PETER PAN (1953)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 1 hour 17 minutes

MPAA Rating: G

PeterPan poster

Directed by: Clyde Geronimi, Wilfred Jackson & Hamilton Luske

Written by: Milt Banta, William Cottrell, Winston Hibler & Bill Peet

(based on the play PETER PAN by J.M. Barrie)

Voices of: Bobby Driscoll, Margaret Kerry, Kathryn Beaumont, Paul Collins, Tommy Luske, Hans Conried, Bill Thompson & Corinne Orr

Most of the original Disney films seem like they were tailor-made for tales of princesses in far away lands, but PETER PAN seems like the first Disney film that was made exclusively for boys. I mean, you’ve got pirates, Indians, wild kids living in the wilderness and plenty of adventure. As far as early Disney movies go, PETER PAN is among the very best and has aged well in most respects. It’s not perfect, but it’s close. With beautiful, fluid animation bringing J.M Barrie’s beloved play to colorful life, PETER PAN is a fantasy that’s well worth visiting and revisiting.

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In early 1900’s London, Wendy Darling tells her brothers stories about fairies, pirates and a heroic boy named Peter Pan. This is all to the frustration of her father who has come to the decision of moving Wendy into her own room and forcing her to grow up (which is quite a large dilemma when you’re an imaginative child). Turns out that Wendy’s stories about Peter Pan aren’t exactly fiction. The real Peter Pan comes to visit the Darling children and upon hearing Wendy’s predicament, he decides to whisk the three siblings off to Neverland. This magical land is filled with pirates, Indians, mermaids, and a group of Lost Boys led by Peter. However, the nefarious Captain Hook has concocted a plan to kill Peter Pan. It’s be up to Wendy, the Lost Boys, and Peter to stop Hook and save the day.

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PETER PAN is definitely played as an adventure, but there is also a lot of humor throughout. Save for one scene, I don’t think there were many moments that didn’t have (at least) one solid joke. The best of this comic relief arrives in scenes between Captain Hook and Smee. Though he’s an intimidating villain on the outside, Hook devolves into a nervous wreck whenever a certain hungry crocodile draws near. Meanwhile, Mr. Smee is an innocent fellow who happens to be second-in-command to Hook. Smee’s good-natured attitude provides a lot of huge laughs as he simply tries to help his Captain. In a wise move, Wendy’s frustrated father happens to be voiced by Hans Conried (also serving as the voice for Captain Hook). As far as the rest of the characters go, Peter Pan is a bit of a brat, but a likable hero nonetheless. Wendy Darling is one of the better Disney heroines to come out of the studio’s early decades. She’s not simply a damsel in distress and stands up for what’s right (even when the consequences for doing so could cost her life). Though they aren’t fleshed out, the Lost Boys are far more entertaining than the dreary Darling brothers (the youngest of which is near insufferable). Tinkerbell, Peter’s fairy sidekick, has rightfully gone on to become an iconic character in the Disney cannon.

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Of course, since this is a Disney animated feature, you’d be expecting musical numbers. This is where the movie has a couple of noticeable problems. While some songs are definitely catchy and memorable (“You Can Fly!” and “A Pirate’s Life”), others are distracting and unneeded. The worst of these musical numbers is definitely “Following The Leader.” In this horribly annoying song, the Lost Boys and Darling brothers wander through the forest encountering hippos, monkeys, and bears (which raises all sorts of questions about Neverland’s ecosystem). “What Made A Red Man Red?” also hasn’t aged well, especially considering the offensive stereotypes of Native Americans. Much like SONG OF THE SOUTH, PETER PAN was produced during a different time period. Again, the stereotypes don’t wreck the entire film, but they are definitely uncomfortable to watch in this day and age. Disney almost seemed to try to correct their offensive portrayal of Native Americans with POCAHONTAS and BROTHER BEAR (both of which are of lesser quality than PETER PAN).

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PETER PAN is among my favorites of Disney’s early catalog. I distinctly remember watching it on VHS many times throughout my childhood (along with THE JUNGLE BOOK and ALADDIN) and it has mostly aged very well. Though a couple of characters are bland (the Darling children), this is the movie that brought us one of Disney’s best villains (Captain Hook) and the ever iconic Tinkerbell. There aren’t really moral messages at play here, but PETER PAN stands a magical adventure that has held up over time and will continue to do so in the coming years. A beloved classic piece of family entertainment!

Grade: A-

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