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Mary Blair concept art showcased in “Walt Disney’s Peter Pan”

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Mary Blair concept art showcased in “Walt Disney’s Peter Pan”

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It’s always been one of the great what-ifs of Disney history. What if … All of the Studio’s overseas markets hadn’t been cut off by the start of World War II?

It’s well known that – as of the late 1930s -- Walt was well into development of full-length animated versions of “Alice in Wonderland,” “Peter Pan” and “The Wind in the Willows.” And had everything gone according to plan, feature film versions of these three projects would have been released to theaters during the early 1940s.

But WWII did derail Disney’s plans. And as a direct result, production of “Alice” and “Peter” were put off by more than a decade. And in the case of “The Wind in the Willows,” Walt’s animated version of this much beloved Kenneth Grahame story went from being a stand-alone project to becoming part of a package film, 1949’s “The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad.”

A Peter Pan illustration by David Hall
Copyright Disney Enterprises, Inc. All Rights Reserved

But given the storyboards as well as those pieces of preproduction / development art that have leaked out for the David Hall version of “Peter Pan” (which shows that Disney Studios seriously considered producing a far darker take on J.M. Barrie’s tale) … In hindsight, maybe we were lucky that production of this animated feature was postponed ‘til 1953. So that Mary Blair could then rise up through the ranks at Walt Disney Studios and become a real creative force on the Animation side of things.

Mary Blair's concept drawing of Skull Rock from Peter Pan
Copyright Disney Enterprises, Inc. All Rights Reserved

Don’t get me wrong. It wasn’t as if this Disney Legend actively steered clear of Neverland’s scarier aspects. Take – for example – Mary’s take on Skull Rock.

Captain Hook menaces Peter Pan in a Mary Blair concept drawing
Copyright Disney Enterprises, Inc. All Rights Reserved

Or this concept painting of Captain Hook sneaking out of the shadows as he gets ready to run Peter through with his sword.

But what Blair really brought to Disney’s version of “Peter Pan” was a visual sense of whimsy that – in large part – perfectly matched Barrie’s literary wit. Which then allowed Neverland to really come to life.

Michael and the lost boys as depicted by Mary Blair
Copyright Disney Enterprises, Inc. All Rights Reserved

I bring this up today because – last month – Disney Press just released the fourth storybook in its Archives series, “Walt Disney's Peter Pan.” Which uses many of the concept paintings that Mary Blair created for this animated feature to illustrate this 64-page hardcover.

Peter Pan book by Barry and Pearson
Copyright 2009 Disney Press. All Rights Reserved

Mind you, one of the other real pleasures of paging through “Walt Disney’s Peter Pan” (besides Ms. Blair’s concept art of course) is the text that accompanies this imagery. Which was put together by Dave Barry and Ridley Pearson, the talented team behind the best-selling “Peter and the Starcatchersseries.

Barry & Ridley do a brilliant job of tailoring Barrie’s oft-told tale to Blair’s concept art. Which results in a concise but still very entertaining retelling of the Peter Pan story.

Peter holds Wendy in the story of Peter Pan by Barry and Pearson
Copyright Disney Enterprises, Inc. All Rights Reserved

So the younger members of the family are sure to enjoy “Walt Disney’s Peter Pan” for its story, the older members of your clan (especially those who are animation buffs) are sure to marvel at this book’s illustrations.

Peter Pan peering down the cliff in the retelling of Peter Pan by Barry and Pearson
Copyright Disney Enterprises, Inc. All Rights Reserved

Especially given how closely Walt’s artists & animators followed Mary’s vision when it came to how particular scenes & sequences were staged in this 1953 Walt Disney Productions release.

The Golden Ship as drawn by Mary Blair
Copyright Disney Enterprises, Inc. All Rights Reserved

A charming mix of strong illustrations and tightly written text (“All of this happened before, and it will happen again. It could happen anywhere, but this time it happened in London ...”)

Peter and Tinker Bell fly over the rooftops
Copyright Disney Enterprises, Inc. All Rights Reserved

… “Walt Disney’s Peter Pan” will make a fine addition to your family’s Disneyana library. Especially if you’ve already purchased the first three volumes in this Disney Archives series, “Walt Disney's Alice in Wonderland,” “Walt Disney's Cinderella” and “Walt Disney's Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs.”

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