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The 14th full-length animated feature in Disney history, Peter Pan was released on February 5, 1953. It is based on J. M. Barrie’s 1904 play Peter and Wendy and is 76 minutes in length.
Rushing to prepare for an evening in London with his wife, Mary, George Darling becomes frustrated with his children’s belief in the legend of Peter Pan. This story exudes the virtues of childhood innocence, and George, an extremely grounded person, doesn’t approve of it.
After one accident too many, George finally snaps and declares that Wendy, the eldest of his three children, will have to leave the nursery for her own room the following night. It’s time for her to grow up and commence a practical life.
Unbeknownst to George and Mary, magic occurs after their departure. Peter Pan and his fairy Tinker Bell enter the nursery and take the children, Wendy, John, and Michael, to Neverland, a magical place where maturity is never required. Neverland has much excitement but also plenty of danger. Can the children survive the wrath of Captain Hook and his gang of pirates?
The film’s main theme concerns the balance of childhood innocence with the practicality needed to succeed as an adult.
Extremes dominate the beginning of the movie. Here, George is entirely practical, while Wendy wants to remain a child forever.
Wendy changes her tune upon experiencing Peter Pan’s dominion. She realizes that having fun and playing are fine, but limits have to be set. She wants neither herself nor her brothers to endure chaotic lives akin to those led by the Lost Boys of Neverland.
Additionally, George concedes that he was too jaded. Maybe the story of Peter Pan isn’t so bad for his children.
Though I often think of Tinker Bell as a charming and kindhearted creature, she’s one of the most complex characters in Disney history.
Until she valiantly redeems herself in the film’s latter scenes, the fairy is perhaps the most dislikeable character in Peter Pan. I think she’s even more unlikeable than Captain Hook because the pirate is at least funny. Jealous that Wendy is taking Peter Pan’s attention away from her, Tinker Bell is just spiteful. Heck, had it not been for the title character’s quick reflexes, Tinker Bell’s antics would have killed Wendy!
Humor is inserted throughout Peter Pan.
The Darling family dog, Nana, serves as a nursemaid. She can make beds, carry drinks, and even alphabetize! Nana truly is “man’s best friend.”
I find Peter to be amusing in his ignorance. He’s unfamiliar with “mothers” and “kisses,” and don’t get me started on his judicial practice. On Wendy’s request, he lowers Tinker Bell’s lifetime banishment to a week. If my sense of time is accurate, the fairy returned in about six hours, and Peter seemed neither surprised nor angry.
Finally, I enjoyed Captain Hook’s interactions with his assistant Mr. Smee and the Crocodile, respectively. Hook has a love-hate relationship with Smee, abruptly altering his tone with him throughout the movie. Smee is partly inept and partly unlucky.
Hook has no love for the crocodile, though. The pirate literally cries and figuratively “runs for the hills” whenever he hears the reptile’s distinctive “tick tock” sound.
Although I don’t find Peter Pan’s soundtrack to be especially memorable, the diverse songs solidly augment the plot.
Played during the opening credits, “The Second Star to the Right” is a beautiful, soothing number, which soundly sets up the first scene in nighttime London.
“You Can Fly, You Can Fly, You Can Fly!” is alternatively soothing and jarring. Corresponding visuals complement this tune and provide an adrenaline rush as the characters soar from London to Neverland.
Led by John, “Following the Leader” is also enhanced by visuals. In this case, zany animals silently interfere with the boys’ march.
Finally, “Your Mother and Mine” is probably the film’s most heartwarming song. It exudes the significance of a mother’s role and shows Wendy to have a mature side.
Some elements of Peter Pan wouldn’t be suitable for inclusion in a contemporary children’s movie.
The portrayal, both visually and vocally, of the Indians as savages as well as the numerous displays of smoking are representative of the period during which the film was released.
Relationship to Other Disney Films
Smoking was also included in other early Disney films such as Pinocchio (1940) and Alice in Wonderland (1951).
Fans of Alice in Wonderland will hear a couple of familiar voices in Peter Pan. Kathryn Beaumont, previously the voice of Alice, plays Wendy, and Bill Thompson, formerly the man behind the White Rabbit, plays Mr. Smee.
In addition to the Lost Boys, the pirates, and the Indians, Neverland is home to a group of mermaids. The red-haired mermaid reminds me of Ariel from The Little Mermaid (1989).
In the Parks
Guests at Walt Disney World and Disneyland can experience “Peter Pan’s Flight.” This Fantasyland attraction transports riders over scenes from the movie in a suspended pirate ship.
Disneyland’s nighttime spectacular “Fantasmic” incorporates a Peter Pan scene.
Peter Pan characters, including Peter, Captain Hook, Mr. Smee, and Wendy, make regular appearances at both Walt Disney World and Disneyland.
At Walt Disney World, adults and children alike can embark on the “Pirates and Pals Fireworks Voyage.” Following a pre-cruise reception at the Contemporary Resort, where guests can enjoy snacks and interact with Captain Hook and Mr. Smee, partakers board a boat to view the Magic Kingdom’s “Wishes” firework show.
Finally, children can enjoy “The Neverland Club” at Walt Disney World. Located at the Polynesian Resort, this Peter Pan-themed locale serves as a supervised activity center for parents to comfortably leave their children while they enjoy adult-oriented activities.
Well balanced with action, humor, suspense, solid music, and heartwarming moments, Peter Pan is among Disney’s best films. It’s a must watch if you haven’t seen it.
What do you think of Peter Pan? Let me know in a comment!
I'm a huge fan of the various Disney theme parks and movies. I've made several trips to both Walt Disney World and Disneyland with my family.
Additionally, I'm interested in sports and American history.