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Breanna - a lifelong Disney fan - is a writer who lives on a cattle ranch in Alabama. She wants a t-shirt that says, "Where Were You When Mufasa Died?"

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

“I’m a Codfish!!!”

          Here on Waking Snow White, we’ve gone through a couple of eras in Disney history.  Let’s see, we’ve got the age of the tearjerkers with Dumbo and Bambi and the era of the package film with… well, the package films.  Now here we are on the cusp of a new era, one that I think I will call the-time-of-the-two-movies-Walt-didn’t-really-like-that-much-framed-by-two-films-that-he-loved.  Or if condensed down, the time of the love/hate/hate/love.  Of course, if we extended our window of films back to Melody Time, we could call it the time of Mary Blair.  Her unique style of painting had a massive influence on the look and feel of films like Cinderella, Alice in Wonderland, and Peter Pan.  There are even picture books coinciding with each of those films featuring nothing but the concept done by Mary Blair (One of which is available for purchase here at http://www.amazon.com/Walt-Disneys-Peter-Dave-Barry/dp/B0046LUTP0/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1289236143&sr=8-1). 
Granted, a lot of people can understand why Walt didn’t like Alice in Wonderland, but I imagine a fair few might be scratching their heads and looking aghast at the thought of Walt not liking Peter Pan.  I mean it’s Peter Pan.  This is the movie that gave the world Tinker Bell.  Freakin’ Tinker Bell!  She’s only the most famous fairy on the planet, loved by my awesome reader, Tinkerbellfan5, and Paris Hilton alike.  She only introduced every episode of The Wonderful World of Disney and the like.  She only inspired a Disney brand almost as popular as the Disney Princesses with the Disney Fairies.  She only introduces the fireworks every night at Disney World with a real live flyover Main Street. 
This is the movie that most people think of when they hear the words “Peter” and “Pan” used together in a sentence.  This movie inspired arguably the greatest dark ride in all of Fantasyland, Peter Pan’s Flight.  Besides Fantasia, this is the only other golden age film to have a segment in Philharmagic.  I mean, who am I to sit here and allege that Walt Disney did not like one of the most influential Disney films of all time?
I’m saying it because it’s the truth.  Mr. Disney knew and acknowledged how successful the film was, but he was never satisfied with it.  Mostly because he didn’t like the title character himself.  He thought that Peter was cold and unlikable (don’t believe me?  See for yourself http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0046183/trivia).  I am actually about to commit Disney fan blasphemy, because I tend to agree with Mr. Disney on this matter.
            Peter is kind of a prick.  There.  I said it.  There is a reason why there’s such a thing as the “Peter Pan complex.”  I know that this was the 1950’s, but the feminist in me is cocking an eyebrow at the way Peter addressed Wendy as “girl” when he first met her.  And the way he laughed and did nothing when the mermaids (definitely different from Ariel) attempted to drown her was a little too reminiscent of a couple of jerks I’ve unfortunately known in real life.
            Speaking of Wendy, she was voiced the fabulous Kathryn Beaumont.  You know what really boggles my mind about Kathryn Beaumont?  It’s a known fact that Disney didn’t like either Alice in Wonderland or Peter Pan.  And yet, both films feature the voice talents of Kathryn Beaumont.  Because he cast her twice in a row, Mr. Disney must have really liked her voice even if he didn’t care much for the films themselves.  In fact, both of these films received shout outs in Pinocchio; maybe that’s what jinxed them.  
See the book next to Alice?
I really liked Wendy’s design, her hair especially.  The animation of her and her brothers was amazing.  If you think about it, this was the first Disney animated film where all of the action follows a large group of human children.  In Pinocchio, Pinocchio resembled a puppet for four-fifths of the film.  Dumbo and Bambi were both about animal children.  In Alice in Wonderland, the audience was following just one little girl.  It was here that the animation team was required to animate a mess of believable human children for the first time.
            For the most part, they did a great job.  Peter was a convincing cocky eternal thirteen/fourteen year old boy.  The Lost Boys were cartoony in style, but their actions and demeanor scream pre-pubescent rough housing boys.  John and Michael were incredibly realistic to watch, both in their designs and their actions, Michael in particular.  He really is evocative of a little boy maybe four or five, especially the bit where he finds a feather and tomahawk and crudely impersonates an Indian.
            But the real standout among the children was Wendy.  I know the film’s title is Peter Pan, but in just about every version you see, it is Wendy who is the central protagonist.  She’s the only one of the three main characters who learns something come story’s end.  If Peter represents never-ending childhood, and Hook is growing up at its worst, Wendy finds herself caught in the middle.  Her father wants her to grow up and that’s a terrifying prospect to her.
            So she goes to Neverland with the boy she’s been dreaming of throughout childhood.  And Neverland and Peter are everything and nothing like what she expected.  Sure, there are pirates, mermaids, Indians, and adventures around every corner, but there’s also Lost Boys trying to shoot her out of the air, mermaids trying to drown her, Indians barking orders at her, and Peter flirting with every girl on the island.  It becomes impossible for Wendy to ignore that she’s growing up and becoming mature whether she wants to or not.  This is especially indicative in her animation.  Flying is considered the symbol of carefree childhood innocence and if you watch Wendy when she tries to fly, she has the most trouble.  She’s not fully weightless meaning that she feels the weight of adulthood.
            It’s pretty deep thinking for something that’s supposedly geared towards kids.  But that’s Peter Pan.  It’s the story of not forgetting what you learned in childhood, but always living your life without regret.  In the original story, there’s a fair amount of sexual tension between Peter and Wendy and the tragedy that is Pan’s character is much more evident.  A lot of this gets lost in the Disney version, which is probably why the film was not up to Walt’s usual standards. 
            This film tosses out a few of the traditions surrounding J.M. Barrie’s original play.  Tinker Bell is a fully realized character as opposed to a spot of light.  This is also the first time an actual male played the title character (played by Disney favorite, Bobby Driscoll) as opposed to a woman.  But one tradition they kept in tact - which I’m glad that they did because it’s central to the theme of the story – is having the same actor who plays Mr. Darling also play Captain Hook.
            Captain Hook, voiced by Hans Conried and animated by Frank Thomas, was amazing.  He is both an intimidating villain (I love the way he shoots the singing pirate over his shoulder without even looking) and an incredibly comical figure. Only moments after proving he is capable of awesome feats of villainy, he freaks out the first time he hears Tick-Tock coming.  But the moment that made me laugh was the way Mr. Smee told the crocodile to shoo.  Bill Thompson voiced Mr. Smee to perfection; I had forgotten about the really funny gag where he shaves the seagull’s bottom and then goes searching for Captain Hook’s head.
            Speaking of Tick-Tock, though the most talking he does are some crocodile growls, he is the funniest character in all of Peter Pan.  His introductory scene was great when he snaps his fingers in disappointment of Captain Hook not falling into his hungry jaws.  The part that made me laugh the loudest though was when the Lost Boys started singing “he’s a codfish,” and Tick-Tock was merrily splashing in time with the song with a hungry look on his face.  I love the way Hook’s eyes and mustache start twitching when he hears that familiar clock sound looming ominously in his direction.

