Director: Clyde Geronimi, Wilfred Jackson, Hamilton Luske
Cast: Bobby Driscoll, Kathryn Beaumont, Hans Conried, Bill Thompson
Plot: Wendy (Beaumont) fears growing up, when a young boy (Driscoll) who can fly knocks on her window.
The problem with a lot of Disney films is that the older ones are so ingrained in your cultural history rather than being viewed as a stand-alone film that it is hard to tell which parts of the story are products of the original piece and what was reinvented in a later adaptation. Do we really like Peter Pan or do we like the overall story of Peter Pan, as it has evolved over the years? Sitting back to watch Peter Pan and you do realise that this is one of the stories that has grown into the classic it has known as today and this original piece is, sadly, lacking the power that your impression of Peter Pan assumed it had.
There are just so many ideas that have been built upon since this original release. This animated feature feels more like a delightful romp where three young kids are taken to a mystical land, given the power to fly and get to hang out with adventurers, battling pirates for a weekend. And it will still be good for children of all ages, featuring several pleasant beats like a dog that acts as a household nanny, a greedy crocodile who has a particular taste for one of the characters and amusing sword fights that sees the brave Peter Pan make fools of anyone who crosses blades with him. But while the other Disneys I have reviewed had a surprising amount of depth buried in their stories, Peter Pan is lacking in substance. This is mainly the characters not quite being taken as far as you wish. Hook is a prime example. While he is referred to as one of the better Disney villains, thanks to a delightful turn by Jason Isaacs in a 2003 live action version, here Hook is pretty naff. A pompous diva of a pirate, prowling around on his ship, barking orders and punishing his men. However, any presence he might build early on is shattered to pieces when he is reduced to a blundering fool whenever the action kicks up. The very mention of the word ‘crocodile’ reduces him to a quivering idiot and Peter Pan outsmarts him so lazily that Hook never gives the final showdown the light threat it truly needs. Tinkerbell is another character who you wish was examined that little closer. She is rather fascinating, Peter Pan’s fairy companion, who is prone to angry tantrums and devious plots. For one, fairies in general are explored much closer in future instalments, the core idea of make believe being powerful not quite hitting home here. Tinkerbell is totally devoted to Peter Pan in both a good and bad way. She is antagonistic for a lot of the film, actually going as far as plotting to kill Wendy, the new woman in Peter’s life. When scorned, it is her that leads Hook to Peter Pan, a selfish act of revenge for being banished for her actions. But in her grief, she pulls herself together and saves the day at great personal cost. Or at least that is how I remember it, Tinkerbell sacrificing herself to earn redemption. In the original here, it is glossed over so quickly, there is no weight to the moment, putting this integral character to the story in the role of narrative device. It is a crying shame and another low point when revisiting this story. There are other points that just seem distasteful when looked back in a modern age. Indians are stereotypical caricatures and Tinkerbell gets slapped on the bottom by the male she craves, but whom ignores her. Don’t get me started on the crooning topless mermaids. 1953 was a simpler time, it seems…
There are moments where Disney do leave the frolicking behind and try to discuss something topical. Here, it is all about growing up. Much like in Pinocchio which taught children how to grow up correctly, Peter Pan discusses growing up as something that needs to happen. The Lost Boys, including Peter Pan, are children that have refused to grow up. While Netherland grants them the power to be immortal, children forever, they must leave everything they know behind. Wendy’s journey starts when her home life begins to force her to adopt more mature ways, when really she wants to spend time playing with her little brothers. However, while Netherland originally seems like good fun, it slowly opens up the truth of what stagnation in your maturing means. The Lost Boys slowly lose the memories of their mother and without parental role models, they are unruly. A neat comparison is that the very pirates they are trying to run from are their own future, the form of adulthood when you live without rules. Again, this debate has been taken to a deeper level in more recent productions, even as simply as in local pantomimes I have visited. But it does give Peter Pan its identity, marking it as one of the pillars of the Disney classics, even if it is one that is in desperate need of maturing itself.
Final Verdict: It is a much better film in the memory, but the usual Disney fun is there, making it good fodder for the children.