J.M. Barrie’s play turned novel, Peter Pan, is synonymous with childhood imagination combining the elements of swashbuckling pirate tales, battles with Indians, and a mythical place were youth forever reigns and no one ever grows up. Their have been countless iterations of the classic in the form of musical theatre (made famous by the gorgeous Mary Martin) to the small screen in the form of Fox Kid’s Peter Pan and the Pirates and the miniseries Neverland. The silver screen has had its fair share of adaptations as well with the first adaptation under Paramount Picture in 1924 as a silent feature, the cult classic sequel directed by Steven Spielberg, Hook, with Robin Williams as an older Peter Pan revisiting Neverland to save his children from the nefarious Captain Hook and the live action adaptation in 2003 by Universal Pictures (which I will get to later in this review). The most famous version of the character’s daring adventures is from the studio that is also synonymous with childhood, Walt Disney Animation Studios. Sixty years have passed since its initial release in 1953 and still remains the definitive film version of the boy who never grew up, Peter Pan.
Peter Pan, if you do not know by now, tells the tale of three children from the Darling family, Wendy (the beautiful Disney starlet Kathryn Beaumont), John (Paul Collins), and Michael (Tommy Luske) who are whisked away by Peter Pan (Bobby Driscoll) to the world of Neverland to engage in helping save the Princess Tiger Lilly (Corinne Orr), fending off Captain Hook (Hans Conreid) and his bumbling sidekick Mr. Smee (Disney mainstay Bill Thompson), and of course saving the day with the Lost Boys, sadly not the ones you are thinking about. Since the plot and story is so well known, I decided to forgo actually detailing the plot to give my personal take on it. Peter Pan is a film that doesn’t really have a true plot or story line. The film is essentially an adventure built on the foundation of imagination and can be whatever the viewer interprets. To myself personally, it is a beautiful coming of age story about being a kid at heart hidden in disguise that is hinted at greatly. Bare with me, this might go into some odd territory.
In the beginning, Wendy’s father, George Darling (also voiced by Hans Conreid, due to the actor playing the dad also playing Captain Hook), says that she needs to grow up and stop with her wild stories as it is her last night in the nursery. Wendy is of course broken up by this, until Peter Pan arrives and decides to take her away with him to the place where she can never grew up. Peter Pan acts as a guardian angel to her always looking down on her and she strongly believes in. She was taken to Neverland to be the appreciate the wonders of imagination and what surrounds her. Peter reveals later on he brought Wendy to be a mother of the Lost Boys, but that is a bit of a grown up thing to due. Wendy manages to balance this with ease and realizes that you can still be grown up while still appreciating the things that are considered younger. By the end of the film, Wendy and the boys come back and the father notices a pirate ship and remembers the magic he felt as a boy and truly understands that even at his age, he can relive those memories as an adult. George essentially gets taught the same lesson Wendy has learned in her travels. Peter Pan may be the titular character, but Wendy is the main focus in my opinion. Then again, I might be over analyzing a story intended for children.
With that perspective film out of the way, what do I actually think of the film? While I do think it is a fun and light-hearted adventure from the Disney animated canon, it certainly is not one of my all time favorites. Peter Pan seems to suffer the same fate as Alice in Wonderland before it. Alice in Wonderland is a series of small vignettes and stories that are just collided together to form one true plot that is ultimately never truly explained or goes anywhere. Alice was a coming of age story as well and featured Kathryn Beaumont as the title role, but Peter Pan does it a tad bit better by actually giving Wendy some depth and emotion which Alice had very little of. The reason works more is that it manages to use its ‘slice of life’ style to its advantage and not confusing half the people watching it, which if you asked anyone exactly what Alice was about, they would possibly spend the next two minutes trying to figure it out.
The other place Peter Pan succeeds in is the characters personalities and the fantastic songs that do not seem forced and move the story along. Wendy is a young girl trying to be stern but cannot help being stuck between childhood and adolescence with Kathryn Beautmont’s performance really on the forefront. John is the smart sensible brother trying to figure out how to carry about himself and tries to see if he can be brave, which he achieves Michael is still young and curious about the world as sees everything as a true wonder as an expy for the younger audiences enjoying this. Captain Hook is a brilliant selfish man child that seems to have just come across pirate clothes and going along for the ride a performed with hilarity by Hans Conried. The titular character of Peter Pan is just a mischievous youth at heart and the spirit of adventure rolled into one and Bobby Driscoll’s voice suits the character with boyish charm and jerkassery (I do not think that is a word, but I am going to use it). The other performances are pretty good themselves with Bill Thompson’s Smee coming out on top being naive and carefree compared to Hook’s selfishness.
The animation in the film is flawless with with rich vibrant colors and imaginative designs of Neverland and the residents from the unique costumes of the Lost Boys, the gorgeous design of Tinkerbell, and delivering the memorable flight in the night sky as Peter and the Darlings soar high above London with the classic ‘You Can Fly’ playing setting the mood for what is yet to come. The music by Sammy Cahn and Olivier Wallace is hit and miss. For every marvelous song like ‘The Second Star to the Right’, you get the annoying ‘Follow the Leader’ and for every joyful ‘You Can Fly!’, you get the highly racist and stereotypical ‘What Makes the Red Man Red’. Re-watching that sequence was cringe worthy with the Indians chanting around the fire and contemplating what makes them red like no one else, revealing it is the lust of women. Supervising animator Marc Davis who worked on this feature has been quoted as saying about the scene “I’m not sure we would have done the Indians if we were making this movie now and if we had, we wouldn’t do them the way we did back then.” I agree with Davis wholeheartedly.
Peter Pan legacy has continued on for sixty years to provide a rich series of adventure and fantasy, even if it can be a bit shallow at times. Peter Pan is an escapist film at best and a delightful part of the Disney history. Even better, another Peter Pan is celebrating an anniversary as well.
Fifty years after the Disney adaptation came the live-action by Universal Pictures also tiled Peter Pan. This film would probably not have even came to be if not for the Disney take on it. It is bright and vibrant just as the 1953 version, but delivers dark moments as well. This adaptation of the story is not so bad either and provides the same joy I got out of the other feature. The performances in here are quite wonderful with Jason Issacs being top notch as Captain Hook and Jeremy Supter’s Peter Pan being just as much as the charismatic brat like before. It is also escapist cinema, but routed more towards J.M. Barrie’s original without having to deal with songs and catering to a smaller audiences. 2003’s Peter Pan seemed like quite the risk to take and the fact Universal managed to do it without killing themselves over it is wonderful. The tagline of this film was ‘The timeless story as you never seen it before’ and as a kid watching in the theater, it blew me away. I have seen Hook, which I love deeply, but Peter Pan manage to capture the essence of the story with a tight script and stellar direction by P.J. Hogan. As for Hook, it is one of the best sequels to Peter Pan and is an overlooked gem even being superior to the forgettable yet not-as-bad-as-you-think Return to Neverland. Anywho, I think I am over staying my welcome with Peter Pan and now to leave it to continue on delighting the world for another sixty years.
Next time, we stray away from films I have seen and enjoyed into the uncharted waters of my IMDB watchlist to experience classics I have never seen, films the readers probably have never even heard of, and films that are considered some of the worst. So what film id I decided to start with? Let’s step into the director’s chair with the Academy Award winner for The Hurt Locker, Kathryn Bigelow, and look at one of her renowned classics in her catalogue of films: Point Break
Film A Week- Week 4: Point Break (1991)
Friday, February 1st/Saturday, February 2nd
Stinger of the Week