Peter Pan

Talkie of the Week: Disney Series

USA 1953, 76 minutes, Technicolor, Walt Disney Productions, Distributed by RKO Radio Pictures. Based on Peter Pan, or The Boy Who Wouldn’t Grow Up by J.M. Barrie. Narrated by Tom Conway, Voice Talents: Bobby Driscoll, Kathryn Beaumont, Paul Collins, Tomy Luske, Hans Conried, Heather Angel, Bill Thompson, Corinne Orr, June Forray, Margaret Kerry, Connie Hilton, Karen Kester and Candy Candido.

Plot summary: Who did not dream of him as a child, Peter Pan, the boy from Neverland who wouldn’t grow up?!

Peter Pan poster 1953Review: I remember it as clearly as if it had happened only yesterday. I lie awake late at night. I cannot sleep and my eyes are fixed on my half-open window. I am waiting for Peter Pan to arrive, but my childhood hero never comes. I am not Wendy. I do not get a chance to catch his shadow and lure him into my life. I do not get to fly away with him into the night. When I was little, stories like Peter Pan, Alice in Wonderland or A Little Princess were my world. I read them all, saw them on stage and listened to them on the radio. I loved to dive into the world of make-belief, a world so real to me I could taste it like my grandmother’s unequaled cooking. When I first saw Peter Pan on screen, it was love at first sight. I knew that was the kind of hero I had to meet in order to stay who I enjoyed to be: a happy child who was bubbling over with imagination. Quite naturally, I had to grow up and eventually my interest in Neverland began to fade. I am sure clang to it much longer than the average child, but after all, my fascination with the boy who wouldn’t grow up was gone. The allure of an eternal childhood had lost its appeal. After a while, I was excited to grow up like Wendy Darling and I have not missed being a child since. I do remember the excitement though about a fantastic tale like Peter Pan, beautifully adapted by Walt Disney over the course of almost two decades.

Based on J.M. Barrie’s famous play, as well as on his novel Peter and Wendy, the film was set in early 20th century London. The first scene introduces us to the Darlings, an aristocratic family who is blessed with three imaginative children, Wendy, John and Michael. The boys love to act out stories their sister tells them, stories about a far away place called Neverland. Wendy knows her stories are true because she has caught the shadow of Peter Pan, the boy who never grew up. When he returns to retrieve it, he finally shows himself in person and invites the Darling children to explore his world. Together, they fight Captain Hook, play with the Lost Boys and learn to fly with Tinkerbell’s help. They live a storybook adventure, meet Indians and mermaids, but also learn what it would mean to remain a child forever like Peter Pan.

Although already considered for production in the 1930s, the film did not make it to theaters as one of the studio’s early films but was put on hold for the duration of WWII. After surviving negotiations, draft revisions and Hollywood’s financial drought of the post-war years, Peter Pan finally premiered as Disney’s 14th animated feature on February 5, 1953. The film received mixed reviews but easily turned into a commercial success. Re-released to theaters five times before its premiere on home video in 1990, Peter Pan became a household name across the globe and a character kids still love today. For adults, the film often comes with a taste of nostalgia for the days when they themselves were little. When summer days were endless, friends precious and ice cream wagons played the sweetest melody. For me, Peter Pan will always be the boy I did not get to meet and Wendy the girl who became my heroine. It is that kind of quality Disney’s adaptation still effuses. A true classic for kids from all decades, states and ages.

Watch the trailer here to refresh your memories. The film is available on DVD and Blu-ray.

Dumbo

Talkie of the Week: Disney Series

USA 1941, 64 minutes, Technicolor, Walt Disney Productions, Distributed by RKO Radio Pictures. Based on Dumbo by Helen Aberson.

Plot summary: With his big ears, Dumbo is the laughing stock at the circus – at least until he realizes that his ears actually make him pretty special.

dumbo_posterReview: As a kid, I lost a lot of tears over Disney’s classic tales: Bambi, Pinocchio and, most predominantly, Dumbo, the little elephant with ears big enough to fly. I still remember how I choked up when he was ridiculed and teased. I felt for the little fella who was so cute with his over-sized ears and a heart twice as big. I couldn’t understand why he was an outcast, why he was defined by something he had been born with, a feature that made him unique. As an adult, my heart still breaks at the truth behind Dumbo’s painful tale.

