Second star to the right and straight on til’ morning!
I bet if you say that line to anyone of a certain age (I don’t know about kids these days, that would be an interesting experiment…) you would get one of two reactions: “Neverland!” or they might just start breaking out into song. “You can fly!” Peter Pan is in our culture’s consciousness. The boy who wouldn’t grow up. Captain Hook and Neverland. Tinkerbell, Wendy, and Tiger Lilly. We know these characters very well. Although the story has been around for much longer, and we continue to get new films (and some strange tweaks on the story…) I think most of us will always associate our first encounter with Peter Pan to be the one Walt Disney made for us.
I will come right out and say it: I ALWAYS seem to forget how much I like this movie. I always put it low down on my list, then I watch it and go “geez, that was great!” So you can bet this one will be moving up in my list – possibly way up. I feel like this was Disney’s first really fun movie. It’s got action, adventure, pirates, fairies, and some incredibly well done characters.
Originally a play written for adults by J.M. Barrie (then later a novel), Peter pan is the embodiment of childhood. He’s a boy (some argue he’s more like an elf, some argue an angel… yeah, that whole theory is weird) that escaped growing up and living in Neverland, a place where there’s fun and games, danger, and best of all, you don’t have to grow up.
The Disney movie follows three of the Darling children – Wendy, John and Michael. Wendy is getting older, and her father tells her she’s moving out of the nursery and must become a lady. Upset, that night they’re visited by Peter Pan (who’s looking for his shadow) and she explains her predicament. Not willing to have any of that, he whisks the three of them off to Neverland, where they have some adventures with the Indians and Captain Hook. Eventually Wendy (and eventually John and Michael too) realize that they miss their home, and Wendy realizes that maybe it’s ok to grow up.
That’s a plot in a tiny nutshell. There’s more, but we’ll get to it. I want to talk about some of the characters. If I did all of them, we’d be here a while. So I’m going to group a few together, and probably talk at length about a few. Because unlike some of his earlier movies, these characters (finally!) seem complex.
First lets talk about Peter. I actually despise this character, but I think that’s sort of the point. In the movie he’s depicted as being about 10 years old (in the play and the novel he was younger…like 6). He’s egotistical, self-centered, and careless. In other words, he’s a boy. He doesn’t care when he puts himself in danger, and is almost foolishly cocky when he is in danger. He doesn’t understand families, nor why anyone would want one, or why anyone would want to grow up. He sees himself as the savior of children, and views any girl as more of a mother figure than anything else. Yet somehow through all his vices, he’s still an extremely likable person; he has a lot of friends. Because he’s a kid. Because I’m sure we’ve all known kids like him, and in some ways, it’s refreshing. In a lot of ways, that’s what it’s like to be a kid. Peter Pan is, like Bambi, a personification of childhood… just… a different part of it.
Wendy, on the other hand, is incredibly responsible. She already acts a bit like a motherly figure to her brothers, and when on Neverland, she acts that way to Peter and the Lost Boys. She has more rational sense than all of them, which is actually about right when comparing girls and boys at a young age. She has an affection for Peter, which is not returned. I always thought Wendy was a bit of a boring character, or a bit of a cliche. All girls want to grow up to be mothers. All girls don’t want to get rough with the boys. That’s very not true. I was the one out there roughing it up and getting cactus in my fingers and picking up lizards like the rest of them. While Wendy does try to join in at the indian camp, they don’t allow it because she’s a girl. Again… just a sign of the times, and this one isn’t Walt’s fault. It’s the same way in the novel and the play as well. If anything in the novel her want to be a mother/caretaker is even more exaggerated. Disney gave her a little more edge. Tiny bit.
I’m not going to talk about John, Michael or the Lost Boys because they’re a bit of an extension of Peter. I think it is hilarious that in the movie they wear outfits like animals. That was creative. I don’t like that we don’t know their names, because they did have names. I mean really, why did I have to find out in Hook of all movies that one of the lost boys was Tootles?
