Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Captain Hook's Red Coat (Part 3/3)

In this third and final installment I will sum up and discuss the overall color and lighting concepts found in Part 1 and 2 by way of analyzing the remaining three sequences of Disney's PETER PAN (1953) all of which feature Captain Hook's red coat in one way or another. I will finally look at the combination of red against blue.

Capturing The Kids
When the pirates approach the hangman's tree during Wendy's song about mothers in Seq. 13, the blue of Technicolor nights dominates the scene. In the establishing shot the characters appear dark against the pool of moonlight. The concepts of silhouettes against lighter backgrounds was a standard indication of nighttime scenes of the period. Audiences were used to infer day or night from conventionalized lighting cues because color films had to be shot "day for night" as the following screenshots from LEAVE HER TO HEAVEN (Stahl, 1945) illustrate:
In studio shots, lighting conditions could be more closely adjusted to simulate night (left). However, dark characters against artificially darkened daytime landscapes was common practice to indicate night scenes when shot on location during the golden age of Hollywood. It is unclear, however, whether these scenes were supposed to be color corrected to look more blue in the original Technicolor prints as this DVD was probably made from a later non-dye-transfer release print.

Although in the PETER PAN scene the greenery looks pretty blue because of the night, the costume colors are merely darkened and not really affected by the blue cast. In closer shots, the lighting assumes the theatrical studio quality that is always possible in animation but was nevertheless carefully arranged to look "natural" enough:

The warm light emanating from Peter's hideout seems to come from the right rather than from below in order to illuminate both Smee and Hook so that they again stand out against the dark background. Hook's coat and (newly recovered?) hat look as rich and warm as in the sequence before when he wooed Tinker Bell. The faces are in full light and Hook looks stronger than ever (regarding colors, not animation that is certainly weaker than in the Frank Thomas or Woolie Reitherman scenes).

The package however is wrapped in the girly pink of Hook's shirt underneath.

Excursion into gender codes:
In this context it is probably noteworthy that Wendy is not dressed in pink but in light blue, for centuries the color for girls because blue is more receding than red.
The pink/male vs blue/female attribution was completely correct for a story set in a pre-war period. At night Wendy's blue dress stands out against the surroundings only by its lighter value.
In my first storybook which I loved exactly because it featured production stills rather than book illustrations, the publisher seemed to be worried about "dated" colors and "adjusted" (aka painted over) Wendy's dress in pink - probably to make it more accessible to a 1980s audience...

Whatever the reasons, the tinkering resulted in some absurd combinations like Wendy and Michael as one entity or a rather unattractive and narratively contradicting Peter - Wendy contrast:
How Wendy looked in the 1982 Unipart storybook.
Hook's Happy Hour
As we have seen in Hook's introductory scene, color-wise he is very much at home on his ship with all the reddish wood around him. Except for his skin, feathers and white frill he practically blends in with his surroundings and only stands out because the background is less saturated (whereas Smee clearly reads against the ship.
Hook tells us what happens to Peter when the clock strikes six.
While the children have been kidnapped late at night, the next scene on the pirate ship seems to take place during the following day. It is hardly plausible, however, that Peter did not attempt to open his gift for a whole day - unless we are talking about dream time. Time and clocks are a strong motif in this film about never ending childhood (think of Big Ben or the alarm clock within the crocodile) and at that moment we still do not know that - in the Disney version - we are inside Wendy's (rather the children's collective?) dream.
Hook may be shaved now (right), but the overall colors are the same as in the beginning (left)
The lilac sky around the ship indicates that we are either in the same spot as in the beginning or it is the same time (see above). At that moment the children are again in a similar situation tied to a pole. And again they see it as a lighthearted game and readily agree to become pirates.

The Sky Darkens
It is only at the moment when Peter's home explodes and Wendy is marching the planks that the clear sky is increasingly overcast as if the lighthearted atmosphere was overshadowed by the children's realization that Hook is probably a real threat.

When Wendy's walking the plank (Seq. 14.0 "the fight with the pirates" according to the production drafts) does not produce a splash or even a ripple, the pirates themselves become scared and the sky darkens considerably. And as if to reinforce the "pink undergarment" concept, the scared pirate is wearing exactly the same colors as Hook when he is shown weak and whiny.

The dark and rather desaturated clouds now almost obscure the purple sky so that Hook stands out not only because of the saturation of his red clothes but also because they everything around him is either very dark or very light when Peter finally reveals himself being alive.

Although the sky around the ship is dark, the ship itself is harshly lit in the same theatrical lighting style that produced the ongoing light and shadow contrast. But since this would be a subject for a whole article I will not discuss it any further here.

In a resuming of their earlier fight, Peter's evasiveness once again seems to be no match for Hook. Nevertheless, he still keeps his red coat firmly on. He is still angry and powerful, even when he almost falls off the ship in another cartoon moment that should feel out of place in a "realistic" Disney feature but still works (like the earlier concerning Hook walking on air above the crocodile).

Again Peter first destroys Hook's status symbol, his hat, and then lands a blow that leaves Hook with an open coat. But we still do not see anything pink underneath. Not yet. Hook is still angry and determined to kill the boy.

But then Peter agrees on a fair duel which means he must not fly. Instead he ties Hook up with his own Jolly Roger... that Hook is covered by a blanket for the third and last time. Consequently, we do NOT see his red coat when he is embarrassed and ridiculed in front of the lost boys.

As we have seen in the beginning, all the adult men in this film behave like naughty children. So the moment Peter is releasing Hook as if he was ending a mutually agreed upon game the pirate breaks his word and strikes one last time which enables Peter to fly without being the traitor.

After all, the childish captain was still wearing his "strong" coat under the flag, but as soon as he falls into the water it is again devoured by the crocodile and for the remainder of the scene Hook is being chased helplessly screaming like a girl wearing only his pink and purple undergarments.

The Coat Makes The Captain
With Hook definitely out of the way, Peter is taking over the pirate ship and Hook's insignia (there really seems to be an endless supply of both hat and coat somewhere around the ship).
The flamboyant red and purple look so unexpectedly sensational on Peter because they are in maximum contrast to the green costume he has worn throughout the whole film.

Whenever Hook did not have his coat on and therefore was in a weak situation, he did not have his hat either. While his first substitute coat was a light blue (receding, girlish) blanket and the second was a blanket in the color of the crocodile, the third was not that soft and "weak" but rather dark with a strong picture in harsh black and white. After all, he was still able to strike one more time. Since a captain should be wearing some headdress, Hook's predicaments led to three compensatory "hats":

I feel the need to stress the following caveats one more time:
1) I am not saying that these color decisions have all been conscious or entirely based on rational rules. I am pretty sure that a lot of it simply felt right and was intuitively done because it looked right to the color stylists. But there is little doubt that once the basic concept was laid out they sought for coherence throughout a film.
2) The colors as seen on the BD/DVD are naturally different from those seen on a Technicolor 35mm print because they are based on different media and different color spaces. I am also aware that the digitally restored colors were altered in the process and I presume that the restoration heightened and clarified the color concept but I do not know to what degree. Sometimes it looks as if the point of reference was the original artwork and not the photographed artwork transformed by the Technicolor process, but this is speculation.
3) Although I have some reservations about all the de-grained 1950s Disney restorations (from CINDERELLA to LADY AND TRAMP), I certainly believe that they increase our awareness of the artists' original color concepts by eliminating the slightly shimmering quality of the original prints in favor of clinically clean images that match the digitally composited direct-to-DVD sequels. In short: they are great to study, but do not convey the experience of seeing the real film.

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