In the beginning, Dumbo is an innocent child, a little elephant whose soul gets scarred by depreciative looks and vicious remarks. The only friend he has is a little mouse called Timothy, an animal most of his fellow elephants are scared out of their wits of. His second ally is his elephant mother, a cow who puts the life of her child devotedly above her own. It is that mix of love and pain that rings so true to my heart, a quality many modern tales miss to address in my opinion. Based on Roll-a-Book by Helen Aberson and Harold Pearl, the story does not romanticize the hard lessons Dumbo has to learn in his young life. It rather stresses the tears and hardship of children who do not seem to fit in with the rest of society, of children who look, act or think out of the box.

Although this may sound like a grim tale, deeply depressing and burdensome, Dumbo is the exact opposite of what we have come to accept as realism in entertainment. Disney’s fourth animated feature is warmhearted, moving and full of spirit. It does not bubble wrap indignity or injustice but still rewards us with a happy ending. The film, like many of its peers, walks the fine line of jolly diversion and food for thought. It is an animated classic most of us got introduced to as children and re-evaluated as adults. For me, it is one of Disney’s most haunting tales, a story I love to loathe because it has broken my heart over and over again.

Watch the original trailer here. The film is now available on DVD and Blu-ray.

Alice in Wonderland

Talkie of the Week: Disney Series

USA 1951, 75 minutes, Technicolor, Walt Disney Pictures. Distributed by: RKO Radio Pictures, Based on “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland” and “Through the Looking Glass” by Lewis Carroll

Plot summary: To elude her dull lessons, Alice escapes into the nonsensical world of Wonderland where cats wear stripes and flowers can sing.

Alice in WonderlandReview: Every kid knows her. Alice, the English girl who is bored stiff by her daily lessons and dreams of a world different from her rule-filled own. As a child, I envied her for her adventures in Wonderland, a world so entertaining and scary all at once. Like her, I escaped boredom in my mind and created a world too colorful to make sense to adults. Had I spotted a White Rabbit with a pocket watch, I would have gladly followed him. But like Peter Pan, Mr. Rabbit never came and I was stuck with the poetic words of Lewis Carroll and a Disney adaptation I only recently learned to appreciate for its imperfection.

When Alice enters Wonderland, she meets a bunch of quirky characters: Mad Hatter and March Hare, a smoking Caterpillar, and the Queen of Hearts. Their customs are peculiar and differ from what the girl has learned to be conventional. They are interesting but also capricious, their language, attitude and behavior as unpredictable as the visibility of the Cheshire Cat. What begins as a great adventure soon turns into a series of unpleasant encounters. Based on Lewis Carroll’s famous books, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass, Disney’s heroine stumbles from one oddity to the next until finally finds her way home again.

Despite their narrative complexity, Walt Disney was interested in adapting Lewis’ stories  early on but had to take several hurdles until he was able to begin with the production. Rewritten and re-imagined several times, the film finally premiered on July 26, 1951 and met with a lukewarm response. Although not slated by critics at the time, the animated feature did not attract a loyal audience. Cut down to fit into 75 short minutes, Disney’s version was incomplete and deemed Americanized by fans of Lewis Carroll’s original stories. Despite its imaginative artwork and catchy tunes, the film was not popular until its re-release in 1974 when a new generation appreciated Alice in Wonderland for its eccentric (or arguably psychedelic) content.

Now considered a children’s classic, Carroll’s books and Disney’s adaptation have influenced and shaped the imagination and childhood of many kids around the world. Although remade many times, Alice is still a beautiful blond girl in a lot of hearts and minds. Her world, both fantastic and real, stands for a time lost to us all when nothing compared to the power of imagination. When movies still made a difference in our lives and dreams were more than just the sum of our daily actions. Alice is a symbol of innocence, creativity and curiosity. A carefree child who, not unlike Wendy Darling in Peter Pan, is entangled in a mélange of fantastic tales and adult rules she has learned to escape at her own discretion.

Watch the original trailer here and refresh your memories of an enchanting Disney classic now available on DVD and Blu-ray.

Pinocchio

Talkie of the Week: Disney Series

USA 1940, 88 minutes, Technicolor, Walt Disney Pictures. Distributed by: RKO Radio Pictures, Based on “The Adventures of Pinocchio” by Carlo Collodi

Plot summary: When wood-carver Geppetto makes a wish for his puppet Pinocchio to turn into a real boy, he doesn’t expect his dream to come true.

Pinocchio posterReview: When you wish upon a star, makes no difference who you are. Anything your heart desires will come to you.

Do you remember the melody and those lyrics written by Leigh Harline and Ned Washington, a perfect composition for children of all ages?

If your heart is in your dream, no request is too extreme. When you wish upon a star as dreamers do.

Whenever I hear it, I can’t stop singing along. It’s such a catchy tune, such a lovely song rightly rewarded with an Academy Award and later selected as Disney’s signature tune.

For all of you who grew up watching Disney movies, Pinocchio is probably a film that stands out in your memories. Based on Carlo Collodi’s Le Avventure di Pinnochio, it was Disney’s second feature, a dream-like adaptation of Italian tales written for children between 1881 and 1883. Now considered a children’s classic, Collodi’s collection of stories introduced us to the adventures of a wooden puppet who was eventually given the chance to become a real boy. Not unlike Bambi in 1942, Pinocchio dealt with harsh realities in a charming way and confronted its audience with lessons on poverty, deceit and loss. Woven into a fantastic plot that allowed a marionette to come to life by grace of a stunning (Jean-Harlow-esque) Blue Fairy, Pinocchio offered children a glimpse into the pitfalls and dangers of a grownup world without disillusioning them. For adults, the plot offered a reflection on their own lives, especially in the early days of WWII.

Although blessed with positive reviews upon release, the film was not immediately considered a success but only gradually brought in the production coasts. Re-released several times, Pinocchio is now a Disney treasure available on DVD and Blu-ray. Colorful and imaginative, the film has preserved its potential to win over any child by passing on key values such as courage, honesty and unselfishness. It is a film that may be more important now than it’s ever been, a classic gem that only grows on you with age.

Refresh your memories of Pinocchio by watching the trailer here.

Bambi

Talkie of the Week: Disney Series

USA 1942, 70 minutes, Technicolor, Walt Disney Pictures. Distributed by: RKO Radio Pictures, Based on the story “Bambi, A Life in the Woods” by Felix Salten

Plot summary: When Bambi is born, the little fawn is surrounded by novelty and affection. As he grows up, he finds friendship and love, faces danger and loss – experiences that prepare him to eventually follow into his father’s footsteps, The Great Prince of the Forest.

bambiReview: There are stories you fall in love with as a child that stay with you for a lifetime. Bambi is such a gem. Originally published in 1923, the book was written for an adult audience and made into an animated feature in 1942. Although not an instant hit with critics or American audiences alike, Walt Disney’s fifth feature production turned into a classic generations of children have grown up with. Equipped with a then unprecedented love for detail and a new realism in animation and narrative style, Bambi ultimately learned to stand the test of time. Re-released to theaters six times until it conquered nurseries and family rooms around the world on VHS, DVD and Blu-ray, Bambi’s story is now an essential part of many vintage  movie collections.

Introducing us to the lives of fawn Bambi, hare Thumper and skunk Flower, Disney’s adaptation stayed true to the essentials of Felix Salten’s popular book. Criticized for depicting the grim realities of forest animals in our modern times, the film addressed human negligence and hunting as two issues Bambi and his friends have to cope with in their young lives. Although a lot less colorful in its description of the loss Bambi has to face, the film hit a nerve at the time of its release and still does today. Memorable and haunting, Bambi does what fairytales used to do: it wraps a tough lesson in a charming tale that remains relevant beyond your childhood days. Like many of its live action peers from Hollywood’s Golden Age, the film had a message without being preachy. Paired with masterful character animations and an Academy-Awards-nominated score, Bambi still resonates today and looks as beautiful as ever, 71-years after its original release.

Watch the original trailer here.

Cinderella

Talkie of the Week: Disney Series

USA 1950, 74 minutes, technicolor, Walt Disney Productions, Distributed by RKO Radio Pictures. Based on Cendrillon by Charles Perrault.

Plot summary: When Cinderella is denied attending the royal ball by her evil stepmother, her fairy godmother comes to her rescue with some Bibbidi-Bobbidi-Boo and turns the evening into an enchanting adventure that changes the young maid’s life.

Cinderella posterReview: In early 1950, Cinderella graced the silver screen as Disney’s first full-bodied, animated feature since Bambi in 1942. She was also Disney’s second princess. Beautiful, hands-on and wholesome, she didn’t only enchant Prince Charming but also a worldwide audience. Based on live action models Helene Stanley and Ilene Woods (who also gave Cinderella her voice), she was an ideal woman of the late 1940s: perky, feminine and full of grace.

