On DVD: A Wrinkle in Time & Peter Pan (1953)

 

When I first saw A Wrinkle in Time back in March, it got such an emotional response out of me that it practically left me eviscerated. It’s pretty rare for movies to do that to me and even rarer still for a movie to make me remember how it felt to be a child at my most vulnerable without also making me feel like there was something wrong with me back then. Honestly, just thinking about this movie almost brings me to tears, even three months later.

For purely subjective reasons, A Wrinkle in Time is a special movie for me. It’s a shame the rest of the world wasn’t quite ready for it, but now with its release on Blu-ray, DVD and digital formats, fans of the movie (and hopefully those willing to give it a second chance) can pull back some of the layers and, thanks to a handful of in-depth special features, see just how special every moment of A Wrinkle in Time is.

Because, you know, it’s not like it’s an accident that it turned out the way it did. The biggest complaint was always going to be “It’s not like the book,” and early on in the short behind-the-scenes documentary “A Journey Through Time,” director Ava DuVernay and producers Catherine Hand and Jim Whittaker establish that a straight adaptation of Madeleine L’Engle’s novel was never the goal. The novel was the starting point while the goal was reinventing its tale in “the most positive modern way” they possibly could (to paraphrase Whittaker), using a combination of collaboration, creativity and imagination on all levels. Additionally, DuVernay says in the documentary that her personal goal was to create something emotionally resonant and visually stunning.

No one, not even the L’Engle purists, can deny that she did that. And she did it with possibly the most diverse creative team I’ve seen outside of the Black Panther special features. The visibility of DuVernay’s creative team of women and men of color in the short documentary and the audio commentary for A Wrinkle in Time is like a jolt to the system after going through so many other special features on DVDs and seeing middle-aged white man after middle-aged white man — and just another example of DuVernay putting her money where her mouth is. Later in “A Journey Through Time,” she says she cast her film the way she did (i.e., diversely) in order to populate it like the real world. She never says that was her goal behind the camera, but she doesn’t have to: Once you go behind-the-scenes, it’s there wherever you look.

There are a lot of reasons why I think A Wrinkle in Time should be a staple of DVD collections, especially if you have children, but this visible diversity on all fronts might be the strongest one. Kids of color will watch this film and see themselves in Storm Reid’s Meg or Deric McCabe’s Charles Wallace, but it might be just as important to them to watch the special features and see themselves in Hollywood jobs they had no idea could be for them, whether it’s costume design (Paco Delgado), production design (Naomi Shohan), hair design & department head (Kimberly Kimble), or makeup design & department head (Lalette Littlejohn). Too often those figures are just names on the screen during the end credits, but it makes a huge difference to see them talk about both their craft and the way DuVernay guided and collaborated with them without straying from her singular vision for the film. It makes them real, and it makes everything they put on screen that much more deliberate and wonderful.

Besides, we’re used to hearing Hollywood creatives wax poetic about a Tarantino or a Scorsese. Not so much a DuVernay. I’m glad to find it here.

Among the other special features, you’ll find four deleted scenes featuring commentary from DuVernay (truly excellent), along with a couple music videos and a blooper reel. Although this DVD release doesn’t go quite as in-depth as my recent favorite (Star Wars Episode VIII: The Last Jedi), it’s still a worthy addition to any collection, if only for the movie alone. We didn’t appreciate it when it came out, but I do believe time and the children will give A Wrinkle in Time its due.

 


 

 

One the other side of the DVD spectrum is Disney’s latest re-release of 1953’s Peter Pan. This release is part of “The Signature Collection,” an apparent successor to the Diamond and Platinum editions built around Blu-ray and Digital HD formats. Peter Pan seems to be a part of this line because 2018 marks the 65th anniversary of its release.

If I seem a little skeptical, well … Peter Pan wasn’t my favorite classic Disney film when I was a kid and, upon rewatching it, there’s very little about it that appeals to me as an adult. Wendy’s lack of agency — ostensibly torn between a father who wants her to grow up and a wild boy who wants the opposite (but also wants her to be a mother to his gang of motherless boys? Yeesh) — makes her a pretty boring protagonist, while the racist depiction of Neverland’s “Injuns” is basically impossible to dismiss with a hand-wave of “It was the 1950s and they didn’t know any better.” Untrue. It was the 1950s and Disney was racist, full stop.

What would be nice to see on Disney’s “Signature Collection” is a featurette that confronts the uglier side of Disney’s past and engages meaningfully with it. Instead, this edition of Peter Pan gives viewers another installment of “Stories From Walt’s Office,” a series with short episodes on every Signature Collection edition, about Walt Disney and his lifelong love of flight. The two main talking heads are Disney archivists, and they do an admirable job connecting Walt’s personal history with flight to the broader history of flight, but it’s about as puffy a piece as they come. This edition’s other new featurette, “A Darling Conversation,” which sits down voice actors Kathryn Beaumont (Wendy) and Peter Collins (John) to reminisce about their time working for “Uncle Walt,” is much the same.

As for the rest of the special features? Well, if you purchased the 2002 Special Edition, the 2007 Platinum Edition, or the 2013 Diamond Edition, you’ve already seen them. Features such as deleted scenes, deleted songs, featurettes and more are repackaged here under a “Classic Bonus” menu. However, this edition does include two additional ways to watch the film: as a sing-along or with “Disney View,” which shows pre-animation artwork alongside the film itself. The latter of the two versions is new to this Signature Collection edition.

All in all, Peter Pan is not a Disney film I’d call essential, and while the bonus features offer an interesting peek into the world of Disney animation, you’d have to be a diehard Pan fan to get much out of them. A part of me is always going to be frustrated with the deification of Walt Disney and the modern company’s refusal to acknowledge its past imperfections, and this is really an edition that could’ve used some thoughtfulness instead of a couple throwaway fluff features. Here’s hoping for better in the future.



Aly Caviness is an administrator of Midwest Film Journal, possible witch, and lifelong film obsessive. Through Lynch, her grandmother taught her how to spot “The Girl,” and through Frankenstein, her grandfather taught her how to love in spite of fear. She blames Jack Sparrow for her MA in colonial Atlantic history and Guy Pearce for her marriage. By day, she works and writes in the Archives & Library at the Indiana Historical Society, which possesses such artifacts from Hoosier film history as James Dean’s high school yearbooks and posters from the 1997 classic, “George of the Jungle.” By night, she mostly cries about Laura Palmer.


%d bloggers like this: