Peter Pan - He Can Fly
| Peter Pan is one of those stories that seems to resonate with every generation. While many misinterpret it to be about not growing up, it’s actually the opposite. This is not a story about a boy who doesn’t want to grow up. It’s actually a story about a young girl becoming a woman. This is Wendy’s coming of age story and that is probably what makes it so compelling again and again. Peter Pan is served very well by the folks at Disney and this film remains a high water mark for the company and for animation.
Disney created iconic versions of the characters. Captain Hook and Smee have never been rendered better. What the animators and Hans Conried achieve with Hook is spectacular. He is both menacing and foolish, a balance that is rarely effectively achieved but when it works makes for great movie villainy. There really is no other Tinkerbell (sorry Julia Roberts and Ludivine Sagnier). Pan himself is also perfectly drawn and a bit innovative too as it was the first time he was depicted by a male (small women had always played him in the theatre). Animation allowed much of this story to really come to life and be liberated from a stage.
That's really the key here. Only animation could do this story justice and only the best animators could make it as wonderful as it is here. The animation is incredibly beautiful, both in the almost trippy depiction of Neverland and the more classic approach to London. I remember feeling a rush of excitement when I first saw this film as a child and felt like I was flying over the city.
The story offers a great deal of excitement. Pan’s battles with Hook both in the cave and on the ship at the film’s climax are tremendous. Certainly, one of this film’s charms is how utterly entertaining it is. Peter Pan never feels stretched out as a lot of children’s stories do. The film makers hit the right balance as the film never feels rushed either. The story fills the time perfectly and leaves you needing little else.
This isn’t to say that the film doesn’t have its challenges. The most glaring is the depiction of the “red men.” When put into context, this depiction is actually quite progressive for the time period. This was the age of Cowboys and Indians movies and rarely were the Indians portrayed as anything more than savages. Disney sends this up a bit, showing the “aborigines” (as John calls them) as admirable, honest, and very capable even while the rest of the cast refers to them as savages. The irony is plain. However their characters are fairly caricaturish with the sole exception of Tiger Lilly who is quite pretty. Then there is the song What Makes the Red Man Red? While it turns out to be innocuous and actually quite sweet, it’s still quite backward in its view.
Still, the natives come off pretty good despite their portrayal. It would be a good place to have a discussion with your kids about how different cultures are portrayed in the media. I know that may be wishful thinking but I do believe that good parents have these kinds of conversations with their children, even their young ones.
The other theme that is a bit difficult is the way the film depicts women. Yes, I do believe that Peter Pan is the story of Wendy and her maturing. However, maybe in an attempt to desexualize the theme, this film’s version of maturing is for Wendy to become a mother. This may be a sign of the times. Later films have played up the sexual awakening of Wendy to a much higher degree. Still, despite this, Wendy remains a strong character who centres the whole piece and refuses to do what a “squaw” is supposed to do.
But then there are the other women in the film. The mermaids are jealous girls who fawn over Peter despite how clueless he is. Tinkerbell is extremely catty and self-absorbed. In the film’s defense, they do set up the whole Neverland world as being filled with characters who aren’t very realistic and it is Wendy who brings a sense of order to the chaos, but still, besides her, and maybe Tiger Lilly, women are either harpies or mothers and there is little in between.
Still, Peter Pan remains an inspiring classic. This DVD has some wonderful background for cinemaphiles including interviews with Walt himself about his experiences with the material, docs on the making of (both old and new ones) and lost material that is quite fascinating. There are also the obligatory games for the kids and a silly little music video of some teen pop band covering one of the songs but you can skip that stuff out. It’s too bad Disney has resorted to those kinds of cheap tricks to sell DVDs, especially when they got so much valuable stuff in the vault to make a DVD package truly worth while.
No self-respecting film fan’s DVD collection is complete without Peter Pan. Despite the films few flaws it’s still a brilliant work of art that remains truly enjoyable.