Childish Awe on Full Display
Originally Released: 1953
I suspect Walt Disney really connected with the idea of never growing up, which is a big part of the magic of Peter Pan. As an adult, Walt’s career revolved around the idea of reaching back to childhood, as evidenced in the animated films and Disneyland. And who can blame him. A child is free to imagine up adventures such as pirate battles, flying, swimming with mermaids, and just about anything else. And Peter Pan encapsulates this feeling perfectly.
Peter Pan was in the works for many years before it was finally released in 1953. As a child, Walt was able to see the original play by J.M. Barrie which began its run in 1904. It had a lasting impact on him, and when he began work on feature-length films in the 1930’s, his plan was for Peter Pan to be his second film, after Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. However, this did not happen, in part because Walt felt that the skills and animation techniques of the artists had not advanced enough at the time, and needed more refinement and improvement in order to successfully achieve Walt’s vision for the film. Thus the production was shelved for a time, like many of his other early films.
Production picked up again in the late 1940’s, and this time Walt Disney and his “Nine Old Men,” were able to achieve Walt’s vision and create some fantastic work in terms of animation. In fact, not only was the team able to capture the great spirit of the play, but they also were able to do more, because in animation you can create and do things that simply aren’t possible on stage or in live-action. It ended up being a perfect medium for a story about childhood adventure and wonder.
A sampling of the things I noticed and enjoyed as I watched this time include many of Wendy’s expressions of awe, happiness, and disapproval, Tinkerbell’s sassy attitude, and Captain Hook playing the piano. The flying scenes work remarkably well, too. Then there’s the silly old crocodile. He doesn’t speak at all, but he is a scene-stealer whenever he’s present, with his dog-like mannerisms, good use of “mickey mousing,” and his taunting of Captain Hook.
Not only does the film work well from an animation standpoint, but it just works as a story and a film. The plot moves along at a nice pace, we learn a lot about the main characters and their strengths and weaknesses, and there is plenty of action, drama, and comedy. To tell the truth, I probably enjoy it more as an adult than I did as a child. It is great entertainment.
Something I found interesting is that a few things carried over from Alice in Wonderland and made their way into Peter Pan. For example, the voices for Wendy (Kathryn Beaumont), Smee (Bill Thompson), and Mrs. Darling (Heather Angel) were the same actors voicing Alice, the White Rabbit, and Alice’s older sister. Another interesting piece of trivia is that the opening song “The Second Star to the Right” was originally written as “Beyond the Laughing Sky,” in which Alice was supposed to sing at the beginning in the meadow before she sees the white rabbit. However, the song was dropped because they felt it was shaping up to be too similar to “Somewhere Over the Rainbow.” Later, though, the composer used the nice melody for the song and rewrote the lyrics to work in Peter Pan.
This leads me to the last thing I greatly enjoyed about this film: the music. Both the songs and the score are highly entertaining and very memorable. Heck, even a song that didn’t make it into the final cut somehow became a success. I already mentioned the sweet melody of “The Second Star to the Right,” but there is also “Following the Leader,” “A Pirate’s Life,” and more. The music and score really add to the overall feel of the movie.
The animation, plot, and music all combine to make Peter Pan stand out as yet another standout piece of Disney magic. It is a great reminder for us to not completely forget the inner child in us all.