If there’s one thing we can learn from Peter Pan it’s that we should never smile at a crocodile. That, and don’t grow up before your time. Peter Pan is the classic celebration of youth, and as such has been enjoyed by children worldwide since its release in 1953, its encouragement of imagination and earnestness no doubt coming as a relief to a society still emotionally austere following the devastation of WWII and its continuing after-effects. Based on J.M. Barrie’s classic play Peter Pan, or The Boy Who Wouldn’t Grow Up, Peter Pan was an instant hit with Disney’s growing fan base becoming the highest-grossing release of 1953 and at a time when they could do no wrong, Disney was the leading expert in giving the people what they wanted.
Whilst Peter Pan is still relatively highly regarded today it has not stood the test of time with as much strength as some of its contemporaries such as Cinderella and Sleeping Beauty and this may be attributable to its storyline which, whilst certainly memorable, doesn’t quite match these age old fairy tales in heart or beauty. Peter Pan is a story of adventure, excitement and mild peril and nothing more. It would be unjust to criticize it for this. There is much delight to be taken from the antics of Captain Hook and the incorrigible Mr Smee, the can-do attitude of Peter and the Lost Boys and the learning curve of Wendy, John and Michael Darling, the central characters to the tale.
It all kicks off in the Darling residence in Bloomsbury, London. After his children all but make a fool of him once too often, Mr Darling (whose rage problems would no doubt would have social services banging on the door these days) decides once and for all to banish story-time from his household, forcing Wendy, his eldest daughter, to move out of the nursery and into a room of her own thereby putting an untimely end to her childhood. Ever good natured and eager to placate, Wendy eventually concedes but plans to spend her last night as a child in style dreaming of Peter Pan and his distant island Never, Never Land where nobody ever has to grow up.
Of course, in Disney Land (not the theme park, the state of mind!) dreams can and often do come true and a after a visit from none other than Peter Pan himself, Wendy, John and Michael (with the help of a bit of unwillingly donated pixie dust and some happy thoughts) take to the skies, headed for the second star to the right and straight on till morning. The rest of the story sees the Darlings and the Lost Boys getting up to various forms of non-threatening tomfoolery in a bid to outsmart Captain Hook, who may be Peter Pan’s mortal enemy but is far too bumbling to pose any real threat. More than any other, the character who has survived into the 21st Century is Peter Pan’s mischievous companion Tinkerbell, who since her silver screen debut has been the star of her own recent book and film series.
Tinks is more than interesting, and quite an oddball when compared to other classic Disney personalities. She is deceitful, cunning, jealous and out for what she can get, seemingly willing to go to any lengths necessary to defend her position as Peter Pan’s no.1 fan, even at the sacrifice of Wendy’s life. Peter only feeds her furious, slightly obsessive loyalty to him by constantly brushing her off and using her to his advantage as and when it suits him; an interesting relationship for a 1950’s family cartoon, and perhaps something about the film which has been overlooked over time.
The songs of Peter Pan are another mixed bunch: You Can Fly, whilst highly cheery, is extremely dated and of its period, whereas Following the Leader and Your Mother and Mine stand out from Disney’s whole repertoire as classic, timeless numbers.
It’s a story which will no doubt prove to be popular with children for many, many years to come for its simple sense of fun-loving adventure, but unfortunately it would not come as too much of a surprise if it eventually faded from the children’s shelf in video shops as more up-to-date fun loving adventurers take its place. Peter Pan cannot under any circumstances be called a ‘dud’ film, just a glorious blast from the past which like all historical relics will in-time be consigned to Barnado’s “99p for 2” box.