Ranking the Disney Canon – 18: Peter Pan

“All of this has happened before, and all of it will happen again” – Narrator

Peter Pan, released in 1953, was originally intended to be Walt Disney’s second animated feature all the way back in 1940, but the combination of rights issues with the original source material and the outbreak of World War 2 forced the production to be delayed. Through these 13 years, the story and characters would change many times, and would have versions that were both closer to the original play and versions that were even more radically different from it. In the end, the film would eventually the third Canon film released in the 1950s.

Peter Pan begins as Wendy Darling is berated by her father for allowing her younger siblings to become rowdy, and declares her to be too old to continue to be in the nursery. This greatly upsets Wendy, who can’t imagine life without telling her siblings stories about Peter Pan. That very night, Peter Pan visits the nursery looking for his shadow, and discovers the great tragedy that has befallen the nursery. To the delight of everyone except a jealous Tinker Bell, Peter invites the group to come to Neverland with him. With a little pixie dust and a little fun, they fly off, only to be attacked by Peter’s arch nemesis, Captain Hook. Peter manages to escape and take his crew to the Lost Boys for Wendy to be their mother. Peter and Wendy continue to battle Hook, and also experience mermaid and Indians in the world of Neverland.

STRENGTHS

The one thing that Peter Pan does amazing is building great characters. Out of all the characters in the film, Wendy is overall the best built. The film may be named after Peter Pan, but this is Wendy’s movie. From the very beginning, the audience gets her charms and her motherly instincts and are immediately drawn to like her. Her emotional state throughout the film feels real, and especially when she is saddened by the fact that she will no longer be in the nursery. And yet her journey to accepting adulthood is completely believable. Much like Alice’s journey (More on that later), it is the ridiculousness of Neverland that shows Wendy that growing up is a good thing. She is charming and cute even in her most angry moments, and Kathryn Beaumont adds a ton of warmth to the role. She was the perfect casting choice for Wendy, and I can’t imagine the character working with any other voice. Wendy remains a shining star throughout the entire film.

Before we move onto other characters, I do want to mention that one of the things that truly enhances Wendy’s journey is the fantastic opening 10 minutes of the film, before Peter Pan is even introduced. This sequence does an amazing job at building up the character of the Darling family, and is key to making Wendy the great character she is. But this sequence does more than just build Wendy. This sequence is essentially what we get of Nana the St. Bernard and Mr. Darling, but both have some wonderful comedy here and add to the amazingness of this sequence. And of course, this our introduction to the other Darling children, Michael and John, who are just as fun. All in All, it is a great opening sequence.

And right after this opening sequence comes the introduction of Peter himself. Peter is a really fun character. His cockiness, his brashness, and his “all fun all the time” worldview come together to create a truly memorable male lead. The chase for his shadow and his continual battles with Captain Hook are by far the best sections of the character, but what really makes him special is his relationship with Wendy. Peter Pan’s personality is the perfect one to facilitate Wendy’s growth as a character, and they have a really interesting dynamic throughout the film, especially after Wendy’s annoyance with Peter’s antics. Peter is a ton of fun every time he is on-screen.

And of course, you can’t talk about Peter Pan without talking about Tinker Bell. Tinker Bell, in my opinion, is the film’s funniest character. One of the perfect examples of why Animation is great and why Disney succeeds so well with silent characters, Tinker Bell has some fantastic physical humor and has hilarious expressions throughout the entirety of the film. Her jealousy of Wendy adds some great tension and storylines to the film, yet she remains the very hilarious character throughout it all. And the animation of her is amazing. Very expressive and very fun to watch.

And the final great character on our list of great characters is the film’s villain, Captain Hook. Captain Hook is also in contention for Peter Pan’s funniest character, and is among the many great villains in Disney History. A wonderful performance by Hans Conried brings so much humor to the character, and it is a voice that will stick with you for a long time. But what makes Hook a great villain, like many of the great Disney villains, is that even through his humor he is a credible threat. Sure, he has his silly moments and his hilarious quirks (Never Smile at a Crocodile comes to mind), but through all that, the film presents Hook as a thoughtful, though arrogant, thinker who can really get a good idea and run with it. This always gives him somewhat of an aura even when Peter Pan is at his best. He is also able to convince Tinker Bell to give him the location of Peter, which showcases his talents. Hook easily makes it into the memorable book.

Alongside Captain Hook is his bumbling partner Mr. Smee. Mr. Smee and Hook have such a wonderful dynamic and comedy duo form to them. Hook and Smee have some of the film’s funniest sequences, and were just two personalities meant to be together. The scene in the caves is a particularly strong sequence mainly because of the triple dynamic of Smee, Hook, and Peter, all playing against and with each other.

