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Jab’s Reviews: Peter Pan

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PETER PAN (1953)

Written by: J.M. Barrie (original work), Ted Sears, Erdman Penner, Bill Peet, Winston Nibler, Joe Rinaldi, Milt Banta, Ralph Wright & Bill Cottrell

Arguably one of Disney’s most famous movies, particularly for its era, and it’s funny because it’s one of the few that’s REALLY famous for non-Disney-related stuff as well (things like Hunchback and Tarzan were overshadowed be the presence of famous predecessors)- though it’s still a famous movie, and EASILY the most recognizable version of any of the characters, it’s also a famous play & book series. The fact that it popularized Tinker Bell (turning her into a mini-sex symbol) and Captain Hook did wonders, as well as the great set and character designs in general.

It’s curious- watching this for the first time in years, I wonder why Wendy gets SO UPSET at being kicked out of the nursery. I don’t know ANY kid that minded getting their own room, and she acts like it’s the worst thing EVER. Also, holy balls- Mrs. Darling is GORGEOUS. Talk about “Ugly Guy, Hot Wife”- her husband is a big, hairy, buffoonish porpoise of a man, and she’s this slender, ethereal beauty. Oddly, the dad is a bumbling, blowhard of an idiot with a hot, patient smart wife DECADES before it became the tired default of pop culture.

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Mary Darling, if you don’t believe me.

I always found it odd as a kid how SHORT the movie was- it always felt like as soon as they met up with Tiger Lily, the movie was basically just about over, and the whole thing felt super-rushed. And I think that’s because my family’s VHS cuts out the infamous What Makes The Red Man Red? song… gotta love, well, talking about why a certain race looks the way it does, which is of course terribly rude and un-PC in this day and age. Still nicer than the Mormon version of how it happened, though :). But there’s a reason every other adaptation of this story pretty much leaves out the Indian Village. But in any case, the movie was only 76 minutes long, which is REALLY short- cutting out 3-4 minutes of a song makes it even worse.

Wow, Tink’s butt is in a LOT of this movie. I mean, you may as well call it Peter Pan and Tink’s Voluptuous Can, because the animators are NOT shy about broadcasting her hips (even including several scenes where the angle focuses on her butt).

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The whole plot is rather good, though- you see a lot of Peter’s mischievous, jerk-ish nature (Barrie always insisted that you could see “the devil in Peter”), how attractive Never Land looks to young boys, etc.- they really pull off the whole “Land Of Adventure” thing, where there’s a village of Indians and a ship full of Pirates and all sorts of other junk. Peter sort of represents what a LOT of little boys want to be- a happy-go-lucky, rebellious youth with no responsibilities, the power to do whatever he wants, villains to beat up, and NO ROMANCE! Yet… Peter’s getting a lot of female attention. Tinker Bell, Wendy AND those frickin’ nudist Mermaids are all after his body, yet he’s either repulsed, confused, or shocked by all this attention. Very much in the vein of “I don’t want to be with GROSS GIRLS!” way that young boys have.

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Overall, it’s a fine film, though short-lived (only an hour and sixteen minutes long). The villain is funny and has panache, Peter is a lot more mischievous than your usual Disney Protagonist (not to mention his sidekick actually attempting murder on a young girl out of jealousy), it’s got Fanservice galore (Tinker Bell and the most scantily-clad Mermaids you’ll see this side of Ariel- one only uses HAIR as a bra!), and there’s a handful of good scenes in it.

It changes a lot from the play (there’s no “Tink drinks poison and has to be revived with the audience’s applause” since that’d be hard to pull off in a film… not that Care Bears didn’t try the same damn plot point in their second feature film), but keeps the overall theme of “growing up sucks, but you gotta deal with it”. The whole thing is beyond iconic, which is why the original story still resonates with audiences. It deals with growing up, escaping responsibility (a trait most children love), it has The Lost Boys (the most iconic “gang of kids” ever), and a place of fun & adventure.


The Characters:

 

PETER PAN

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Peter is notably one hell of a fighter in the movie, and mops the floor with Captain Hook every time they fight, flying around and going all Muhammad Ali on him with dodging & weaving. He’s actually MORE impressive in Fantasmic!, as you can actually watch REAL ACTORS shoot up and down the ropes & sails of an authentically-built PIRATE SHIP in the Rivers Of America during the final number. Something about live stage combat at it’s most resplendant is unmatchable, ya know?

Peter is… mischievous. I think it’s not for nothing that he’s become less iconic in Disney history than either Captain Hook or Tinker Bell, as he seems really unpleasant. He’s cruel to his enemies, disregards the safety of his friends, and doesn’t really CARE about anything. All he wants to do is have fun. The Disney Fairies books actually capture this pretty well, but insist he’s quite likable in spite of it- it’s just part of his charm that nothing gets to him.

About the Performer: Bobby Driscoll was also in Song of the South, and was really big for Disney (becoming a bit of a Muse, in a rather creepy way- Disney says he saw Driscoll as “the embodiment of my own youth”), becoming an iconic Child Actor… complete with the tragic ending! Driscoll’s career was huge as a young actor in many 1940s films, but Peter Pan was his last big success. See, as a Child Actor… Driscoll had ceased to be a child. A bad case of acne not only left him wearing tons of stage make-up, but also COST HIM HIS JOB, just as Disney had relied upon him for so many years. Perception as a “Disney Kid Actor” left him unable to get other work.

