Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Disney's Peter Pan

Usually I just help my brother with information and pictures, but I love the story of Peter Pan so much, that I wanted to write this one for myself. Now, off to Neverland! In 1953 Walt Disney brought us the tale of the boy who never grew up, Peter Pan. Disney fell in love with this story at a very young age when he saw the play in 1913. Many may not know this but Peter Pan’s story first came about in a 1902 novel by J.M. Barrie called “The Little White Bird." Peter was only mentioned in a section of the book, but this little section whirl-winded into more adaptations.

But let me back track a little and tell you where Barrie’s inspiration came from. If you have seen Finding Neverland with Johnny Depp, you know the gist of it, but of course movies do not always tell you the full truth. When James Barrie was little his older brother David died in a ice skating accident at the age of thirteen , leaving James saddened, but his mother a complete mess. Barrie at times would try to comfort his mother by wearing some of his brother’s clothing making her think that her son David was still alive and would always remain a boy. I can’t imagine how hard this was on James himself , in a way always haunting him, but he would later turn it into something more, channeling his emotions into a fairytale land.

When Barrie got older and starting writing he met the Davies family. Little did he know that they would soon become his great muses. The most influential was the Davies’s five sons, George, Jack, Peter, Michael, and Nicholas. Now in the movie Finding Neverland, Barrie met all four boys ranging in ages I would guess 10-4, but in real life Peter was just a baby when Barrie invented Peter Pan to entertain George and Jack. Barrie would say, amusing himself and the kids, that Peter could fly. Barrie told them babies were birds before they were born; parents put bars on nursery windows to keep the little ones from flying away. This grew into a tale of a baby who did fly away, not realizing that he was no longer a bird. From this, Peter Pan was born.

Also being a playwright, Barrie took this character of Peter Pan and on December 27, 1904 debuted the play, “Peter Pan, or The Boy Who Wouldn’t Grow Up”. The play became such a hit that Barrie's publishers, Hodder and Stoughton, extracted chapters 13–18 of "The Little White Bird" and republished them in 1906 under the title “Peter Pan in Kensington Gardens". Then in 1911 Barrie novelized the play and called it “Peter and Wendy”, which later would be change to simply, Peter Pan. A quick fun- fact James Barrie was supposedly the first to penned the name Wendy into literature. The source of the name was Barrie's childhood friend, Margaret Henley, 4-year- old daughter of poet William Ernest Henley, who pronounced the word "friend" as "Fweiendy",adapted by Barrie as "Wendy" in writing the play.And thus with James Barrie's creation came Walt Disney's own spin on it, giving the story his own magical touch.

Work for Peter Pan actually started back in 1940, after years of negotiating with Great Ormond Street Hospital ( a children’s hospital) in London for screen rights of the play, “Peter and Wendy." Barrie had bequeathed the rights to the play to the hospital. Peter Pan was perfect for animation because it was a fantasy and anything was possible. “The cartoon method gave us many advantages over the stage craft of barriers day which no amount of pixie dust could cure," Walt said of Peter Pan.

The earlier work of Peter Pan was quite different from the final version, Nana the dog follows the children on their adventure to Neverland and there were a few darker scenes with plenty of skeletons.Walt had plenty of time to think whether he wanted this version of the film because once again as you have read from past blogs, Disney’s work during this period was interrupted by war. Once the war was over, production continued with a few changes, including a different look for Peter and a little lighter tone. “The Nine Old Men”, the great animators of this time did have their difficulties with animating the film. Animator Milt Kahl had the challenge of creating the illusion of weightlessness of Peter. But what fun the animators must of had, drawing mischievous mermaids that lure you in with their beauty and then try to drown you, brave Indians like

Tiger Lilly, fierce Pirates like Captain Hook and his bumbling shipmate Smee, along with a crocodile that eyes bug out as the clock in his stomach tick tocks a warning he is craving Captain James Hooks other hand. But who could forget the lovable misfits of the Lost Boys, all dressed in different animal skinned pajamas and of course there are the three children who get the pleasure of exploring Neverland, Wendy, John, and Michael. And finally Tinker Bell, the envious fairy ( pixie) and the star of the show Peter Pan.

