Peter Pan (1953)    2 Stars

“It will live in your heart forever!”

Peter Pan (1953)

Director: Clyde Geronomi et al.

Cast: Bobby Driscoll, Kathryn Beaumont, Hans Conried

Synopsis: Wendy and her brothers are whisked away to the magical world of Neverland with the hero of their stories, Peter Pan.

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There’s something tragic about the story of Peter Pan, the boy who never grew up but sees those around him, including the Lost Boys, mature and depart. The figure of Pan is reputed to be based on two models, author J. M. Barrie’s brother, who died at the age of 13 and was therefore ever remembered as a boy, and Peter Llewelyn Davis, one of five brothers who were the first audience for the play on which the subsequent novels and films were placed. Before committing suicide by throwing himself in front of a train on the London underground, Davis once referred to Barrie’s play as ‘that terrible masterpiece.’ Coupled with this back-story to the writing of the play is the psychosexual subtext inherent in the tale of a person who refuses to grow, and who brushes aside the attentions of two females — Wendy and Tinker Bell — who clearly hold romantic feelings towards him. It hardly seems suitable material for a Disney movie — Uncle Walt himself didn’t like the movie, feeling the character of Pan was cold and unlikable.

The story sees the children of the Darling household receiving a visit from Peter Pan on the very evening that their father has decided that it will be the final evening that Wendy, their eldest child, will spend in the nursery with younger brothers, John and Michael. Pan’s in search of his shadow, which Wendy has somehow found, and after she sews the wayward shadow back onto his feet, he ultimately agrees to transport all three Darling children to Neverland, a magical island on which his gang of Lost Boys wage a war against the villainous Captain Hook and his crew of pirates. Hook has waged a vendetta against Pan ever since the boy cut off his hand in a swordfight and fed it to a crocodile whom, having developed a taste for Hook meat, follows the captain around in the hope of sampling some more.

Of course, kids won’t pick up on any subtexts (Hook’s lost hand and the ingested ticking clock that announces the arrival of that crocodile opens a whole new subtext to explore), and will probably enjoy the antics of the Lost Boys and Captain Hook all the more because of it. But the idea of a boy who never grows is ultimately a melancholic one which casts a shadow over the usual high standards of Disney’s ‘Nine Old Men’ team of animators, for whom this would prove to be a final collaboration.

(Reviewed 30th November 2013)