(Second viewing, On DVD, October 2018) It’s easy to see why noted film buff/historian John Landis would jump at the occasion to direct Three Amigos—among many other things, it’s a chance for him to re-create a small part of Hollywood history, specifically the early days of silent comedy films. Add to that the idea of satirizing Seven Samurai, as well as working with comedians such as Martin Short, Chevy Chase and Steve Martin … it certainly looks like a great project. Alas, the final version of Three Amigos is missing something. It’s not dull or bad, but it’s certainly duller and worse than it could and should have been. When I saw the movie as a teenager, my favourite sequence (and the only one I could remember thirty years later aside from the salute) was the one with the signing bush and the (fallen) Invisible Gunman. As a middle-aged man, it’s still my favourite sequence, and I think it shows just how wild and absurdly funny the rest of the film could have been—I liked the too-brief look at silent Hollywood, but I would have enjoyed Three Amigos far more if its tone had been consistent with the crazy singing bush/invisible man sequence. The rest often feels perfunctory and well-mannered despite a few good stunts and the potential to go beyond the obvious. Would it have been so hard to do just a bit more?
(On Blu-ray, October 2018) I’m usually soft on Disney Animation Studio features—they’re usually classics for a reason, and I’m not usually tempted to be overly critical of them. But Peter Pan is something else: Its racist portrayal of natives was dodgy back in 1953 and is completely reprehensible today—and I’m not talking about Pocahontas levels of well-intentioned but misguided representation: I’m talking full-blown insulting stereotypes featured front and centre within a musical number. I’m already cool on the Peter Pan story itself (most adaptations work hard to tone down the less pleasant aspects of the original story already) but the Disney adaptation is one of the worst ones I’ve seen so far. Finding Neverland was dull metafiction; 2015’s Pan was a generic fantasy adventure in Peter Pan costume; 1991’s Hook was a disappointing rethread but the Disney version redeems every single one of them, and consecrates 2003’s live-action Peter Pan as the best adaptation so far. There are a few things I do like about the Disney film—the opening segment is surprisingly long in introducing the characters, and Tinker Bell is an icon for a reason. Alas, Peter Pan shoots itself not just in the foot but in the gut with that “What Made the Red Man Red?” segment. I’ve got this half-baked theory that as far as Hollywood racism is concerned, native Indians have been consistently treated worse than African-Americans, and Peter Pan dumps an entire cord of firewood on the bonfire of that theory. The issue here is not having a tribe of “others” on the island intrinsic to the plot—it’s explicitly couching them in native stereotypes. Again; see other treatments of the Peter Pan story on how to tone it down rather than put it in stark relief. As I’ve mentioned, it doesn’t help that I’m not that fond of Peter Pan’s core conceit—but that deliberate racism is on another level. I am not showing that movie to my daughter. The crazy thing is that everybody knows that this part of the film is terrible—I grew up on a lot of material derived from the Disney movies (albums, picture books, recordings, etc.) and I do not remember that sequence, which was often excised from TV broadcasts of the film. This is bottom-tier Disney material as far as I’m concerned, and probably bottom tenth if I’m being honest—I’ll take Chicken Little and Brother Bear (which I like quite a bit, actually) and, yes, Pocahontas over Peter Pan.