On the 65th anniversary of the 1953 animated classic, AWN’s resident ‘Miscweant’ speaks with Kathryn Beaumont, the voice of Wendy in Disney’s ‘Peter Pan.’
They’ve been released on tape or disc as Masterpieces, as part of Gold, Platinum, Diamond collections or special anniversary editions. (My favorite in that department is Alice in Wonderland’s “Un-Anniversary Edition.”) But whatever it says on the box, they’re Walt Disney’s most famous animated features.
While the progression from VHS to DVD to Blu-ray technology demand the new iterations, marketing plays a hand as well: in an age where just about every movie can be downloaded or streamed online, the bonus features now essentially standard on just about every Blu-ray provide an enhanced viewing experience Netflix or Hulu can’t match. (And, just to cover all the bases, the Blu-rays include a digital download as well -- take that, streaming services!)
Case in point: Peter Pan, Disney’s latest addition to its Signature Collection. (And a 65th anniversary release in honor of the film’s 1953 premiere.) In addition to numerous goodies carried over from the 2007 Platinum version, the Signature version offers two new bonus features (along with the requisite sparkling-sharp Blu-ray transfer):
In the first, Kathryn Beaumont who voiced Wendy Darling (following up her title role in Disney’s 1951 Alice in Wonderland) sits down with Paul Collins who co-starred as the top-hatted, glasses-wearing John Darling for a reminiscence-filled afternoon. Extensive cutaways to archival photographs of the pair being filmed for live-action reference not only illustrate their memories but reveal the crates, platforms and props they posed against to replicate the layouts and camera angles of the finished animation. (A photo of an unidentified actress standing in for Tinkerbell shows her posing with a gargantuan pair of scissors the animated pixie used to force open a dresser drawer.)
Born in Britain, Beaumont emigrated with the parents in the late 1940s thanks to MGM who had hoped to cast her in films based on books by British authors. After a handful of small parts her voice caught Walt’s ear. “They were looking for a voice that was pleasing to both British ears and American” to play Alice in Disney’s version of Lewis Carroll’s classic, Beaumont recalled in a recent phone conversation.
Beaumont stayed on with Disney to voice Wendy. The young actress’ experience providing reference footage for the production could be challenging. “I was wired in order to show the movement of Wendy and Peter Pan flying to Never Land…they had me harnessed and lifted up into the studio. This was very, very unusual; I was a little afraid of heights. My gosh, what am I going to do? I was terrified to look down. But once I realized I was safely harnessed I felt like, ‘okay I’m safe, I can play these scenes now.’”
The disc’s second new feature is the latest “Stories from Walt’s Office,” segments focusing on Disney’s personal life as opposed to his studio’s movies. In the recent Lady and the Tramp release the Stories explored Walt’s hideaway studio office, his secret Disneyland apartment overlooking the park’s Main Street and (appropriate to that film) the assorted canines close to his heart.
In keeping with Pan’s anti-gravity proclivities, the new segment begins with a clip from a Disneyland TV episode of Walt in mid-air, courtesy of Tinkerbell’s pixie dust (not to mention on-set practical effects). The segment’s theme is Walt’s love of flying, a romance that began in childhood at the sight of a primitive airplane’s 1911 Kansas City pitstop. A retrospective of the various aircraft Walt owned or flew in follows a montage of Disney flying clips featuring everyone from Dumbo to Mary Poppins, including of course Wendy, Michael and John.
Beaumont decided not to pursue an acting career and instead became an elementary school teacher. “Second grade was my favorite, I really enjoyed the little children…I had a couple of experiences where someone would hover at the door, looking at me and wondering ‘were you the voice that I heard on the TV?’ That paralyzed me for a little bit, but the next day everything was back to normal and I was a teacher again.”
Beaumont left the world of Alice, Wendy and animation voicework behind -- except for a brief cameo in 2002, once again voicing Alice for Disney’s House of Mouse TV series. “It was delightful to remember the past and still be part of it. I had to raise the voice a little [to recapture her 1951 self]. They kept telling me, ‘can you get a little bit higher tone, just a little bit higher tone.’”
And of her two roles for Disney, Alice and Wendy -- does she have a preference? “Not really, because they were two different characters, and two different experiences. And at each one of them I enjoyed working and getting to know the group at the studio and the wonderful relationship that developed with the animators and the directors -- it was just this fabulous experience I had as a youngster, being part of this wonderful creative studio. So they’re just very special to me, my memories of the Disney studio.”
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