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The nightmare of Pan

DVD

Yesterday, I received a review copy of the new 2-disc Platinum Edition of Walt Disney’s classic, Peter Pan, from DVD Pacific. Mindful of both the unnaturally harsh look of the earlier (2002) DVD release of the film, as well as Disney’s unfortunate habit of going overboard during the restoration process of their older titles, I was rather curious to see how this enjoyable 1953 lark had fared on of what the publicity describes as Disney Home Entertainment’s most prestigious line-up of DVD releases.

Unfortunately, the new edition really is a bit of a mixed bag. While the rampant edge enhancement of the previous release is nowhere to be found, it seems that DTS Digital Images (formerly Lowry Digital), Disney’s regular partner in these ventures, have once again thrown artistic intent out of the window in an attempt to deliver an impossibly clean, “flawless” digital experience for the 21st century. By far the biggest problem is that the overall colour, brightness and contrast values of the image have been tweaked into oblivion. Tinkerbell was originally supposed to have an overexposed glow, which, on this release, has been dulled down severely, making the glow look more like a muddy shadow. Actually, “muddy” is the word of the day here: the colours are generally dull and sickly. The decidedly red Indians are now a gloomy shade of brown, more suited to something like Pocahontas than this altogether more fun and colourful cartoon world, while Captain Hook now looks like he has liver damage. Everything is so murky that the hand-inked, cel-animated characters, who should be vibrant, threaten to disappear into the backgrounds. I’ve inspected the DVD on both a monitor and a calibrated TV: it just doesn’t look right.

Peter Pan

Respected cel restoration expert Stephen Worth, and animation directors Oscar Grillo and Milton Gray, have all criticised this new restoration, while Chuck Pennington has provided visual evidence that each subsequent home video release of Peter Pan has taken its visuals further and further away from Walt Disney and co’s original intentions. I’ve never personally seen the film on an actual print, but I feel more inclined to trust the informed opinions of experts like Stephen Worth than the staff of DTS Digital Images, who have shown a cavalier attitude towards artistic intent several times in the past, perhaps most significantly with Bambi, which was so heavily noise reduced in an attempt to remove any semblance of the movie ever having come from film that the image smeared and warped during camera movements.

Captain Hook is the greatest bastard ever.

Captain Hook is the greatest bastard ever.

Even the bonus content turns out to be rather disappointing. There really is very little here that wasn’t present on the 2002 release. In the past, just about every Platinum Edition has included a lengthy documentary or at least a series of informative featurettes on the film’s history and production. Not so with Peter Pan, which has to make do with a 15-minute made for LaserDisc featurette, a 20-minute piece showing ideas that didn’t make it into the final film, and a couple of other miscellaneous featurettes. The commentary, moderated by Roy Disney and featuring the observations of a combination of animators and critics, is of a high standard, but it too was already to be found on the previous DVD release. Of the new additions, the most significant is an abridged narration of an essay by Walt Disney explaining his reasons for making the film, while the games, read-along storybook and preview for a horrendous-looking CGI Tinkerbell movie can go hang for all I care.

It’s not the end of the world, though. Unlike the previous DVD, the original mono track has been included, at least on the US release (the European versions predictably lose this vital component of the original film, no doubt in order to make room for additional dubs). It’s too bad that, despite allowing the film to sound as was it was intended, those responsible for the DVD made no attempt to ensure that it looked as it was intended.

 
Posted: Sunday, March 25, 2007 at 3:17 PM | Comments: 10
Categories: Animation | Cinema | DVD | Technology

 
Comments

1.

I'm no Disney expert, and I don't know how accurate the colours on the 1991 Laserdisc might be compared with a theatrical print, but what struck me most on those comparisons was how much the actual line drawings have been "hardened" in solid black on the newer releases, especially the 2002 DVD.

As I recall, I always thought the outlining on Disney films was rather subdued and subtle. Those hard black lines make the pictures look cheaper and less film-like, somehow.

Posted by: Philly Q, March 25, 2007 10:14 PM

2.

I was just looking at the comparisons you linked and its quite horrendous as on the DTS image homepage they say they keep the director's intent in mind. Do all digital restorations cause this amount of problem with colours? I was aware of what DVNR does but I didn't know how fucked the colours could be as I assume they actually alter the colours as opposed to "restore" them if you get what I mean?

Posted by: Ryan, March 25, 2007 10:55 PM

3.

I'm not sure if they consciously alter them or not.

I've worked on video for years and when when I first started I fucked around with things the whole time. The psychological urge to do "something" to the picture to add your touch to it is there, although you almost never hear about it. The urge to do something to the video simply because you can can be huge.

The difference is when I was doing this, I was making VCDs for my own personal use and not restoring classic films. I think often the restoration people have a do-gooder attitude (understandably) and mistake intentional things for defects.

For example Steve Worth pointed out that Tinkerbell is supposed to be over-exposed to give a sort of glow effect (you can see that on the UltimateDisney.com message board link). I'm assuming that this is just what special effects were like in the 1950s and that video transfer/restoration people have noticed the overexposure and decided to "correct" it.

Posted by: Lyris, March 26, 2007 2:14 AM

4.

I think it’s clear that some intentional tinkering is going on. It’s not just that the colours are all offset, but rather that individual elements of each shot have been tweaked, so, for example, in one shot the background may become more saturated and the characters become desaturated. This sort of arbitrary colour “correction” certainly occurs on Warner’s Looney Tunes DVDs, as shown by a documentary on (I think) the third Golden Collection volume, which shows a technician saying, “Well, I think Bugs’ ears should be a little more red in this scene.” I’d imagine that the same thing goes on at DTS on Disney’s titles.

In the restoration featurette on Bambi, a big deal is made out of the fact that the restoration team examined the original production cels and background paintings, using them as a reference for their colour correction work. However, as any artist from that era will tell you, the colours that were put down on paper were not the same ones that ended up on the screen, due to the natural imprecision of the whole process. The artists instead developed a built-in “filter” which allowed them to approximate the end result - many cels for Alice in Wonderland, for example, show her hair as being green.

Posted by: Whiggles, March 26, 2007 7:35 AM

5.

By the way, Phil, you’re absolutely right about the lines. In all Disney’s films up to and including Peter Pan, the outlines were hand-inked in a variety of different colours (so skin would be outlined in a darker shade of flesh-tone, for example) rather than hard black. With One Hundred and One Dalmatians, the studio switched to simply xeroxing the pencil animation on to cels rather than hand inking them, giving the lines a much darker, harsher appearance. For the likes of Peter Pan, though, the outlines shouldn’t draw attention to themselves in the way that they do on this DVD.

Posted by: Whiggles, March 26, 2007 11:13 AM

6.

"...the outlines were hand-inked in a variety of different colours... rather than hard black."

That's what I thought, thanks for confirming it Mike. As a kiddie, I used to sit and copy Disney stills (along with Asterix, Lucky Luke, Conan comics etc) and I always liked the subtlety of that technique. The black outlines just don't look right.

Posted by: Philly Q, March 26, 2007 4:30 PM

7.

Looking at the comparison images, it's almost like DTS Images's (or Disney's) MO was to make the film look its age intentionally. The LaserDisc images look so vibrant that it doesn't look an animated film that's over fifty years old.

Posted by: Jayson Sehn, March 26, 2007 6:16 PM

8.

Also, it's astonishing how many in that Ultimate Disney thread seem to default to a defensive stance in when being faced with this news and basically say "Well, it looks okay to me, so I don't see it being a problem or any cause for concern."

You just gonna wonder if all their cash is tied up in Disney memorabilia while to view Disney's claim to fame, the films, they'd consider their 20" SDTV with a cheap DVD player perfectly fine.

Posted by: Jayson Sehn, March 26, 2007 6:31 PM

9.

Believe me, I had a run-in of my own with the Ultimate Disney crowd when I dared to criticise the Platinum Edition of The Little Mermaid. Some people demonstrate a level of wilful ignorance that boggles the mind.

Posted by: Whiggles, March 26, 2007 6:35 PM

10.

Everything Disney Does Is Good.

Weren't you teached this fundamental lesson when you were children? How dare you defy their sacred judgement about what is Good and what is not!? ;-)

I myself saw Peter Pan on a quite large LCD screen in a shop: noise and 'colour gradient' (or whatsisname) backgrounds were quite noticeable.

Posted by: MCP, April 1, 2007 1:00 PM

Comments on this entry and all entries up to and including June 31st 2009 have been closed. The discussion continues on the new Land of Whimsy blog:

http://www.landofwhimsy.com

 

 
 
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