I can’t remember a time when I haven’t liked Peter Pan. I remember reading several different Golden Books based on the film, and loving all of them. Released in 1953, the film was very successful and well-received, and it is likely the most successful of all the adaptations of J.M. Barrie’s original play.
After telling them a bedtime story about Peter Pan, Wendy and her brothers are surprised to learn Peter Pan is real and they head off to Never Land with the help of happy thoughts and Tinker Bell and her magical fairy dust. There, they encounter pirates, mermaids, a jealous pixie, caricatures of “Indians”, and all sorts of exciting and perilous adventure.
The visuals from the film were simply beautiful. The background scenery by masters such as Eyvind Earle and Al Dempster were simply amazing in their detail and ability to set the mood. My favorite character, Tinker Bell, was designed by Marc Davis, one of the legendary Nine Old Men of Walt Disney Animation. The care taken in animating her, especially when she is usually quite small on the screen, was spectacular, especially all the hand-animated specks of pixie dust constantly streaming off her. Each. Dot. Hand. Animated. Every. Time. Talk about dedication and patience!
The musical score by Oliver Wallace was lively and only enhanced my experience watching the film. Some of the songs from the Peter Pan are among the catchiest tunes written for Disney films (or any others, for that matter). “You Can Fly!” is the most iconic of these, and expresses such a joy at a new found experience that I found myself wishing I could participate, especially when I was younger. “Following the Leader” is another which has become ingrained in our cultural fabric. Even the clearly insensitive “What Made the Red Man Red?”, sung by Candy Candido, has a certain “ear worm” quality to it.
Given the political climate and people choosing to be offended by everything, discussions of Peter Pan inevitably move to discussing the insensitive manner in which Native Americans were treated in the film. To be fair, this presentation is faithful to the original by Barrie, and it was not the norm in the 1940s and 1950s (when the film was being made) to be culturally sensitive regarding just about anything. That said, it is very likely things would have been done differently had the film been done today rather than in 1953. I’ll let you decide how to view those sequences.
Despite the cultural insensitivities exhibited by the film, it is still one of my favorite Disney films and I enjoy watching it regularly. Peter Pan speaks to the inner child in me, and encourages me to follow my dreams, no matter how impossible they may seem. After all, if you can fly, not even the sky’s the limit!
Release Date: February 5, 1953 (USA)
MPAA Rating: G
Alcohol/Drugs: 2 (cigar smoking, peace pipe smoking, pirate drunkenness)
Sexuality: 1 (mermaids, Tink, Tiger Lily)
Violence: 2 (attempted murder, pirate violence, rough-and-tumble fighting, alligator attacks, pixie rage)