Steve’s Wonderful Reviews of Disney: Peter Pan

Peter Pan

Release Date: February 5th, 1953

Inspiration: “Peter and Wendy” by J.M. Barrie

Budget: $4 million

Domestic Gross: $87.4 million

Worldwide Gross: $87.4 million

Rotten Tomatoes Score: 80%

IMDB Score: 7.3/10

Storyline (per IMDB): An adaptation of J. M. Barrie’s story about a boy who never grew up. The three children of the Darling family receive a visit from Peter Pan, who takes them to Never Land, where an ongoing war between Peter’s gang of rag-tag runaways and the evil Pirate Captain Hook is taking place.

Pre-Watching Thoughts: We continue on through the 1950s with a film that Disney had originally intended to release as the follow up to Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, and it would’ve been interesting to see it released at that time and not during this time. That could’ve led to a pretty unique butterfly effect though it never ended up happening and Peter Pan is released now, and this is another film that I had watched a fair number of times though I can safely say that it wasn’t an all-time favorite of mine. It is another film that I have not watched in quite a long time and it will be interesting to see if it manages to hold up compared to the films I have just watched.

Voice Cast: One thing that I have not mentioned in any of these films is they have some actors that stand in as the live-action model for the characters, and the reason I usually don’t mention is because they don’t voice them but they are just as important as anyone else by helping the animators give context to the movements of the characters. But back to those that did provide voices for the characters, we have some returnees here as Bobby Driscoll voices Peter Pan and it was good having a male voice Peter Pan even though on occasion a woman plays the role in the stage play. We also have Kathryn Beaumont return as she voices Wendy Darling in what would end up being her final film role ever, and despite having such a short run she will always be remembered for this role as well as Alice. Bill Thompson also returns here as he voices Mr. Smee in a memorable role while also playing a few of the pirates, and the Mellomen also return to provide the singing voices for the pirates and the Indians during their songs. Finally, we have Heather West return as she voices Mrs. Darling in what would be one of her final roles as well, and it is always interesting seeing the same actors appear in back-to-back films. Now moving onto the newcomers that are here, we have Paul Collins and Tommy Luske voicing John and Michael Darling even though we don’t hear much from either of them which is disappointing since they both do a good job in their roles. Next, we have Hans Conried as the voices of both Captain Hook and Mr. Darling though he is better remembered as Hook, and in a very brief appearance we have Tom Conway provide the opening narration of the film. We have Candy Candido voicing the Indian Chief as he will be a regular for Disney in the future, and then we have June Foray voice Tiger Lily’s mother as well as one of the mermaids along with Connie Hilton, Karen Kester, and Margaret Kelly (who also provides the live-action model of Tinker Bell). It is always cool hearing the returning voices mix in with newcomers and it will be interesting to see when the worm turns and they bring in a different cast for each film, but for now this formula is a good one and helps make things run smoothly.

Hero/Prince: While we have had a few princes show up in the films, we haven’t really had a true hero in a film even though we did have some in the role of a hero. That changes here as we have our first real hero of the Disney canon and that is of course Peter Pan, the boy who never grows up and serves as the protector of Never Land. He brings the Darling children with him to Never Land as he wants Wendy to act as a mother to the Lost Boys, and he is at war with Captain Hook who wants revenge for Peter cutting his hand off and feeding it to the crocodile. Hook eventually kidnaps the Darlings and the Lost Boys while leaving Peter a bomb though Tinker Bell sacrifices herself to save him, and in a final battle Peter sends Hook into the ocean being chased by the crocodile and he brings the Darlings back home before returning to Never Land. Peter is an interesting character in that he is clearly mischievous and is completely against wanting to grow up, but he does clearly care for the Lost Boys and he realizes that the Darlings belong back home which is why he brings them back at the end of the film. It will be interesting to see where he lands amongst the rest of the heroes in the canon, but he is up there as one of the better heroes in the Disney film canon.