Then there’s Tinker Bell. Wow the Disney label has just ruined her, haven’t they? All those horrible direct to DVD movies that portray her as sweet, etc. Did those people never actually WATCH Peter Pan? While she does redeem herself at the end (arguably… although now that I think about it not really), she is sort of a jealous B*tch. Her first and only love is Peter, and when another girl comes into the picture, she will stop at nothing to destroy and even KILL her. She sends the lost boys to shoot her down. She tells the pirates where they’re hidden so they can take them hostage. Seriously, the entire movie, her entire motivation is to get Wendy out of the picture so she can have Peter all to herself. It’s only when she figures out Captain Hook means to kill Peter too that she rushes to his aid. But she never redeems herself with Wendy. I mean I guess her devotion to her friend is nice, but uh… yeah. She’s kinda evil.
Then there’s Captain Hook and Smee. If you ever wanted an evil but likable villain, this guy is it. He hatches these plots, and they sound smart, but he ends up getting tricked out of all of them by a 10 year old boy. Gotta give the guy credit. He’s nothing if not persistent. Because everything on Neverland IS a game. No one will really ever win. It will go back and forth forever. Captain Hook is a joy to watch because he is HILARIOUS. This is a grown man – a pirate – that’s terrified of a crocodile. (although he IS an awesome crocodile). Smee is just as funny and somehow dumber AND smarter than Hook. I think he really is the classic bad guy sidekick. Before Peter Pan, we only had the evil stepsisters as “sidekicks,” but I don’t really count them. Smee is genuine. Maybe without him, we wouldn’t have gotten such later Disney villain sidekicks like Iago, the Hyenas, or Flotsam & Jetsom (the eels from The Little Mermaid). What a worse world it would be without them!
The songs are, like Cinderella’s, are timeless. “Following the Leader” and “You can Fly” are personal favorites. Can’t forget the awesome background music for the crocodile, which of course is the tune “Never Smile at a Crocodile.”
Then there’s “What Makes a Red Man Red?” I know I talked about racism with Dumbo and the crows, but I’m going to have this conversation many times throughout my Disney run simply because a lot of people get offended/see offense to these movies. As I mentioned with Dumbo, a lot of it, simply put, is because of the times. Is it right? not really. But AT THE TIME it was generally accepted to be ok. Adults might get the reference and either laugh or take offense, but at the same time, will kids?
I was very forgiving with Dumbo and the Crows. Because it was an old term, and how many kids would see that in an animal? Peter Pan and their depiction of Native Americans (or Indians) I’m a little less forgiving with. A lot of that reason is because, sadly, this stereotype of the red indian living in teepees speaking in broken english hasn’t quite left us. Kids STILL associate indians with teepees and headdresses, regardless of where they’re from. They’ll still go “how!” How do I know this? because I teach preschool kids (at a nature center – not a preschool) and every November it still comes up. Indians wear headdresses, Pilgrims wore those funny hats with belt buckles (technically that’s not correct either…). The kids tell me about their crafts they make. They still think that all Indians lived in teepees. It makes me extremely sad, because Native American culture is SO much more interesting than that. Maybe they’ll learn more about local Native tribes when they get older (I know I did), but until then, you have that Indian stereotype. And if they DON’T learn, then they’ll continue to carry that throughout their life. I can’t tell you how many kids think that Native American’s “don’t exist” anymore. Come here kid, you’re about to get schooled.
So should Disney have been a bit more kind with his depiction of the Indians? Probably. If we haven’t gotten there yet, lord knows what it was like back then. This depiction was probably extremely accepted. I’m happy that some people have taken offense to it. Personally, I find it hard to watch, but I’m not going to keep my kids from watching the movie just because of it. If you’re relying on TV and movies to teach your kids important lessons like acceptance of diversity, then you’re not doing your job as a parent. Just my two cents.
This movie is full of swash-buckling fun. I actually have read the novel, and it is pretty good, and very close to Disney’s depiction. Finding Neverland is one of my favorite movies of all time (and part of the inspiration for my blog title). I love the whole idea around the fantasy of Peter Pan and Neverland. There’s just something about it that draws you in. So I have absolutely NO idea why I thought I didn’t like this movie. Cause I do. I almost put it above Bambi, but I couldn’t.
I give Peter Pan (1953) a 3.9 out of 5. Fun, but like I said, some of the characters annoy me, and that has NOTHING to do with Disney.
Up Next: Lady & The Tramp (1955)