            But the character that truly shined (literally and figuratively) in this film was Tinker Bell.  Marc Davis was her supervising animator and he was indeed famous for his women: Cinderella, Tinker Bell, Princess Aurora, and Cruella DeVil were some of his most famous work.  She’s definitely the bombshell of the golden age of Disney films, with her curvy hips and tastefully short green dress.  Her personality is especially strong, considering that this was before Disney gave her a speaking voice.  Truth be told, as a kid, I didn’t like Tinker Bell all that much, but that was before I actually studied the original J.M. Barrie story and learned about that line with Tinker Bell being so small that she only had room for one emotion at a time.  It’s easier to understand her motivations in the film with that in mind. 
            I love the story of Peter Pan, even if I’m not too crazy about the Disney version.  I think it’s one of the most honest, gorgeous of childhood ever written. I’m not the only who feels that way, which explains why Peter Pan has seen its share of film adaptations, some of which take a few liberties with exactly what side of the story they tell.  There’s Hook with Disney alum Robin Williams, telling a story of what would happen if Pan grew up and had kids (http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0102057/).  There’s the fantastic Finding Neverland, with Johnny Depp and Kate Winslet, but it tells the story behind the story, detailing J.M. Barrie’s journey in writing the timeless play (http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0308644/).  But my all time favorite version of Peter Pan, even more so than the Disney version, and possibly one of my favorite films is the 2003 live action adaptation with Jason Isaacs playing Captain Hook (http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0316396/).

            It’s incredibly faithful to the play, and it has one of the most breathtaking film scores that I’ve ever heard.  In fact, there’s a Disney connection with the music, in that Disney used the piece “I Do Believe in Fairies” for a series of advertisements they did for the Year of a Million Dreams campaign.  It’s one of the most underrated films, and it truly captures the essence of what Peter Pan is really about.  If you find yourself on the side of agreeing with Walt about this picture, then I highly recommend you check out the 2003 version.  I think that particular film is the vision of Peter Pan Walt had in mind, but for whatever reason didn’t come to pass in the final product.



  1. Okay, I don't even know where to begin with this one....hmm..... Okay, so I never knew that Walt wasn't a fan of this one. But I gotta agree, don't ya just want to smack Peter a little bit?

    However, he's got a few redeeming qualities, I feel. He might be a bit of a jerk, but you can tell he likes Wendy. He does laugh when the mermaids bully her, however I'm pretty sure if they actually managed to be successful in almost drowning her that would have changed. I still see little bits of him that seem very protective.

    And I was really hoping you'd mention Peter Pan from 2003. I love it so much! It's an excellent rendition and the soundtrack is indeed gorgeous and inspiring. Jeremy Sumpter was such an adorable Peter and much more likable.

    However, both versions of the movie leave a very bittersweet taste in my mouth. I always wanted Peter to grow up and stay with Wendy. I guess I always want my definite happy ending.

