Peter Pan (1953)
Peter Pan (1953)

Genre: Fairy Tale Running Time: 1 hr. 17 min.

Release Date: February 5th, 1953 MPAA Rating: G

Director: Clyde Geronimi, Wilfred Jackson, Hamilton Luske Actors: Bobby Driscoll, Kathryn Beaumont, Hans Conried, Heather Angel, Bill Thompson, Tom Conway

 


 

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n Wendy’s (Kathryn Beaumont) last night in the nursery with her two younger brothers Michael and John, Peter Pan (Bobby Driscoll) makes a surprise visit, in search of his missing shadow. Eager to help the fantasy hero, the youthful trio decide to join Pan for an adventurous night in Never Land, where no one grows up. Accompanied by the mischievous sprite Tinker Bell, they embark on a tour of the magical realm, where they encounter mermaids, Indian braves, and the dreadful pirate Captain Hook (Hans Conried).

What makes Disney’s early animated features so breathtaking is a combination of specific elements that work to achieve a higher standard, with greater production values and top industry talents. This includes more attention to details, better special effects, catchy music, and exceptional character designs (which typically set archetypes for other studios to emulate). An undeniable visual masterpiece, the technical aspects of “Peter Pan” are absolutely first-rate. From the exquisite fashioning of Tinker Bell – based on Margaret Kerry, not Marilyn Monroe, and now the unofficial mascot of Disney – to the more realistic and likeable compositions of Peter and Wendy, to the exaggerated look of Captain Hook and sidekick Smee, the concept artists clearly spent considerable time crafting cute, curvy, caricatured, or witty configurations for their characters, which has become a staple of their productions. Until later years, when the treatments became more stylized (such as with “Hercules,” “Atlantis: The Lost Empire,” and “Lilo & Stitch”), the prodigious artwork raised the bar well above competitors’ rushed constructions.

With “Peter Pan,” preproduction began as early as the ‘30s, but was delayed all the way through World War II and into the late ‘40s before resources and financing could return to orchestrate a release for 1953. But this delay helped other components, such as the continually superlative music and songs (which are memorable here, but not quite of the caliber found in previous pictures), sounding more carefully composed with their resonating melodies and delightful lyrics, and the editing out of unnecessary subplots. Above all else, however, especially as seen with Disney’s earlier works, it’s the story and the storytelling that make “Peter Pan” such an unforgettable classic. Often considered the definitive adaptation of the J.M. Barrie fairy tale, this musical adventure is expertly paced, with outstanding dialogue, plenty of exciting action, and well-timed gags. One of the most riotous motifs in the film involves delving into the very hilarious subject of female jealousy – first with Tinker Bell, when Peter invites Wendy to Never Land, then with the mermaids when they meet Wendy, and lastly when Wendy sees Pan’s affectionate attitude toward Tiger Lily. These more adult situations give maturer audiences something to thoroughly enjoy, just as much as children will marvel at the tick-tocking crocodile as he fights for a tasty morsel of the shrieking Hook.

Over the years, the film has raised some controversy, but it’s a wonder that Native Americans don’t seem to have bigger problems with the stereotypical ways in which Indians are portrayed in Never Land. Even after countless polls and surveys have been conducted to determine that most African-Americans aren’t offended by “Song of the South,” it still remains locked away in the Disney vault, perhaps forever. Yet few people appear to question the comparably polemic and pigeonholed representations in “Peter Pan.” Nevertheless, it’s an adorable picture that documents an iconic approach toward childhood fantasies, classical traditional animation techniques, and the ability to tell a story like no one else.

– Mike Massie

  • 9/10