted by Roy Disney, original and new making-of featurettes, sing-alongs, and games, including Pan-themed sudoku.