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.
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!
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
© Lise Lyng Falkenberg, 1993