There are some major differences though between

Barrie's play and the Disney version. Instead of a stage light beam reflecting off of a mirror resembling Tinker Bell, an actually pixie was made. It was rumored that Tinker Bell was modeled after Marilyn Monroe, but at this time Monroe wasn’t a well-known sex symbol movie star, her career was just getting started. Instead the model for Tinker Bell was Margaret Kerry. Tinker Bell would become so popular that she was used later on as a symbol of ‘the magic of Disney’ flying over the Magic Kingdom.Some critics believe Tinker Bell was too provocative looking, but have they seen Jessica Rabbit? Major Whore! Anyway the number one difference between the play and animated film was Peter Pan was finally turned back into a boy. The play and the 1924 silent film both had females (stage-Nina Boucicault, film- Betty Bronsen )play Peter’s part. Some of you may know a somewhat more recent stage/ tv-movie version of Peter Pan being played by Mary Martin ( this is my favorite). One reason behind this was the difficulty of casting actors even younger than the one playing Peter as the other children. In animation this wasn’t even an issue, so Peter became a real boy ( modeled and voiced by Bobby Driscoll). There were a few plot changes too when it came to the film. In the play version, the Darling children are leaving Neverland along with the Lost Boys to return to London. Peter has decided to stay claiming he will never grow up to be a man and no one can make him. Before Wendy goes she tells Peter to make sure he takes his medicine. Peter agrees but falls asleep instead. While he is asleep Hook captures the children and sneaks into Peter's hide out to drop poison into his medicine. Peter wakes up and goes to drink his medicine when Tink comes to the rescue, seeing Hooks evil deed she drinks the poison before it can hit Peter's lips.

At first Peter is upset with Tink for drinking his medicine but then he sees her light fading and she chimes it was poison. To save Tinker Bell, Peter claps his hands and asks the audience to do the same, claiming she will live if the audience truly believes in fairies and claps their hands like crazy. Man that would really suck if no one clapped their hands- awkward for the actress playing Peter. Of course everyone claps and Tinker Bell lives! I know I clapped, thank you very much. In Disney's movie though Peter receives a present from Wendy instead of medicine, but little does Peter know its a bomb that Hook has disguised as a gift. Tink still saves the day, but there is no clapping needed. Also as I told you the Lost Boys are joining Wendy and her brothers in the return to London in hopes that they will all be adopted, in the play the Darling family adopts all the Lost Boys, while in the movie they decide to stay Lost Boys forever with Peter. One thing that Disney kept similar to the play was the using of the same actor to play Mr. Darling and Captain Hook ( in this case it was just the voice).

There was a little controversy with the film, mainly the way Disney portrayed the Indians of Neverland. In the song "What Made the Red Man Red?" it has racist stereotypes of Native Americans, most glaringly in the name of the song. The lyrics and actions in sequence suggest that Indian men maintain a permanent blush due to their constant pursuit of Indian women, and that asking "How?" is a major catalyst for Indian education.

One thing that I absolutely loved about this film is in the beginning. The narrator tells the viewing audience, the action about to take place "has happened before, and will all happen again. After watching the whole film I couldn't help but think of what the narrator had said. Maybe I could be visited by Peter Pan someday. This thought was always one of my fondest memories of being a kid, imagining that I could fly. All I needed was to think happy thoughts and a little bit of pixie dust and away I go following the second star to the right then to Neverland where I could have my own adventures with Peter Pan and the rest of the gang. I just love the idea of keeping youthful spirit, I believe everyone should stay a child at heart. So I guess you can say I will always have Peter Pan Syndrome.


  1. Beautifully written, especially the last phrase.. I can agree with on such a hearty level.


    An avid Peter Pan fan since birth practically.

  2. I seem to remember hearing that Disney changed Tinker Bell from a Fairy, as in the book and play, to Pixie because at the time Fairy was used as a euphemism for Homosexuals. I have looked for a source to verify this but have not found one yet. Any information on this?

    1. I've looked around too but haven't found anything that explicitly says that's why they changed her characterization from a Fairy to a Pixie. It is however completely possible that it was changed for that reason.