Peter Pan Movie Review (1953 Disney Animation)
This J.M. Barrie adaptation depicts Neverland as a colourful paradise-like island. The musical notes are fun, but the depiction of Native Americans is troublesome.
Genre: Adventure / Animation / Fantasy / Musical
Director: Clyde Geronimi, Wilfred Jackson & Hamilton Luske
Cast: Bobby Driscoll, Kathryn Beaumont, Hans Conried, Paul Collins, Tommy Luske, Bill Thompson, Heather Angel, Candy Candido & Tom Conway.
Run Time: 77 min.
US Release: 05 February 1953
UK Release: 27 July 1953
German Release: 22 December 1953
It’s Throwback Thursday! With all the Disney live-action remakes coming out this year, I thought it was time to look at some of the originals, starting with the classic Peter Pan animation of 1953, since the remake was released two weeks ago. This is the 14th animated feature created by Walt Disney Studios and distributed by RKO Pictures. It was the last movie in which “Disney's Nine Old Men” worked together as directing animators. Though nowhere in my top ten Disney flicks, this animated adventure holds a special place in my heart, as I wore the VHS out, constantly replaying it during my childhood.
So, get some of that pixie dust sprinkled on you, as we fly towards my review for Peter Pan…
— WARNING, THIS REVIEW CONTAINS SPOILERS! —
The three children of the Darling family receive a visit from Peter Pan, who takes them to Never Land, where an ongoing war between Peter and the evil Pirate Captain Hook is taking place. Meanwhile, Pan’s pixie Tinker Bell, overcome by jealousy over Wendy, is tricked by Hook to give away Peter’s secret hideout.
Walt Disney had planned to make J.M. Barrie’s play into his second feature film, yet acquiring the rights proved to become more difficult than expected, as Paramount Pictures held the rights, leading Pinocchio to become the follow-up to Snow White. By the end of 1938, the studio purchased the rights from Paramount, with the preliminary stage of the story being finished by mid-1939. In 1941, the basic plot structure was completed, however, the military took control of Walt Disney Studios, following the attack on Pearl Harbour.
By 1947 development had been picked up again, though Disney green-lit Cinderella first, as he thought that the character of Peter was too cold. The story saw many changes throughout development. At first, it was intended to explore Pan’s background as told in Barrie’s 1906 novel “Peter Pan in Kensington Gardens”. Disney was not impressed, stating that the plot picks up when the titular character comes to the house to get his shadow back, and it is there where the tale should start. The idea of Peter arriving at the Darling residence to kidnap Wendy was scrapped because it was deemed too dark.
The nursery scene went through many alterations as well. One of them told the narrative through the eyes of Nana, who had gone with the Darling children to Never Land. Elongated scenes with the pirates, an imaginary dinner with Pan and the Lost Boys were all scrapped. The final product is a fun, fast-paced fantasy adventure, that rushed specific narrative segments. Then there is the less than favourable depiction of Native Americans.
The dialogues made use of musical elements, as in most Disney animations. Wendy is the voice of reason, while her brother John is more strategic.
Peter Pan is depicted as a self-centred rascal, with too big an ego. That said, his boyish charm saves him from being insufferable. With Bobby Driscoll having been cast to voice the character, a tradition was broken, as until then only women had played Pan in film and theatre. Driscoll gave the persona a lot of charm, plus had great chemistry with Kathryn Beaumont.
Wendy, voiced by Kathryn Beaumont, is a responsible young girl, who enjoys taking care of her brothers, telling them tales of the many adventures of Peter. She represents the voice of reason while being equally warm-hearted and patient. She is smarter than the boys, teaching them about integrity plus loyalty.
Captain Hook is the most fun character! A master manipulator, as well as being ruthless, his hatred for Pan gets mostly the better of him. He is supposed to represent the fear of growing up, reflected by Hans Conried voicing him, just like George Darling - the loving but short-tempered father of Wendy and her brothers.
As with previous Disney animations, live-action performances of the actors, to prerecorded tracks, served animators as an aid. Margaret Kerry served as a live-action reference for Tinker Bell, while her dancing teacher Roland Dupree served as a reference for the flying and action scenes of the titular character. The face of Pan was influenced by features of actor Driscoll.
Frank Thomas found it difficult to animate Captain Hook, as he was given two conflicting visions by story artist Ed Penner, who saw the pirate as a dandy-type con-man, while co-director Geronimi envisioned him as a mean, heavy sort of Ernest Torrence character.
Never Land was designed as a fairytale-like paradise, with colourful wide planes, forests, lagoons, never-ending rainbows and mysteries around every corner. The design of the Native Americans is a little more troublesome, depicting them with hooked noses, very wide, scary faces, as well as scarlet red skin. An absolute misrepresentation!
The musical elements contain some of the most memorable songs, written mostly by Sammy Cahn, while Sammy Fain composed the score. The song “Second Star to the Right”, was originally intended for Alice in Wonderland. “What Made the Red Man Red?” became controversial because of its racial portrayal of Native Americans.
Verdict: Walt Disney’s Peter Pan is a classic animation and part of my childhood, having rewatched it several times. That said, while I have fond memories of the J.M. Barrie adaptation, it is nowhere near my top favourites! Though the plot is rushed, losing much of the original play’s essence, it still manages to be a fun, energetic fantasy adventure that sucks one into the world of Never Land. Yes, some aspects did not date well, such as the misrepresentation of Native Americans. It would have served the narrative better if the titular character had a short background. Nevertheless, the scoundrel-like approach to Pan is quite enjoyable, with Bobby Driscoll giving a good vocal performance. Kathryn Beaumont gave Wendy gravitas and had good chemistry with Driscoll. Best was Hans Conried as the devious, eccentric Captain Hook. The animation is detailed, using explosive colours, while the songs represent the story's theatre roots. Peter Pan deserves a 7.5 out of 10.
So what is your favourite Disney classic? Leave a comment below to let me know. Thank you for reading & if you like these reviews, make sure to subscribe!