My continuing foray into Disney's fifty official Animated Classics. As always, don't hesitate to share your thoughts/memories/complaints in the comments section below. Links to previous entries have also been included below.
Peter Pan (1953; based on the play Peter Pan, Or The Boy Who Wouldn't Grow Up by J.M. Barrie)
The Plot: A teenage girl and her two younger brothers are whisked away to the magical world of Neverland, by a flying boy who refuses to grow old.
The Songs: "The Second Star To The Right," "You Can Fly!," "A Pirate's Life, "Following The Leader," "What Made The Red Man Red?," "Your Mother And Mine," "The Elegant Captain Hook," "Never Smile At A Crocodile (Instrumental)"
A Little History: Walt Disney's infatuation with Peter Pan began as a child, when he and his brother attended a traveling production of the play in 1919. He originally tried to purchase the film rights in 1935, but author J.M. Barrie had already donated the property to the Great Ormond Street Hospital (GOSH) in London. Disney was finally awarded the copyright in 1939, and intended the film to follow after Bambi. The outbreak of World War II prevented this, however, and the project was set aside. (Production on Peter Pan officially began eight years later, in the spring of 1947.) Actress Margaret Kerry was hired as a live-action reference for Tinker Bell – not Marilyn Monroe, as rumors persisted. The melody for "The Second Star To The Right" was originally written for Alice In Wonderland. Peter Pan cost $4 million to produce, and became the biggest box-office draw of its year (Box Office Mojo says here that it took in $40.7 million during its first run). It has since come under fire from activist groups for its racist depiction of Indian characters, though many of these same stereotypes appear in the original play. Also the final film in which Disney's Nine Old Men worked together as supervising animators.
How It Broke New Ground: 12-year-old Bobby Driscoll, who voiced Peter Pan, was the first male actor to portray the character on film (previous adaptations had traditionally cast a female lead). The animators also struggled to give their two- dimensional characters a feeling of weightlessness during the flight scenes.
How It Holds Up Today: There's an underlying sadness to J.M. Barrie's original Pan that doesn't quite make the leap to big-screen animation - just look at the subtitle, Or The Boy Who Wouldn't Grow Up, and think on the implications of that. But this is Disney, after all, so what would you expect? It's hard to imagine anything so bittersweet passing muster with the kiddies anyway, so what we get is a rogue-ish, rollicking adventure instead, which many regard as the definitive version of the story. Here, it's fun to be a kid, to shirk all responsibility, to play all day and never worry about loving someone or having them love you in return, and the ending sends you off with a silly grin on your face. Don't get me wrong – so much of the movie is iconic, from the fey Captain Hook to the wonders of Neverland and nighttime London to the feisty, fiery Tinker Bell, that it speeds by at a surprisingly brisk 76 minutes. Stripped of its subtext, though, Disney's Pan is merely a solid entertainment, rather than a transcendent one.
Hold tight, Disney fans – there's more to come. Need to catch up? Click on the following for: Snow White And The Seven Dwarfs, Pinocchio, Fantasia, Dumbo, Bambi, Saludos Amigos, The Three Caballeros, Make Mine Music, Fun And Fancy Free, Melody Time, The Adventures Of Ichabod And Mr. Toad, Cinderella, and Alice In Wonderland. Please comment!