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?
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.
|See the book next to Alice?|
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.
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.
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.