Disney's Peter Pan

 Disney’s animated film ”Peter Pan” from 1953 is one of the most famous adaptions of Barrie’s story. Directed by Hamilton Luske, Clyde Geronimo and Wilfred Jackson and lasting a mere 77 minutes, it tells the story of the Darling children’s journey to Neverland and back.

 I think it must have been in 1965 when I was only 3 years old that I saw the film for the first time in a cinema in Denmark where I was born and raised. Barrie’s play and books about Peter Pan were totally unknown in Denmark back then and I think most Danes believed that Disney had thought up the Peter Pan story himself! In any case, I’m glad that this way I came to watch the film before I read the books and saw the play as otherwise I would have been awfully disappointed. Now I fell in love with Disney’s film straight away, so much so that about 25 years later I wrote my Ph.D. thesis in Peter Pan. By then I knew, though, how much better Barrie’s original stories were!

 Sir J. M. Barrie wrote his story about Peter Pan five times, one of them being a scenario for a silent film. When Disney made his animated film, he didn’t use Barrie's own film scenario, though, but had a new script written by Ted Sears and Bill Winston Hibler among others and they made several changes to the story. For one the lost boys are pretty hard to tell apart in the film, but on the other hand Smee is much more important than in Barrie's versions. Furthermore Hook and Tinker Bell work together in Disney’s film and the relationship between Peter and Wendy is of a romantic nature. This never happened in the original story where Tinker Bell is loyal to Peter and where Peter is a child of death, so he doesn’t know what love or feelings are.

 More importantly Disney’s film is “guilty” of two grave mistakes that have haunted most Peter Pan adaptions ever since. Firstly Disney states that “the second to the right” in Peter Pan’s address is a planet on which Peter lives and not – as in Barrie’s original story – just a star that you need to navigate by when flying to Neverland, which is actually an island near Hawaii! Secondly Disney puts the hook on Hook’s left hand, which of course is wrong as he has the hook on his right hand, making the loss even bigger for a right-handed person.

 I like that we get a glimpse of the dangerous Peter at the beginning of the film, though. He looks quite demonic on the roof of the Darling home, indicating that he is indeed a killer, although we don’t get to see much of his dark sides in the rest of the film, which is rather harmless compared to the original story. Although it is close to the original when it comes to sentimentality and whimsicality, it lacks most of its irony, sensuality and darkness.

 To underline this, in Disney’s version the kids are only gone for 3 hours, whereas in Barrie’s works they are gone for months. Furthermore Hook has been transformed into a pathetic and ridiculous villain and is no longer the sinister and haunted Eton man, who has been doomed since Peter cut his hand off and fed it to the crocodile. He was a gentleman turned into a villain by Peter and in Barrie’s original story Wendy is actually fascinated by Hook, which she isn’t in Disney’s film.

 The death and resurrection of Tinker Bell had been problematic in Barrie’s play and even more so in his novel, but Disney avoids it all together by replacing the poison with a bomb. As Tinker Bell can’t swallow a bomb, she doesn’t die and have to be brought back to life again!

 Finally the boys go back to Neverland in the film instead of staying in London, which of course means that Peter won’t be lonely like he is in Barrie’s universe. I don’t understand the animal costumes of Disney’s lost boys, though, or why they don’t have any names in the film like they had in Barrie’s story.

 The voices of the two main character, Peter Pan and Captain Hook, are American as Bobby Driscoll was Peter and Hans Conreid lent his voice to the double role Hook/Mr. Darling, so the film has a certain American feel to it, which isn’t quite becoming as the characters are supposed to be British. That Conreid mistakenly tries to get Hook to speak Scottish and that Smee (Bill Thompson) has the same voice as the White Rabbit and Wendy (Kathryn Beaumont) the same as Alice in “Alice in Wonderland” only make things even more confusing!

 No matter what I still like Disney’s “Peter Pan” as it was the spark that lit my lifelong love for Barrie’s stories. I’ll therefore give the film 3 out of 5 stars: ***

 © Lise Lyng Falkenberg, 1993