Growing up, I loved the story of Peter Pan but often got distracted while watching the Disney version. Then 2004’s Finding Neverland and 2003’s live-action Peter Pan cemented the Peter Pan love. Now I’ve watched the Disney version again, but feel a little put off by it.
For starters, the way the Indians are portrayed is atrocious. J.M. Barrie and the Disney Animation Studio received much criticism for their portrayal of the Indians; Disney stayed true to Barrie’s descriptions, causing them to have the same issues as Barrie did. Their noses are huge, their grammar is terrible, their skin is bright red, and they sing about their skin being red because of blushing when they’re kissed. Being Native American, I didn’t appreciate all of the stereotypes without any positive references. Though, I must admit, Tiger Lily is pretty much the most awesome name ever.
Another issue I had with the Indian scene is that they give children—from toddler Michael to tween Peter Pan—tobacco. The peace pipe is being passed around, and we see Peter Pan use it. Then Wendy takes it from toddler Michael before he can smoke, but passes it to John, who must be younger than Wendy. He actually smokes it, but it turns him green. Either way, children smoking is not acceptable animation. The fact that Peter Pan makes it look okay, and not terrible, doesn’t help a bit. If I didn’t know Walt would never do this, I would think Phillip Morris or another tobacco company paid the animators to add that sequence. But I do know Walt would never allow such a thing.
Both Alice in Wonderland and Peter Pan are Disney adaptations of British authors. With the outbreak of World War II, Walt quickly learned how important the European market is for Disney animated features. Walt wanted to ensure that these two adaptations would appeal to the British audiences. To do so, he found actors who sounded both British and American, appealing to both major release markets simultaneously. This is yet another example of Walt’s genius. He liked actress Kathryn Beaumont so much for her in-between accent that he put her in the female lead for both films—she played Alice and Wendy. That’s quite a feat for any young girl.
There are a couple of thing I find funny. One is that the same actor typically plays Mr. Darling and Captain Cook, meaning the father figure is also the villain. Especially in animation, when voice acting is so crucial, it’s ironic that the father plays the villain—quite literally. I loved that the father redeems himself and begins remembering his own childhood in the conclusion of the film.
I’d also like to point out that none of this nonsense (Wendy and the boys going to Neverland, getting kidnapped by Indians and Captain Hook, nearly dying repeatedly) would have happened if Mr. Darling had just let Nana, the dog-nursemaid, stay inside. She would have protected the children from Peter, Tinker Bell, and all the dangers that come with them. See what happens when you put the dog outside? And poor Nana, having to pick up the same toys, over and over again. Sweet, OCD-clean puppy.
It’s rumored that Walt wasn’t pleased with the finished product of Peter Pan. He found Peter cold and unlikable. Personally, I found Peter to be precisely that. I also found Tinker Bell to be vain, jealous, and downright mean. The only positive thing she does is save Peter, and that’s probably out of guilt for leading Hook right to him. Granted, she does point out that Wendy and the boys are under attack in the crow’s nest during the big fight scene at the end, but again, that’s probably out of guilt.
I’d completely forgotten what a minx Tinker Bell can be. She starts out the movie getting distracted by her own reflection, and then worrying over the size of her hips. Then she gets stuck in the sewing drawer, and her hips prevent her from getting out via the lock. Her vanity was clearly used to foreshadow her ability to get trapped, but it still shows as vanity. Then all her attempts to off Wendy—she doesn’t even know if Peter likes Wendy that way! Tinker Bell reminds me of a vicious high school student. She is only concerned with the world in how it relates to her and her crush, and she’ll do anything to crush her opponents.
I find it very fitting that Disney made an animated film of Peter Pan. Because, let’s be honest, Walt is a lot like Peter. He did grow up and become responsible, but it’s the fun-loving and child-like innocence sides of him that provided an avenue for his creativity to flourish. Thankfully he never crowed like a rooster, or at least not that I’m aware of.
Sadly, the special features left much to be desired. There really weren’t any, other than games and commentaries (by Roy E. Disney, not Walt). There also aren’t any clear lines I can see that The Lion King took from. With a lot of these films, I can see where LK animators found inspiration. I have trouble with this one, though. Perhaps the dandelion seeds that Tinker Bell kicks provided inspiration for Simba’s falling in the grass scene, where the seeds take his scent to Rafiki. Even I’ll admit that’s a stretch.
Peter Pan was enjoyable, but I found myself once again getting distracted and doing things like folding laundry while watching it. This is partly out of necessity and partly because, while the animation is beautiful, I agree with Walt. It’s lacking that special something that makes Disney features sparkle.