Princess: Now unlike Alice in Wonderland where Alice was somewhat considered a princess because she was listed as a princess in the original Kingdom Hearts game, that is not the case here as Wendy Darling will not be included in this category. However, we do have at least one princess and then we have another one that may or may not fall in this category based on one’s criteria of what a princess is. The obvious choice here is the Indian princess Tiger Lily who is kidnapped by Captain Hook as a way to discover Peter Pan’s hideout, and Peter saves her which leads to peace between the Lost Boys and the Indians as Tiger Lily dances with Peter. Sadly, her appearance in the film is fairly brief and we don’t actually hear her speak at all during the film, so she is not so memorable as a princess. The other character we have to mention is Tinker Bell who would become a more fleshed out character in future spinoff films, but she is an important character here as she clearly cares about Peter and is extremely jealous of Wendy. She ends up inadvertently revealing Peter’s hideout to Captain Hook and he leaves a bomb for him, but she sacrifices herself to save Peter though Peter ends up saving her as he reminds her that she is important to him. She would become one of the more iconic characters in history and has become one of Disney’s main mascots, but her status as a princess is a weird one since we don’t see any other fairies in the film. It is left up to us to decide whether Tinker Bell is worthy of being declared a Disney princess, but there is no doubt that she is still one of the most legendary characters in the Disney canon.

Villain: For the third film in a row, we have a memorable villain anchoring the film down and serving as a good foil for our hero, and for this film it is the great Captain Hook who leads his band of pirates into hunting for Peter Pan. He desires revenge for Peter cutting his hand off and feeding it to a crocodile who now stalks Hook constantly, and he does anything to find Peter’s hiding place which includes kidnapping Tiger Lily though Peter ends up saving her. Hook ends up manipulating Tinker Bell into revealing the hideout and he leaves a bomb for Peter while kidnapping the Lost Boys and the Darling children, and Peter ends up surviving the blast and arrives to save everyone while engaging in a final duel with Hook which leads Hook and the pirates being chased out of Never Land by the crocodile. Hook is a very interesting villain in that he is not so much interested in treasure like the rest of the pirates, but rather extracting revenge on Peter even though Peter always seems to be one step ahead of him. Despite this, he still ranks fairly high as one of the more memorable villains in the Disney canon though it will be interesting to see how high he ends up ranking in the end.

Other Characters: For the second straight film, we bounce between two different worlds though we spend far more time in one world than the other as we are in Never Land for the majority of the film and in London for a brief time. As a result, most of the other characters that we have in the film come from Never Land and not from London, even though a few of the major characters live in London. Case in point, we have the Darling family which consists of parents George and Mary, their children Wendy, John, and Michael, and their dog/nursemaid Nana, and we have the dynamic of George being the practical one in the family which clashes with Wendy and her fantasies while the boys follow her as well. When Peter brings the children to Never Land, we first meet Captain Hook’s band of pirates along with his first mate Mr. Smee, and it is interesting as the pirates don’t seem to agree with Hook’s direction though they have no problem following him and Smee is loyal to a fault to Hook. We then meet the Lost Boys who follow Peter and they are in a “friendly” feud with the Indians until they believe the Boys are responsible for Tiger Lily’s disappearance, but after Peter saves her the two tribes make peace. We also have the mermaids that Wendy wants to meet though they cruelly tease her to Peter’s delight, and finally we have the crocodile who constantly stalks Hook after eating his hand though he can’t be conspicuous due to having swallowed an alarm clock as well. While there aren’t as many characters here as there were in Alice in Wonderland, they are still a solid group of characters to fill out the film and advance the plot along.

Songs: Reading up on the film, it is interesting to note in that several different people spent time writing songs for the film throughout the decade and it would’ve been interesting to see how the songs written in the 1940s would’ve turned out here. What we ended up getting were a series of pretty good songs as we start off with “The Second Star to the Right” which is played during the opening credits, and in a fun note this song was originally going to be used for Alice in Wonderland as “Beyond the Laughing Sky”. We then have the centerpiece song “You Can Fly” which is a pretty memorable song to transition to Peter taking the children to Never Land, and that leads into “A Pirate’s Life” which the pirates sing to describe their lives as pirates. The next song featured is “Following the Leader” which the Lost Boys sing as they hunt for Indians, and speaking of the Indians we have their song “What Made the Red Man Red?” which is an interesting song especially by today’s standards. We then have Wendy’s ballad “Your Mother and Mine” which is a sweet song though fairly simple, and finally we have “The Elegant Captain Hook” which the pirates sing as they try to convince the Lost Boys to join them. While the songs are good and work well for this film, there is nothing that totally stands out aside from “You Can Fly” and they probably won’t stack up well against other songs from other films.

