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).
Part of her success probably also has to do with Walt’s attachment to Tinker Bell. She was often featured on his TV show. Here he is with her in 1966 (his last appearance on TV).
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+
16 thoughts on “Movie 14: Peter Pan”
I’m really not sure how to respond to some of your criticisms. Before discovering Disney’s Renaissance Era classics, Peter Pan appealed to me the most for its high-spirited tone and sense of adventure. I do agree that the way the Indians are portrayed, even though they’re not really bad guys, has dated pretty badly and is probably the one thing I still have major qualms with.
However, some of your points on Wendy kinda baffle me. You mentioned how “We can also see the attempt to appeal to boys in the way Wendy is treated.” and then showed us a visual of Wendy being bullied by the Mermaids. I’m not sure what the message is; is it that Wendy doesn’t get especially good treatment in the film? Is it that seeing her thrown around like this is supposed to be darkly entertaining and you find that disagreeable? Maybe I’m reading a little too deeply into this, but for me personally, I liked Wendy because she was kind, loyal, gentle and actually had a real spine when dealing with Peter Pan and Captain Hook; I’d even say she’s underrated! But, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the 2003 Peter Pan, which was a very faithful adaptation of J.M. Barrie’s book and managed to nail the deeper themes of the book in such a way that the Disney movie ultimately didn’t mange, even Wendy feels more well realized there. And it has less racially insensitive Indian scenes.
Apart from that, I love almost everything else about this movie; and I would contend that the animation is just as good as it’s peers in the 50s. The standout song ‘The Second Star To The Right’ always leaves me wistful and emotional. The characters are all memorable, and the emotional/comedic scenes all hit their marks. When I think ‘Peter Pan’ I immediately think ‘childhood’. Despite it’s one fatal flaw, Peter Pan remains as fresh an adventure as when I first watched it.
Thanks for your great comment. I had noticed in this watch through that Wendy isnt treated very well throughout the film. She’s shot at, tried to drown, told she’s stupid etc. I found this baffling because I agree with you she’s a sweet lovely person with a lot of gumption. I’m not sure why the movie seems to have it out for her.
In the end to me Peter Pan is a middle level Disney film
I love all Disney movies but I was probably the most disappointed on the Peter Pan rewatch. It’s still great and has some lovely artistry and music but the Redman song and all the slapstick isn’t a favorite of mine. For me it is 31 out of 54 so lots worse but lots that I personally like better.
I like all Disney so I can see why it would be a favorite. Would love for you to see the rest of the reviews
Once again, Wendy isn’t as poorly treated in the 2003 film (this comes with my recommendation), but sometimes it worked for the story like when Tinker Bell first attacks her, but the Mermaid encounter I thought was gratuitous. I think in the end its because of the threats she encounters in Neverland (a place she thought would be completely wonderful and free of danger), that she shows her braver and more mature side, and ultimately accepts that growing up isn’t such a bad thing. Ironically, you could call Neverland in the Disney move a deconstruction of the idealized childhood playground, and that its not really such a paradise after all.
Also, I don’t remember anyone telling her she was stupid; I guess Peter cuts her short a lot of the time – but that’s probably the result of an overly brash, 50s-inspired interpretation of the character, and more an intentional fault of the character than the story itself. At least, that’s what I took away from it.
And don’t worry, I intend to get around to the other reviews in due time!
I haven’t seen that 2003 version but will have to give it a watch. What do you think of this new prequel coming out? Do you think it looks good?
You make an interesting point about the deconstructed childs playground. I hadn’t thought of it that way but it makes sense.
I’d have to rewatch it but I recall Peter saying something like ‘girls are stupid’ when she is putting on the shadow. I could be wrong.
There is a lot I like about Peter Pan though. It isn’t an entirely negative review. Like I said I like a lot worse. I think most of the music is great, the artistry is beautiful, Hook is a great villain and I love Tinker Bell. It’s just for me it is in the middle of the Disney Canon but that doesn’t mean I think it is bad. Only 4 Disney films I wouldn’t watch again.
I guess he just says ‘girls talk too much’ and ‘get on with it girl’. It just seemed like she was treated unkindly like that but I guess they are boys who haven’t had a mother so perhaps it is natural for them to do so. Maybe I went into it with a little too high expectations so I was a little disappointed? Not sure but it has many great qualities.
Nothing wrong with having high expectations! You raise a fair point about Peter being rude to Wendy early on, but one could argue that’s just his nature; not having a mother to teach him lessons and being the leader of a band of young scallywags. If said parts bother you regardless of whether they work for the story and characters, I’m not trying to hold that against you. I’m just offering my perspective. 😉
Thanks for sharing that perspective. And it isn’t a huge stumbling block- just enough to take it to a middle of the pack. If you want to read a review of a Disney I really hated check out my Brother Bear review. It made me nuts. 🙂 But even that I totally see why others enjoy it. Just not for me. I always enjoy the discussion
Kathryn Beaumont’s big 2 roles were Wendy in this film & Alice in the previous one.
I found Peter Pan a major disappointment. It is one of the few Disneys where I think the live action remakes improved the tone of the story and the telling of it. Really didn’t like the animated Hook too. He was too ‘funny’, played for laughs far too often.
Yeah it’s probably the film from the early canon that disappointed me the most on the rewatch