    But of course, no matter what, Disney's version gave us the best thing ever....TINKER BELL!! Which thanks for the shout out! At five years old I stood outside of the castle and watched her soar across the night sky. That was it. She became my favorite for life. Back then there wasn't many merchandise with her on it and now she's everywhere. I'm almost jealous of all the little girls that can get things with her on them.

    As I've gotten older, I've found so much more to like about her. She's pretty, spunky, and clever all rolled up into one. Plus she's very loyal to Peter.

    Captain Hook was one of those villains that you can't help but love. Even though he's evil, his fear of the crocodile and desperate cries of "SMEEEE!!!" make him so easy to laugh at.

    So even though there are some things about Peter Pan that just don't sit well with me, it gave Disney some serious magic that will be enjoyed throughout the ages.

  2. Now for the male perspective. I love Peter Pan. I know he comes off as something of a jerk, but it's classic boy stuff. He hasn't spent time with any girls except Tink and the mermaids. He's just in his own little world. He doesn't MEAN to be bossy and mean. I love that this is one of the few Disney films that's a real "boy movie". Especially now when they really exploit the princess line and all, this is a film for boys to enjoy. There are fights and a lot of fun gags. I think the movie does a good job playing the battle of the sexes without being obvious about it (something the awful sequel failed at on every level).

    I love Bobby Driscoll's performance as Peter. I'm not convinced he was the very first male Pan (I seem to have read there were a few over the years), but it certainly did throw out standard convention. That performance is just perfect. I too like Wendy's hair a lot.

    You didn't mention anything about the Indians. I know it seems really politically incorrect now, but that's sort of a product of its time. Funny how Disney gets all up in arms about Song of the South, but has never given two thoughts about "What Makes the Red Man Red". While they are played for comedy, I'd like to point out two reasons they are not offensive. 1) they aren't real native Americans because they live on a star. 2) If you watch it again, they are designed specifically as mirrors of the Lost Boys. There are the same number of them, and they have similar variations in size. Just as the Lost Boys are ridiculous in their own way, so are the Indians.

    I like Tink a lot. She's great in this movie. But I don't think she's the best part of the film. There's a lot of good with her character. And I really love that moving bit after the bomb goes off where instead of doing the theatrical hand-clapping, Peter has that monologue about how much she means to him. In fact Tink is maybe the only thing that Return to Never-Land got right. Having said that, I'm growing tired of the oversaturation of her character in everything. I hate that she's been redesigned some, and I DESPISE the Disney Fairies line. I hate everything about it. It takes a wonderful creation of J.M. Barrie and turns it into a cheap way to make a buck.

    Finally, let's not forget Tiger Lilly. Isn't she hot? Peter Pan is a movie for boys, I guess. And in the Disney canon, those are really few and far between. There's lots of good stuff at work here. Sometimes I feel like the ridiculous side of Hook doesn't quite gel with his conniving side. And if you like continuity errors, watch Peter's scabbard during any sword fight; it disappears and reappears frequently. But there's a special place in my heart for Peter Pan. Why must we always "stop pretending and be practical"?

  3. Mr. Disney had it right when he called Peter out as a rather unlikeable figure, but it stands as a testimony to the skill of his writers and animators that his Peter Pan is also a very realistic depiction of a preadolescent boy.

    Now, I am no boy, but I grew up with two brothers and loads of cousins ad work with kids, so I see a lot of interactions between kids. And yes, many boys do go through that awkward stage where they're starting to show some interest in girls, but can't resist blowing their chances with teasing, showing off and basically acting like tools. Appealing? No, not really. But realistic? Oh, yes.

    I always found it interesting how Mr. Darling and Captain Hook are traditionally portrayed by the same actor. After all, Mr. Darling is the story's first 'antagonist'. He has no patience for his children's silly games and insists that Wendy grow up and start acting more adult. He represents everythig kids fear about growing up--losing your imagination, your passion, your sense of fun. So when the action relocates to Neverland, who's there echoing these fun-squashing, Pan-hating views? None other than Captain Hook. He gives Peter and the Lost Boys good reason to fear growing up. In Neverland, there are astonishigly few adult role models. Sure, there's the Chief, Tiger Lily's dad, but it seems like Neverland's Indians asically keep to themselves. The mermaids are a bunch of giggly, flirtatious teenage girls and the only other adults on the island are pirates (as noted by the Lost Boys in 'Hook': "All grown-ups are pirates.") It is only when Wendy decides that she doesn't really want to turn out like Peter, an emotionally-stunted perpetual child, that she realizes that the world isn't divided into Lost Boys (and Girls) and pirates.

    All that being said, I think there's a lot of good in this movie. Tink is absolutely adorable and has a lot of good qualities that make up for her tendency to be so easily consumed with envy. The Darling family's interactions with each other are a joy to watch. My all-time favorite part is when Dad trips over Nana as she's tidying the nursery. His wife and kids all let out a prolonged "Oh!" and, despite the fact that he's sprawled in an undignified heap o the floor, he smiles in anticipation of being the recipient of their sympathy; they all rush to the dog's side, cooing "Poor Nana!" "Poor Nana?" he asks in bewildered rage, "What about poor Father?" It gets me every time.