Plot: The story of Peter Pan is a pretty simple one which isn’t necessarily a bad thing since sometimes the best stories are simple ones, and one thing I’ve not mentioned yet is the stress of creating a screenplay from an established novel. The plot of the film has Peter arrive at the Darling home as he is drawn to Wendy telling her brothers stories of him and when he learns that she is to leave the nursery, he decides to take her to Never Land to be a “mother” to the Lost Boys. The Darlings go with Peter to Never Land where they meet the Lost Boys, the Indians, and the mermaids while also going to war with Captain Hook and his pirates, and everything comes to a final climax when Peter sends Hook and his pirates out to see before bringing the Darlings back to their home. As I mentioned earlier, sometimes a plot doesn’t have to be overly complicated and the simplest of plots can work real well, and that is the case here as we don’t have a lot going on but there is enough to keep you engaged.

Random Watching Thoughts: A historic moment here as this is the last film distributed by Radio RKO Pictures; We have a title song that actually doesn’t have the name of the film in it for a change; It’s not often that an author gives the copyrights to his work to a hospital, but it was memorable when J.M. Barrie donated the rights to the Hospital for Sick Children in London; I can’t imagine having three directors looking over one film as that seems like an example of “too many cooks in the kitchen”, but they somehow made it work; Where else has this story happened before?; This must be an important party if Mr. Darling can’t show his face in his office again if he doesn’t go to the party; Nana kept her opinions to herself, well obviously because she can’t talk; Nana spent time making the bed only for the boys to mess it up, and she was particular in making sure the blocks were perfectly set up; Mr. Darling just walked right through that stack of blocks without even flinching; Of all the things to use to draw a treasure map on, Michael would use one of his father’s shirts; I get wanting to explain to the children that they have to grow up at some point, but Mr. Darling is going way over the top with this; You can’t blame Mr. Darling as he went through a lot more than Nana did and yet his family care more about Nana than him though again he seemed to overreact in forcing Nana outside; How does one lose their shadow anyway?; Does Peter actually think that rubbing soap on his foot is going to connect his shadow back to him?; It is impressive that Wendy is able to go on this spiel to Peter and seemingly not have to take any breaths; It’s funny how Wendy thinks that she grows up in just a day as opposed to years; The switch flipped big for Tinker Bell when she heard Wendy say she wanted to kiss Peter; Wendy got called ugly by Tinker Bell and yet she still says that she is lovely; Apparently flying isn’t that easy if Peter can’t figure it out right off the bat; That was a lot of dust that Peter knocked off of Tinker Bell to help the Darlings fly; I don’t like how they have Nana barking while the chorus is singing at the same time as it is a bit distracting; Michael just dumps the dust on Nana and expects her to come with them even though Nana is tied up to a tree; I never thought about this, but considering that Peter simply says the second star to the right and the sky is filled with stars, how would you know which specific star is the right one?; In a pretty weird animating faux pas, during the scenes where Peter and the Darlings are flying over London there are a few times in the wide shots that the children don’t have faces; So the star is actually a planet since there is a large body of water there; The pirates don’t seem too keen about following Captain Hook yet they never rise up in mutiny against him; I guarantee you would never hear the word “redskins” in an animated film today; That poor pirate that was singing and not bothering anyone else only for Hook to shoot him dead; Peter’s ideas for pranks are very twisted if cutting off Hook’s hand was considered childish; If the crocodile swallowed an alarm clock, how would they be able to hear it ticking?; How did that seagull not notice Smee shaving off his feathers at first until he put the aftershave on him?; That’s a powerful telescope if he can make them out in the clouds so clearly; Never once did the Lost Boys question Tinker Bell what a “Wendy Bird” was; That was a quick rescue by Peter after being shot at by the pirates not a few minutes earlier; They were quick to throw Tinker Bell under the bus though she didn’t care that Wendy would’ve died; It was interesting that Peter made John the leader despite having just met him and the Lost Boys didn’t know him at all; That bear was ready to attack until he saw Michael’s teddy bear and he got completely confused; The Indians’ disguises aren’t too good if someone like Michael can easily see through them; So the one Indian wears John’s hat and uses his umbrella to shade himself while another drags the teddy bear behind him on