For millions of children and adults, Disney’s Peter Pan is THE Peter Pan, as well as a defining moment in Disney animation, giving the studio its logo mascot, Tinker Bell. While it’s neither the best retelling of J. M. Barrie’s nursery tale or nor the best Disney cartoon of the era, Peter Pan is, fortunately, a decent enough example of both.
Barrie’s whimsical inventions (a St. Bernard for a nursemaid; Peter Pan’s separable shadow) and most magical moments (the Jolly Roger taking flight) work well in an animated context.
The tunes are cheerful if not outstanding; “You Can Fly” is probably the most memorable of the bunch. Equally noteworthy thematically is “Your Mother and Mine,” resonating with Barrie’s theme that Neverland, while a magical place, is also a rather heartless place, for there are no mothers there. (Note how even the pirates, lurking outside the Lost Boys’ hideout waiting to capture them, are affected by Wendy’s ode to motherhood, and Smee weeps uncontrollably over his “Mother” tattoo.)
As MGM did with The Wizard of Oz, this retelling of Peter Pan shifts the story’s magic from the real world to the world of a child’s imagination. Now it is Wendy, not Mrs. Darling, who sees Peter and catches his shadow, and the children, instead of vanishing for days on end, are now found drowsing in the nursery, as if they dreamed the whole thing.
Real “Pan-atics” won’t want to miss the splendid 2000 musical stage version starring Cathy Rigby, and there’s also the magical 1924 silent version, the making of which Barrie himself had a hand in. Still and all, Disney’s take remains worthwhile on its own terms.
Copyright © 2000– Steven D. Greydanus. All rights reserved.