REVIEW REWIND: Peter Pan
Continuing our viewing of the Disney animated feature films in order, we have come to Peter Pan.
Based on the play and novel by J.M. Barrie, Peter Pan is the story of the boy who never grew up. In Victorian Era London, Wendy Darling tells tales of Peter Pan to her younger brothers Michael and John. Her father thinks them nonsense and, in a moment of frustration while trying to get ready to go out, decides that it's high time for Wendy to grow up. It's that night that Wendy, John and Michael are visited by Peter Pan and Tinker Bell who take them to Never Land so Wendy can be the mother to the Lost Boys, Peter's troop of boys. In Never Land, they meet mermaids and Indians and pirates. The pirates are headed by the notorious Captain Hook who does everything in his power to destroy Peter Pan. And nearly does. At the end of it all, Wendy realizes she's ready to grow up.
The animation is quite dazzling in this film. During this viewing, I was really watching how Peter Pan flies around. It seemed so effortless and really made me believe a boy can fly. He's lithe, yet has weight. It was really a sight to see. But, the best animation is of Captain Hook, especially with his interactions with Smee and Peter. It's some of Frank Thomas' finest work.
And, as always, I need to bring up the Mary Blair inspired layouts and color styling. It's her work that makes Never Land so magical. One of the most beautiful images that was clearly based on her work is when Peter Pan spots Captain Hook with Smee and Princess Tiger Lily. The sky is dark even though the sun is out conveying that something sinister was happening. It's just some wonderful work.
Now on to something that really bugs me. I've brought this up on our podcast many times, but I really am surprised that Disney has said nothing about the "What Makes The Red Man Red" sequence in which every single stereotype about Native Americans are cram packed into a song. I know this was a less enlightened time where cowboys and Indians were a big thing, but, wow is this song offensive. With Disney's sensitivity to the racism of Song of the South, I would have thought that they would want to excise it. At the same time, I'm not for censorship. However, they really need to be clear about the context, even if it's a video introduction by some animation historian.
Speaking of music, Peter Pan has some lovely music, from its magical "You can fly! You can fly! You can fly!" to the triumphant "Following the Leader." But, I have to give a shout out to one of the least appreciated Disney songs. "Your Mother And Mine" is a beautiful little song that never gets attention. I know Kathryn Beaumont's voice is not the strongest, but it is very sweet and innocent.
It's a shame Peter Pan never received an Oscar, nor even a nomination. I would have at least nominated "You can fly! You can fly! You can fly!" The box office was even lukewarm to Peter Pan, although it had moderate success. It's hard to believe given that it is such a classic film.
Peter Pan is a film of its time with the racist depiction of Native Americans to its sexist values, but, at the same time, is a film to be admired for its brilliant artistry. So, what does one do about such a film? I am always about teaching moments and talking to your kids about things they've seen and why some things are bad and good. This is a perfect film to do this for.