Directed By: Hamilton Luske, Clyde Geronimi, & Wilfred Jackson
Produced By: Walt Disney
Based On: J.M. Barrie’s Peter & Wendy (Novel, 1911) & Peter Pan (Play, 1904)
Premiered On: February 5, 1953
Distribution By: RKO Radio Pictures
The last of the Walt Disney films, animated or otherwise, to be distributed by RKO Radio Pictures before the creation of Disney’s own distribution company, Buena Vista Distribution, Peter Pan is arguably one of the most popular films of Walt Disney’s time and one that has since had several varying tie-ins since its premiere, most recently with the prequel film series featuring Tinker Bell and her fellow fairies.
The story of Peter Pan focuses on three young children, Wendy, John, and Michael Darling all of whom share a nursery room together with Wendy telling tales of the boy who never grows up, Peter Pan, to her younger brothers. However, after a bit of childish antics committed by the boys and their nanny/dog Nana, their father has had enough and declares that tonight would be the last night Wendy spends in the nursery as she is old enough to have a room of her own.
That night, the Darling children are visited by Peter Pan himself and after Wendy helps him reattach his shadow, via sewing of all things, takes the children back with him to Never Land where they have a series of adventures there with mermaids, Indians, and a pirate crew led by the infamous Captain James Hook who is constantly being stalked by a crocodile who seeks to devour him after getting a taste of his hand several years prior.
Much like Alice in Wonderland, I don’t want to give the whole of the film away but I will say that the overall focus of the story is truly the adventures and antics of the children, primarily that of Peter, Wendy, and especially Captain Hook, who virtually owns every scene that he’s in. Well, him and the crocodile that is most commonly referred to as Tick-Tock, for his having swallowed an alarm clock and thus producing a loud ticking-tocking noise whenever he’s near. Seriously, Tick-Tock may not have had a speaking role but the way he emotes through facial expressions more than made up for a lack of voice, particularly whenever he comes close to devouring Captain Hook.
As to the differences between the film and the original play/book there are quite a few to be known though these are rather minute in comparison to other adaptations. The first major difference, and honestly the first time this rule had been broken, was Peter Pan being played by a boy. It has been a longstanding tradition that Peter Pan is to be played by a woman, at least in the play productions. Unsurprisingly though, one other tradition did stay true in the film from the original play, that being that Mr. Darling and Captain Hook be played by the same man.
One other major difference between the original play and the film itself is Tinker Bell’s sacrificial moment. In the film, she saves Peter Pan from a timed bomb whereas in the novel and play, it was a bottle of medicine that was actually poison. In the play itself, this is the moment where Peter Pan breaks the fourth wall and turns to the audience, begging them, pleading with them, that if they hold even a smidgeon of belief in their hearts than to clap, to show loud and clear that they still believe in fairies.
As to the song that I feel best describes the film as a whole, it’s is without a doubt the song “You Can Fly,” which is actually one part song and whole lot of conversation between Peter Pan and the Darling children, primarily in how one is able to fly. The whole of the scene is a joy to watch and listen to alike, particularly with Tinker Bell offering her own silent commentary to everything by way of laughing uproariously at the Darling children’s initial failure. Once they get their feet off the ground though, it’s a whole new spectacle to enjoy.
Despite my clear choice however, I feel it worth mentioning that the song “The Second Star to the Right,” which is performed during the opening credits, was recycle from the song that Alice was originally going to sing called “Beyond the Laughing Sky.” Another fun piece of trivia, my personal favorite song from the film is one that was never actually sung aloud in the film itself, but rather was performed through instruments whenever Tick-Tock arrived onto the scene. The song is, “Never Smile at a Crocodile” and is frankly one of the silliest songs I’ve ever heard and yet I can’t help but hum it to myself, particularly when I’m feeling particularly… crocodilian.
Overall, Peter Pan gets a solid five out of five from me. It’s a film that I strongly can be watched by all ages regardless of some minor, ahem, hiccups that occur pertaining to the Indians of Never Land. To that I say that the song, and even the portrayal of the Indians, is a product of its time and one that while not something to ignore should not be taken to the extreme either.