Degraded to a maid in her late father’s home, Cinderella grew up to be resilient, hard-working and prettier than her evil step-sisters Anastasia and Drizella. Supported by her animal friends, she endures every chore and remark Lady Tremaine, her stepmother, has up her sleeve. Good-natured as she is, the young girl doesn’t believe her stepmother to be truly evil. At least not until she ruins her chances of going to the royal dance with her clumsy sisters. Heart-broken, Cinderella cries bitter tears about her shattered dream, tears only her Fairy Godmother knows how to dry. Pleasantly plumb and adorably scatterbrained, the elderly lady revives her goddaughter’s heartfelt wish with a sense of humor and some good old-fashioned magic. With a little help from her furry friends and an abandoned pumpkin, Cinderella turns into a lovely princess who wins the heart of the prince as soon as she arrives at his ball. Falling in love with him at first sight as well, Cinderella almost forgets her dress and coach are only an illusion for one night. And so, at midnight, she rushes away before the spell breaks and leaves her barefoot and plain before the man who has bewitched her with his smile. In her haste, she loses one of her shoes and barely makes it home before her stepmother and sisters arrive. The conclusion of the story is too well-known to be retold in just a few words. It’s the kind of end that made my heart grow bigger as a child, a perfect close for a Hollywood tale so beautifully animated and designed, it has captured the love and dreams of many girls for generations.

Although I am generally fond of Disney classics and almost exclusively prefer them to the studio’s contemporary animated features, Cinderella is my favorite. I love the music, the humor and the overall style. Cinderella, like Snow White, is my kind of princess and I’d adopt her Fairy Godmother in a heartbeat. Moreover, Cinderella has the most precious pets and although Prince Charming may not have enough screen time to make a lasting impression, for anyone who’s ever been in love, the duet he sings with Cinderella says it all. So this is Love is one of my favorite songs, a melody I can’t get out of my head for days once I’ve seen the movie again. As I’m typing this, I’m humming it again and it mends my heart. Mmmmmm. Mmmmmm. So this is love. For all of you who want to sing along, the film is available on DVD and Blu-ray. The perfect romantic film to herald spring, at least in my starry-eyed opinion.

Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs

Talkie of the Week: Disney Series

USA 1937, 83 minutes, technicolor, A Walt Disney FEATURE Production, Distributed by RKO Radio Pictures. Based on the Brothers Grimm fairytale of the same name.

Plot summary: When Snow White’s beauty outshines her stepmother’s, she is supposed to perish at the hands of the queen’s hunter. But instead of doing away with her, he allows her to escape to the woods where she soon finds shelter with the Seven Dwarfs.

Snow WhiteReview: There are few animated characters who have a star on Hollywood’s Walk of Fame. Snow White does. She was Disney’s first princess and seventy-six years after her debut, she’s still every bit as sweet, innocent and charming as she always has been. Created by Hamilton Luske and vocally brought to life by Adriana Caselotti, she remains a Disney favorite. A princess whose beauty is more than captivating; it comes from the heart.

Based on a fairytale by the German Brothers Grimm, Walt Disney’s Snow White may have disgruntled her stepmother, the queen. Her charm, however, bewitches everyone else she meets. Designed as a perfect 1930s belle, her skin is fair, her hair is dark and her eyes are sparkling with kindness. When she is sent to the woods in the company of the queen’s hunter, she is jolly and trusting. In her wildest dreams the young girl does not suspect her stepmother’s evil plan to dispose of her. But when the hunter fails to execute his orders, her heart breaks. Scared for her life she runs deeper into the woods, losing her sense of direction but never her heart. She finds a new home with the Seven Dwarfs and spoils them with motherly love and affection. Despite her simple life and seclusion in the forest, the queen still envies Snow White for her beauty and takes it into her own hands to put her stepdaughter to everlasting sleep.

For everyone who still remembers growing up with bedtime stories and family film Saturday nights, the end of this classic is still as fresh and vivid in memory as it ever was. And that’s the true beauty of Walt Disney’s first animated feature film. Like the hearts of his audience, Snow White never grows old. She may have changed voices over the years and seems a whole lot quieter than her quirky sister princesses from the 1990s through 2000s. But in general, she’s every bit as appealing as she was when she first bewitched moviegoers, critics and filmmakers alike. Her grace has outlasted even the loudest Hollywood image and she’s still a popular star in Disneyland, as well as on Blu-ray and DVD. How many other beauties can say that of themselves?

Watch the original trailer here.