Personal Overview: Disney must have been on a British childhood fantasy kick at this point in time. I’ve never read the original Peter Pan, most of what I know about Peter Pan comes from this film. It was another one I saw when it first came out on video, but I did have a much cherished picture book of the film.
I love the concept and the idea of Neverland, it’s this great fantasy world that has everything an adventurous kid could want: pirates, mermaids, ‘red indians’ fairies and best of all there are NO adults, except for the Indians (who are rather childlike anyway) and the pirates, who are villains.
Barrie really hit on some great ideas, the flying, the boy who never grew up, shadows that can detach from their owner.
It was and still is a hugely popular pantomime in the UK and that made it ideal for Disney to adapt. He even kept the idea of having Mr Darling and Hook played by the same actor and looking rather similar. I wonder if this means that the Darling kids see their father as a tyrannical, incompetent pirate captain?
The big surprise for me from this is Tinker Bell. In the pantomime she’s a fairy, there’s that whole audience participation thing about every time a child stops believing a fairy dies. In the film she’s referred to as a pixie and the sparkly stuff she sprays everywhere is pixie dust. Somewhere along the line she became a fairy again and after they decided she wasn’t a Princess was reimagined and launched her own spin off line of Disney Fairies. It isn’t really surprising, she’s cute beyond belief and was often used as a mascot of sorts by Disney. It’s her character that changes from this film to the icon she is now, but I’ll deal with that in Cuteness Factor.
The portrayal of the Indians is cringeworthy, and yet it is one of the things consistent with Barrie’s original. You could lose that whole sequence and it would improve the film, of course it would also shorten it. I have seen someone from Disney say that if they did the film now they’d still have the Indians in it, because they are a part of Neverland, but they’d handle it differently.
Hero/es: there are two to my mind. Pan is of course one and Wendy is the other. Neither come out that well on a rewatch for me as an adult. Peter is seriously unlikeable. Before this I wondered why they cast him as a villain in Once Upon a Time, now I think I know. I don’t know how, but I would have loved to seen him taken down a peg or two. Wendy is far less effectual than I remember her being. I’d always thought she was a cool, calm, collected and modern independent girl who could keep order and take care of herself. Maybe she is in the original. Kathryn Beaumont and the animators weren’t able to get that across here. She spends a lot of time shouting, ‘Peter! Michael! John! Boys!’ and stamping her foot or waiting to be rescued. Very disappointing.
Villain/s: there’s really only one and that’s Hook, to a lesser extent so is Mr Darling, but that’s just because Hook is an exaggerated version of the real world adult character. He kind of vaccilates between being evil and amusing. He never really crosses the line into genuinely scary. I did occasionally wonder how much Hook Johnny Depp put into Captain Jack Sparrow. Have a good look, they do have similarities and they are both Disney characters (okay Hook is owned by the Hospital in London as is Peter Pan, but Disney have definitely put their stamp on him). The crocodile is a villain of sorts too, for all that it looks like an alligator, but it’s played for comic effect rather than out and out villainy for the sake of it. The alligators in The Rescuers are much meaner, even though they are bossed around by a child.
Cuteness Factor: Michael in his onesie with his ever present teddy bear aside, the cuteness quotient in Peter Pan is filled by Tinker Bell. She is cuteness personified, and probably hits an 11 on the cuteometer, she’s also loved by children (mostly girls, I know my young nieces adore her) worldwide. She’s had a definite personality transplant as the leading Disney Fairy from her days on Neverland. She looks cute and pretty, but she’s not very nice in the film. She’s jealous and malicious and she’s very selfish. It takes a real shock and Peter possibly dying to bring her around.
Animation: by now Disney had a definite style with this and it’s evident in Peter Pan. The artwork is so crisp and clean. It looks real. You feel as if you could step into Neverland. In fact Neverland is realer than Victorian London. There’s no one specific highlight, although I felt they outdid themselves with Tinker Bell and have never been able to quite recreate anything like her.
Final Words: this one is Fun with a capital F, it had a strong background and tradition on which to work with and it didn’t mess around with it too much, except cuteify it. If you can take out a couple of problematic scenes it’s close to the perfect adventure cartoon and it is one that people immediately think of when Disney is mentioned. Tinker Bell’s popularity has ensured that. There’s also a really cool ride at Disneyland too.