a rope, and then they tie the bear up to a stake much like they do to the Boys; If the feud between the Lost Boys and the Indians is just a game to them, why would the chief immediately think they captured Tiger Lily?; Those mermaids are pretty racy having only seashells or even their own hair covering their breasts, very controversial for an animated film; Wendy was so keen on meeting the mermaids only for them to constantly tease her by splashing her constantly, and she calls on Peter for help only for Peter to laugh about it; If the crocodile is ticking right behind them, how does Hook not realize that?; He was able to lift Tiger Lily up pretty easily even though she had an anchor tied to her; Poor Smee must’ve been going crazy in hearing different orders about what to do with Tiger Lily; Why would Smee attempt to shoot at Peter knowing that he could just fly away?; It’s amazing that Peter has such a small sword and can stand toe-to-toe with Hook who has a much bigger sword; Smee wants to save Hook but is clearly moving way too fast and can’t collect his thoughts while Hook is trying to avoid being eaten completely; Peter better be glad that Wendy reminded him about Tiger Lily or she would’ve drowned in the tide; Obviously Smee was not the best speller as he spelled disturb as “disterb”; It’s funny how Smee thinks Hook agrees with him even though Hook is on a completely different wavelength from him; As interesting as this scene is with the Indians teaching their culture to the Lost Boys and the Darlings, it is something that you would never see today as well; That’s not a very flattering image of mothers-in-law; For all of his faults, Hook can be very manipulative as he is able to convince Tinker Bell to reveal Peter’s hideout to him because of her jealousy of Wendy; Wendy starting to sound like her father in trying to practical; First Michael thinks Wendy is his mother and not his sister, and then he mistakes Nana for his mother; It is something that you don’t really think about, but the Lost Boys had to have come from somewhere else before being taken to Never Land; It is funny seeing the pirates get all emotional as Wendy sings about mothers; I love how Wendy immediately assumes that their parents will welcome the Lost Boys into their family; Hook says that he gave his word not to lay a finger or hook on Peter, so instead he sets up a bomb to kill him; The Lost Boys are very impressionable as first they wanted to be Indians, then they were wanting to leave with the Darlings, and then they wanted to join the pirates after hearing their song; He sets the timer to go off at exactly 6:00 though it ends up taking quite a few seconds to actually detonate; How big was that bomb in the package that it in essence sent shockwaves to the ship?; Are the pirates that superstitious when Wendy doesn’t land in the water, they think that they are being haunted?; Michael is somehow able to lift up a cannonball and put it in his teddy bear, yet he has trouble dragging it with him briefly; Hook and the pirates are in a dogfight with Peter and the Lost Boys, yet meanwhile Smee is preparing to make an exit to save his own hide; You can tell this is an animated film because Hook is somehow able to walk away from getting hit right in the head with that cannon; Coincidental that all the pirates happen to fall into the same lifeboat that Smee was taking; Hook convinces Peter not to fly during their fight and thinks he has the advantage only for Peter to get the better of him again; So the clock the crocodile swallowed managed to stay intact when Hook pulled it out with him and then throwing it back into the crocodile; Mr. Darling was so adamant about Wendy growing up earlier and now he has changed his mind after the party, and then when he sees the ship flying it triggers memories of his own childhood.

Overall Thoughts: Overall, the film ended up being a pretty good film though it wasn’t quite as good as I had remembered which was a bit disappointing given that this was a favorite of mine growing up. As I mentioned, it wasn’t an all-time favorite of mine but it was one that I always enjoyed watching when I was little, and I was hoping that it would hold up a lot better than it ended up being. Again, that’s not to say that it was a bad film because it wasn’t and it was still pretty enjoyable, and you could tell that this was one that Disney had a lot of love for given that he had wanted to do this film since the 1930s. The 1950s have been a really good decade thus far for Disney as the films were doing well and he was about to embark on possibly his most ambitious project to date, and we will see if that project has an impact on the quality of the films coming up. As for this film, it is a good film though not quite a classic as it is remembered and it will probably rank in about the middle of the Disney film canon.

Final Grade: 6.5/10

Author: Steve Riddle

I have been a wrestling fan since 1993 and that is probably my biggest love, with movies being a close second due in part to being employed at a movie theater for over 9 years.