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  • Writer's pictureEllen Cheshire

Disney's Peter Pan (1953)

Updated: May 5, 2023

Peter Pan, based on the play by James M Barrie, about a boy who is reluctant to grow up, would seem an ideal project for Walt Disney, a man who never grew up - and it certainly is.

Peter Pan (1953)

Prd. Walt Disney. Dir. Hamilton Luske, Clyde Geronimi, Wilfred Jackson.

Based on the play by James M. Barrie

Music. Oliver Wallace, Edward Plumb

Starring. Bobby Driscoll (Peter Pan), Kathryn Beaumont (Wendy), Hans Conried (Capt. Hook/Mr. Darling), Bill Thompson (Smee), Heather Angel (Mrs. Darling), Paul Collins (Michael Darling), Tommy Luske (John)

Wendy Darling, expert on the legends surrounding the mythical Peter Pan, is told by her father that it is time she grew up and that she must move out of the nursery she shares with her brothers Michael and John. On the same evening, after Mr and Mrs Darling have gone out for the evening, the self-assured Peter Pan and mischievous Tinkerbell visit the nursery and take them on a magical adventure to Never Land, where they meet the Lost Boys, a lagoon of mermaids, the Red Indians and cross swords with the villainous Captain Hook and his incompetent side-kick Smee.

This is a mature film for Disney studio. Not only does their careful respect for the literary heritage of the source material mean that the dual themes of children growing up and adults remembering their childhood are cunningly presented both within the Darling household and in Never Land, but also the themes of emerging sexuality in the onset of adolescence: Wendy is attracted to Peter, and offers him a kiss, which sets up a dangerous situation between her and Tinkerbell. Captain Hook plays off the jealous tension between Tinkerbell and Wendy to bring about the film’s climatic sword fight on Hook’s pirate ship.

The animation is crisp and clean and, as with Pinocchio, the film relies on the characterisation of the humans for both the film’s drama and comedy. So much emphasises is made on the relationships between Wendy, Peter Pan and Captain Hook, that the Lost Boys, Mermaids, Red Indians and to some extent Smee and the Pirates are under developed.

But the film ultimately lacks that little something extra. All the songs, except I Can Fly, are routine and unmemorable, often slowing the plot down. The most disappointing aspect of the film is Peter himself. His character is neither endearing nor heroic, and often sways dangerously close to annoying. Therefore it is hard to see what all the women in the film (Wendy, Tinkerbell, the mermaid and Tiger Lily) see in him. When Peter is allowed to do what he does best - fly and fight - the film leaps and bounds with explodable energy and vitality.

Interesting to note how many filmmakers have had a go at adapting Peter Pan for the stage, but with little success.

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