And as good as the Smee/Hook and the Peter/Wendy dynamics are, the Peter/Hook dynamic is the film’s show stealing one. Peter Pan has some great action throughout, and most of this comes from the interactions between Hook and Peter. Everytime the two face off, so much fun is to be had. This is especially true in their final battle, which is arguably one of the film’s most memorable moments. The way Peter taunts and plays with Hook is absolutely fantastic, and adds a lot to the film’s humorous tones.

Moving on from character, he film’s biggest successes plot wise are in the first and third acts. The introduction of the film and the journey to Neverland, as mentioned above, are some of the film’s strongest moments. Moments that are just as strong come closer to the end of the film, for the Final Battle between Hook and Peter and the return to London for the Darling Children. Both of these sections of the film are full of great humor, dialogue, and action.

Finally, the soundtrack. For the most part, The soundtrack is great. Again, not one of the strongest in Disney History, but there are no bad songs. The two truly memorable songs are “Second Star to the Right” and “You Can Fly.” The real musical highlight, though, is the score. This is the first time I’ve mentioned Oliver Wallace on this blog, but be sure I’ll mention him again in the future. The score is full of fantastic variations on the melodies of the songs, and are absolutely wonderful to listen to.

WEAKNESSES

 

Much like Lady and the Tramp, Peter Pan only has a few minor glitches, but as we approach films with practically no glitches, these glitches really determine the ranking.

I’ll start the weaknesses section by talking about the elephant in the room when it comes to Peter Pan. It really is hard to discuss the portrayal of Indians in this film considering that it is politically incorrect by today’s standards. Even when trying to ignore that, however, it is very easy to see that The Indians are the weakest part of the film. They really contribute no humor, their song is the film’s weakest by far, and the only one that feels of any importance is Tiger Lilly, who really just feels like she is there only to create the wonderful scene between Hook, Smee, and Peter. Sure the Indian Celebration does advance Wendy’s growth toward Adulthood, but not only was this already made clear by the Mermaid scene and would be made clear again later in the film, but there are better ways to advance it than this unfunny sequence.

Overall, I feel that Neverland is a bit underused. Obviously, they are working with the source material, but I felt that for as strong as the characters are, the world around them sort of fails in comparison. Again, it’s still a good world, but certain aspects of the world, especially the Pirates, could have been used more and been more explored. This could have added even more to the stories of Hook, Peter, and Wendy.

And for all the great characters, there are some that could be seen more. The Lost Boys are among them. I wish we could have seen a bit more with them and Wendy, and really building up Wendy’s feelings of motherhood. It’s well done as it is, but I still feel there is too little interaction between the characters. The most we get of the Lost Boys is their interactions with the Indians, which of course is the weakest part of the film. Their best section is the final battle with the pirates, but that comes much too late in the film. The same could be said about John and Michael, though the opening of the film allows for much more fun for their characters.

BEST MOMENT AND SONG

The Film’s Best Song is “You Can Fly.” It’s the film’s most classic sequence, and has great visuals of London and the flying children. There’s a reason it was a major inspiration for the Peter Pan’s Flight attraction at various Disney Parks around the world.

There are so many great sequences in Peter Pan, but I feel the cave sequence is the absolute best of the group. It shows the film’s great use of character as well as it’s humor and action. Overall a classic sequence.

CLOSING COMMENTS

Peter Pan has a huge multitude of strong characters that propel the film into the Top 20. Wendy, Peter, Tinker Bell, and Hook are all extremely fun to watch both individually, and alongside each other, and these character lead the film towards some great humor. However, the film suffers a bit from some unfunny sections in Neverland that ultimately place the film at 18.

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One thought on “Ranking the Disney Canon – 18: Peter Pan

  1. Peter Pan is that remarkably fun movie that makes us appreciate feeling like a child, while at the same time gives us an understanding of why we do need to grow up from time to time. As children, we often see our world as ‘black-and-white’ and for most of us we feel life is nonstop fun and games. But as we grow order and slowly dive into the reality of the world around us, we understand why it’s necessary to grow into the individuals set to lead the world eventually and why wisdom plays a key role in our development. Of the film’s best qualities, the film’s characters are fun to watch especially back when Tinker Bell was not the fairy we’d see in later films starring her (They even give her a voice actress, which I feel may have had mixed reactions from fans who enjoyed the original film and those the ‘Tinker Bell’ movies target the most). While I do feel the portrayal of the Indians is very dated and understandably racist (Even for it’s time), everything else about the movie is enjoyable to watch and is a great film to show to kids in elementary school.

    It may not be like the original stage adaptation or some of the books, but this movie is all that ‘Peter Pan’ truly stands for: Fun childhood memories.

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