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Sunday, 23 July 2017

Retro Review: Peter Pan (1953)

Peter Pan
Cast: Bobby Driscoll, Kathryn Beaumont, Paul Collins, Tommy Luske, Hans Conried, Heather Angel, Bill Thompson   
Genre: Animated Adventure 
U.S Box Office Gross: over $40.7 million

Plot: Wendy and her brothers are whisked away to the magical world of Neverland with the hero of their stories, Peter Pan 

'With Dated Stereotypes and Underdeveloped Characterisations, 1950s Disney - Unlike Peter Pan- Didn't Grow Up' 

Disney's 1953's Peter Pan is more of a nostalgia trip than being a terrific movie that what was considered amazing at the time of the 1950s and despite being labelled as a classic, some elements of this film are either missing or have not been explored in full. This is the first time I've watched this particular version of Peter Pan and in sitting through it in its entirety, my feeling was that the kids were nice and cute, Wendy was all right, Peter Pan was so standoffish and Tinkerbell was selfish and malicious. Coupled with Captain Hook and Smee being their usual selves and a film that doesn't last very long and what we have is a Disney Peter Pan film, lauded at the time for being magnificent in every way during the 1950s, but in watching it today, not everything about it stacks up well. 

There have been other on-screen adaptations and incarnations of the Peter Pan tale - more notably the 1991 Spielberg epic, Hook and the 2003 film Pan, but Disney's version is the most famous and most recognisable by far and it's partly thanks to the great 2D art style and animations that are very fluid, as well as looking bright and colourful. 

This is the story of the boy who never grew up, who paid a visit to see Wendy and the Darling kids in London and who whisked them to Neverland.  

As I was sitting through this movie, I was making notes of the references that were also in Hook: the happy thoughts that made the characters fly, 'the second star to the right, straight on until morning' uttered by Peter Pan here and by Tinkerbell to Peter Banning/Pan in Hook, Captain Hook uttering 'Good Form!', Hook's fear of clocks. Hook, of course, was based on the original novel by JM Barrie and far less so in this Disney version, but it was interesting to find the references in this film that was also in Hook.

The film has a musical aspect to it unlike Hook, which was a fully-fledged fantasy adventure film and despite its short runtime, Peter Pan did not have fleshed out characterizations, nor was these characters touched upon properly. I wanted to know a bit more about Michael and John especially. 

The internalised racism implied in this film was something that was noted by several viewers with the Native American Indians. But what shocked me was how scheming and horrible this rendition of Tinkerbell was. She was devious and so overly and easily jealous of Peter Pan having all these female admirers.

Additionally, Tinkerbell never spoke here and whilst a lot of people saw that as a positive, the fact is she didn't have much of a character so to speak, and because of that, we, or be it I didn't know what to make of her in a positive sense. Also, she is not as likeable here as Julia Roberts's version in Hook, as here she was in such a cantankerous mood. She always had that irritated look on her face, which annoyed me and she did what she could to make Wendy angry. Tinkerbell, who is supposed to represent the spirit in the story of Peter Pan, in the Disney version is a one-dimensional shallow, selfish pixie. Smee, Hook's right-hand man, resembled one of the seven dwarves in Disney's other classic, Snow White.

In Tiger Lily, Wendy, the Mermaids and Tink were four female admirers of Peter Pan and yet I found that thing where they become smitten and jealous towards Peter far too catty. Tinkerbell is jealous of Wendy, so much so she almost turns to the dark side, the mermaids are jealous of Wendy, Wendy is jealous of Tiger Lily, catty and smarmy Tink sells Peter out - almost. Whereas Tink was too dislikeable for me, Wendy was a total bore and bland. The mermaids are no better themselves, either. Yet he is completely oblivious to all of this going on. It's like he is a chick magnet. 

Peter Pan is not completely horrible or bad, but at the end of the day, but for say John, Michael, I felt little for this film and didn't care much for it. Enjoyment-wise, it's okay but the portrayals and characterisations of the characters are both not fleshed out very well and are also very dated, and in the case of Tink and Peter Pan, the two main protagonists of whom we are supposed to root for - are (and more so with Tink) downright dislikeable, compared to the ones in Steven Spielberg's Hook

The racial elements and the scene with John smoking- which shocked me- that Disney of today wouldn't put in their films today were disappointing to see here and is not something I'd expect from a company that targets their products at families and children. 

Peter Pan may have been the boy that never grew up, but it is the Disney of the earlier years, through some of their offensive images and not so good characterisations, who are the bigger culprits with this offering that did not. 

Final Verdict

The animation and art style are great, the nostalgia factor is there, but for those two reasons, everything else about this film was so underwhelming and some of it also took me by surprise, and not in a positive way.

People can say whatever they want about Hook, but for me, Steven Spielberg and screenwriters James V. Hart and Malia Scotch Marmo in the live-action Hook of 1991 had duly put right what most of Disney had got wrong with this animated film.   


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