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Taken out of the Hollywood Professional School for child actors, he was placed into PUBLIC SCHOOL, where his past work left him derided and bullied. He was allowed to go back to Hollywood the next year, but the experience had left him taking drugs to cope- he’d even become a freaking HEROIN ADDICT, because, as he pointed out, that was a rich man’s drug. He got a bad reputation and became a public spectacle for his arrests, finally ending up a penniless addict.

Two little boys found his dead body in New York City, as years of drug abuse had left his arteries hardened. His unclaimed body was buried in a pauper’s grave, with his parents and Disney unaware of it until months later, after his mother got Disney to do some detective work so that Bobby could say goodbye to his dying father.

BOY AREN’T YOU GLAD YOU JUST READ ALL OF THAT?? I myself had never heard this story, though many child actors of the day ended up in similar states. Judy Garland lived longer, but was similarly a wreck.

TINKER BELL

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Tink is the most iconic thing about this film, which is saying something when you consider that she doesn’t even have a SPEAKING ROLE. She’s pretty much there as a sexy little sprite (about the sexiest female character Disney had created until that point- and just think- they were doing the “small bust & large thighs and butt” thing EVEN THEN to throw in fanservice without offending anti-boob moral guardians!) who harasses Wendy & the Pirates, acts like a crabby fussbudget, and nearly gets everyone killed… yet she’s popular enough to be featured in a huge-selling DVD series with one of those multiracial casts that like I said, had their own Fantasyland “Meet & Greet Area”.

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Margaret Kelly performing poses for the animators.

Tink was so hip-tacular that people still think was based off of Marilyn Monroe, though her “live action test screen” performer Margaret Kelly was the real physical basis- she had the hips & legs to prove it, too! This was, notably, the first time Disney had REALLY amped up the attractiveness of a woman in one of their productions- Cinderella & Snow White were beautiful girls, but Tink was there for the dads, if you know what I mean.

 

CAPTAIN JAMES HOOK

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Hook has a HILARIOUS lack of dignity in Peter Pan, being treated as a Butt-Monkey to fate as much as anything. He hams it up and flies off the handle like a good Disney Villain should, but he’s frequently humiliated and turned into a cowering wreck to the point where it’s hard to feel anything but SORRY for the guy. He was often handily beaten by Peter (and had to force Peter to accept to remain land-bound to gain the advantage), but is still a pretty decent fighter in his own right. In effect, he’s a predecessor to King John, but is a good bit more bad-ass, despite his mortal terror of the crocodile.

Hook is wildly over-the-top and incredibly sneaky and vicious, which has given him some fame- he’s frequently seen in the parks, stars in Fantasmic!, and is arguably the wimpiest villain seen in the large “Disney Villains” groupings- I mean, he’s a good swordfighter, but they put him up there with HADES and MALEFICENT!

About the Performer: Hans Conreid, as is tradition, plays both Wendy’s father and Captain Hook himself. An actor of stage and screen, he was ideal for over-the-top villains- in addition to the sissy Hook, he played the Grinch, Snidley Whiplash, and others.


Reception & Cultural Impact:

Peter Pan was HUGE, and has become by far the most famous adaptation of the story… which also has many OTHER iconic, notable adaptations, on stage and screen. Pretty impressive. Many of the characters within have gone on to become Disney icons- Peter is frequently seen at the parks, and Captain Hook is one of the first Iconic Villains of the studio- the oldest next to the Evil Queen as far as “people on tons of merchandise” go. But the REAL star of the film has turned out to be lil’ TINKER BELL.

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The sexy little pixie has turned into an icon in her own right, being featured as the wand-swinging symbol of the studio, the “light” that arcs over the castle in their logo, and more. She’s more prominent than anyone else in terms of merchandise, park presence and more- she even has her own line of books and movies! The Disney Fairies franchise became a big thing for Disney in the late 2000s, lasting for several years (and I totally don’t own every movie and most of the books). Pixie Hollow even became a Meet & Greet Location, where Tink and her fairy friends got to interact with guests, while FRIGGIN’ ARIEL lost her spot in favor of these interlopers, as Ariel’s Grotto was closed. I mean, when you can “bump” Ariel, you know you’re big.

This is one of the few films in which even the villain’s SIDEKICK becomes a Meet & Greet Character, as Mr. Smee shows up in the parks as well. One of the biggest influences in the parks, however, has been Peter Pan’s Flight, a very, VERY short dark ride that is nonetheless the most-packed attraction in all of Fantasyland, with hundreds of guests waiting in line to get on. It’s a really neat little thing- the flight over London is an especially “You are THERE!” bit- you can really see why it’s popular. But it’s INFAMOUSLY packed at all times- use FastPass if you can, or get there early or late. It’s really something when a non-thrill ride like this can boast lines close to those of Space Mountain and Splash Mountain.

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The critics weren’t in love with the picture, saying it changed too much of the original story, and the songs were pretty poor (it’s true- they’re all pretty bad). But animation-wise, it was really respected. Their “Sequel Era” saw a 2002 Return to Neverland film, but it wasn’t really well-liked. Having seen it, I can’t remember a single bit, but I think EVERYONE loved seeing Adult Wendy interact with a nervous Peter. One of the more popular Disney Junior shows is Jake and the Neverland Pirates, which also use Hook in an adversarial role.

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