Now we have come to arguably one of the most iconic Disney movies ever made, Peter Pan. Aside from other studios brands like the lamp in the Pixar logo no other movie has created a female character that has become more powerful in Disney branding than Tinker Bell in Peter Pan. You could argue she is the most iconic character in all of Disney next to Mickey.
It’s kind of surprising when you think about it that in 1953 a character dressed like Tinker Bell could become so iconic with Disney. And no she is not modeled after Marilyn Monroe as some rumors have suggested.
But does the movie Peter Pan live up to the legacy of the Tinker Bell creation? This is a tricky question. I had a tough time researching for this review. My normal sites and resources for getting production notes and details didn’t have much and I couldn’t even find that many clips and photos to show you.
That said, I have some ideas of my own on what they were trying to do with Peter Pan. Call it conjecture or an educated guess but I suppose that is all right in a blog. Feel free to comment below if you agree or disagree.
JUMBLED UP THOUGHTS ON PAN
Let’s start with the story. Peter Pan is based on the play by JM Barrie and like Alice in Wonderland and Cinderella it was another story which was near and dear to Walt. He hoped to do it earlier but he had trouble getting the rights. Finally with the war years behind them Walt started doing features again and the success of Cinderella allowed him to make Alice and Peter Pan.
Peter Pan is of course about the Darling children Wendy, Michael and John who tell each other stories about Peter Pan- the boy who never grew up. One evening they meet Peter and he takes them to Neverland where they meet the villainous pirate Captain Hook, as well as Lost Boys, mermaids, and an Indian tribe.
The original play is much darker than the Disney version, which is a pretty big departure for the studio. It’s actually kind of surprising given their track record of embracing darker themes and scenes (think Pinocchio). For example, in the play Tinker Bell is just a fragment of light but she decides to drink the poison intended for Peter Pan and dies. It is pretty sad and something I think previous Disney films would have included. For some reason, they not only took out the darkness but went in the polar opposite direction making the film very light and comedic in tone with long sections of slapstick.
My guess is the action adventure TV and radio shows in the early 50s were especially popular with young boys. Shows like The Lone Ranger, Zorro, and Adventures of Superman were big hits. Disney had also made the live action Treasure Island film in 1950. All of these shows and movies had a combination of action and humor and their influence can be seen clearly in Peter Pan.
We can also see the attempt to appeal to boys in the way Wendy is treated. She is nothing but sweet and kind throughout and yet she is told she talks too much, shot at, almost drowned and walks the plank. I had never noticed that before this watching…
Like I said earlier, I was surprised this go-around how much slapstick is in the movie. Most of it involves Captain Hook, who is a genius of a character. Disney takes what was a menacing but foppish character in the play and makes him a conniving, smart captain who is prone to pratfalls and scrapes.
This scene is one of the best comedic scenes in all of Disney. I certainly don’t think we see such a comedic villain again in Disney until Robin Hood’s Prince John.
It’s very funny! The vocal performance by Hans Conried on Captain Hook is also one of the best in the history of animation.
Another great scene with the captain:
The music is interesting in Peter Pan. It is playing in nearly every scene kind of like Bambi. While there are several good songs, it all feels more commercial and less substantial than previous films. My favorites are Second Star to the Right and You Can Fly.
There are also several good songs by the pirates and they are sprightly and fun.
I think these pirate shanty’s might be the first villain songs in Disney although they are more sung to Captain Hook and not by him.
A few of the other songs like Your Mother sung by Wendy are more bland throwaways.
Then we have the indians or injuns as this movie likes to call them. Much like the crows in Dumbo, many modern viewers feel the scenes are racist. But where I defended Dumbo because the crows were friendly and singing about elephants, it is hard to defend the scenes in Peter Pan.
First of all, the scenes with the Indians are longer than the crows and they are much more culturally insensitive. The song ‘What Made the Red Man Red’ while a catchy melody is pretty bad. There is a line in the song that says:
Why does he ask ho?
Once the injun didn’t know
All the things that he know now
But the injun, he sure learn a lot
And that’s from asking ‘How’?
I squirm a little just typing it. It’s one more reason why I think Disney was trying to play into the Lone Ranger and other Western shootem ups audience that were popular. Such a stereotypical depiction of Native Americans was typically found on such shows of the 50s.
The other thing that is a bit of a disappointment in Peter Pan is it’s not that pretty. Even the package films had moments that felt like art. I don’t know if it is just the slapstick but there aren’t many moments in Peter Pan where I sit back and say ‘wow, that is beautiful’. This is surprising because Peter Pan had the entire Gang of 9 and Mary Blair who made such a huge influence artistically in Alice in Wonderland.
The flying scenes and the scenes at the end with the ship are lovely but really that is it as far as artistry.
Now I don’t want to seem like I am being too hard on Peter Pan. I don’t think there is anything wrong with creating a comedy for kids. And the slapstick scenes are done very well. This scene at the end where Hook gets his comeuppance is extremely funny.
In a lot of ways I compare Peter Pan with Aladdin, with the latter having the definite edge. But both movies were made to appeal to boys more than girls. Both had huge secondary characters and bland main characters and both had male villains. Nothing wrong with that.
In a way it is interesting Tinker Bell came out of Peter Pan as the star. She’s kind of a bitter fairy throughout the whole movie and for not really a good reason. She is angry from the start that Peter is almost kissed by Wendy and tries to have her killed, betrays her location to Hook and all the rest. (all the women in Peter Pan are pretty vindictive and jealous over Peter which is strange considering he’s just a boy).
I suppose Tinker Bell encapsulated the magic that Walt Disney loved. The pixie dust could make dreams come true!
For me Peter Pan is a mixed bag. 2 great characters, fun action, a few good songs, and some very funny comedic bits. That is certainly enough to give it a hearty recommendation to adults and children alike. However, it is not enough for it to be a top-tiered Disney film in my book. It’s good but it doesn’t blow me away with artistry, music, story or message. Plus, there is the ‘red man’ scenes which can leave a bad taste in my mouth.
So for me…
Overall Grade- C+