51 Days of Disney (Day 14): Peter Pan

This movie, like Alice in Wonderland, was a long time coming. The Disney Studios bought the rights to adapt the play for the screen from the Great Ormond Street Hospital in 1939 after four years of asking and intended to make the film to follow Bambi, but obviously a little thing called World War II stopped that from happening. Peter Pan follows the story of the boy who never grew up. The Darling children, Wendy, John, and Michael follow Peter to Neverland and encounter Mermaids, Indians, and Peter’s nemesis, Captain Hook, who is terrified of the crocodile who ate his hand.

The film actually keeps a number of the conventions set by the play, such as the same actor (in this case it was Hans Conreid) playing both Mr. Darling and Captain Hook. This adaptation did a number of new things with the property, such as the casting of a boy as Peter Pan (traditionally, Peter is played by a young woman) and making Tinker Bell have an appearance besides being nothing more than a light. She actually became a character that can emote and visibly effect what is going on.

This film is also the host of a few lasts for the company. Peter Pan is the last animated Disney film that was released by RKO before the Disney Studios opened up the Buena Vista Distribution arm of the company. It is also the last Disney film to have animation by all of Disney’s Nine Old Men. For those of you not in the know, the Nine Old Men were Walt’s core animators, and later animation directors, and animated some of the most stunning scenes in the Disney animated films. The Nine Old Men consisted of Les Clark (who specialized in animated Mickey Mouse), Marc Davis (Bambi, Thumper, Maleficent and Diablo, Cruella De Vil, and Tinker Bell), Ollie Johnston (the Evil Stepsisters, Mr. Smee, and Prince John), Milt Kahl (Shere Kahn, Edgar the Butler, Sheriff of Nottingham, and Madame Medusa), Ward Kimball (Lucifer, Jaq, Gus, the Mad Hatter, and the Cheshire Cat), Eric Larson (Peg from Lady and the Tramp, the Vultures from the Jungle Book, Brer Rabbit, Brer Fox, and Brer Bear, but he was mostly known for training new animators), John Lounsbery (Ben Ali Gator, George Darling, Tony, Joe, and some of the dogs from Lady and the Tramp, the Kings from Sleeping Beauty, and the Elephants from the Jungle Book), Wolfgang Reitherman (Monstro, the Crocodile, and Maleficent’s Dragon form, he also directed the shorts “the Band Concert” and “Music Land,” and scenes like the Dinosaur fight in the Rite of Spring and the Headless Horseman chase), and Frank Thomas (Lady Tremaine, the Queen of Hearts, Captain Hook).

There is one aspect of Peter Pan I never understood, namely the intense love of Tinker Bell. There are a large number of obsessed fans of Tinker Bell, and I can’t fathom why. She’s obscenely bitchy in the movie, so it seems weird to me that people love her so much, but maybe they just like the character design. Marc Davis’ animation for her is fantastic, but her character is just so unlikeable. The most recent Tinker Bell movies are trying to soften her image, which is probably a good thing and despite the fact that they are straight to video movies, what I have seen of the first one is pretty decent.

Peter Pan is one of my favourite Disney films (which is a trend that will persist throughout the 50’s) mostly because of the highly adventurous nature of the story. The film is a swashbuckling, action packed romp with a good sense of humour (the shaving scene and really anything else concerning Smee is comedy gold).


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