Disney Film History: Peter Pan

Walt Disney's Peter Pan

Walt Disney’s Peter Pan

I’ll be quite honest, I’ve been loving the last few posts! Cinderella is my father’s favorite Disney film and he will claim that to this day. Some of my favorite Disney films also came from the 1950s including my absolute favorite Disney film, Peter Pan. I’m all about pirates, lost boys, Indians, mermaids, and anything Neverland. I love the half way romance story between Peter and Wendy, the spunk of Tinker Bell, and the all around villainous nature of Captain Hook. I’ve not only enjoyed the Disney film, but the countless other film versions, the book, and the original play from J.M. Barrie. Not remarkably shocking, Walt Disney was also a big fan of J.M. Barrie’s story of a boy that never grows old and his adventures in a place called Neverland.

J.M Barrie’s play was first presented in 1904, just three years after Walt Disney’s birth, and in 1913, Walt saw this story on stage. He immediately fell in love with it as a young boy. As the film studio was looking into making more full length animated films, Walt had suggested that Peter Pan be the second Walt Disney film, after Snow White was such a success. It was put into the lineup after rights had been purchased from London’s Great Ormond Street Hospital, the Children’s hospital for which Barrie had left the rights to his greatest work. The film was pushed back a bit due to film adaptation and story planning. Several things about Barrie’s story needed to be changed in order for the story to work in animation, especially at a family friendly level. (If you’ve ever read Barrie’s version, it isn’t exactly happy-go-lucky.) It was slated to be Disney’s fourth film, but even as the story became solid, World War II came into play and like many of the other films we’ve talked about, Peter Pan was put on hold.

Peter and Wendy is still a better romance story than Twilight!

Peter and Wendy is still a better romance story than Twilight!

After WWII ended, Walt picked up the film again and the story once again had become lighter. Originally Nana, the Darling’s dog, was to come to the island and there were much darker scenes in the film inlcuding Tinker Bell betraying Pan and telling Hook where his hideout is instead of Hook forcing Tink to tell him. Speaking of Tinker Bell, Barrie’s play originally never had a pixie on stage. The use of a spotlight moving across stage was how the famous pixie was represented. Walt turned to one of his Nine Old Men, legendary animator Marc Davis who designed the character after the actress playing her voice, Magaret Kerry. (Many have rumored that Tink is modeled after Marilyn Monroe but Monroe had yet to become a star in Hollywood.) Tinker Bell has now become one of the magical symbols of Disney and has been prolific in most of the marketing that the Disney company uses. Another interesting note is that Bobby Driscoll voices Peter. Driscoll was the child star contracted to Disney and had made starring roles in Song of the South, So Dear to My Heart, and had played a boy who made enemies with pirates in Treasure Island. His brush with pirates in Peter Pan would become his most succesful role, but not his last for the Disney company.

The film made it’s debut on February 5th, 1953 to the praise of critics and film fans everywhere. The film’s budget of $4 million was overshadowed by it’s success in it’s original film run, making $7 million and becoming the highest grossing film of the year. The film’s success in theaters was so good that Peter Pan has been re-released on six separate occasions with the film currently have made over $87 million. That doesn’t include the Disney Fairy films, the direct to video films based on Tinker Bell, as well as the toys that have been made of the film.

Beyond the critics praise at the time, Peter Pan has fallen into controversy in recent years. The representation of Native Americans isn’t what we would call “politically correct” in this day and age. Many of the artists who had worked on the film said in later interviews that had they made the film at a later time, the Natives would have been represented better, however during the time, not just Disney artists were animated red-skinned, “How”-saying Indians. Many of the animation studios, including Disney’s rival Warner Brothers, had made several shorts with stereotyped Native Americans. It’s something that can’t be taken out of the film as it serves a large plot point, but we have to take this animated stereotype with a grain of salt.

Stereotypes are awful but I still love Peter Pan.

Stereotypes are awful but I still love Peter Pan.

Peter and the rest of the characters from the film have made their mark on pop culture. Michael Jackson loved the film so much, he named his famous estate/amusement park, Neverland Ranch, after the island the film takes place on. Peter Pan’s Flight is one of the original attractions from Disneyland and has made it’s way into all of the Disney parks, still being one of the most popular in any park. Speaking of Disney Parks, Pixie Hollow is one of the newest spots dedicated to Tinker Bell and her friends in Disneyland, and Peter Pan continues to be one of the most sought after characters to met at the parks. The characters have also made appearances in video games, books, television series, Disney on Ice, and new films.

As it seems, Peter Pan isn’t just my favorite Disney film, but many others. It’s one of Disney’s most popular classics and will always inspire us, no matter what age, to stay young at heart. I mean, there’s nothing wrong with thinking happy thoughts and dreaming of a land where anything is possible.

What are your thoughts on Peter Pan? Is it one of your favorites of would you rather pass on it? Is Disney’s version the best or do you prefer another film adaptation? Have you seen Barrie’s original play? Leave your comments and let me know!

Josh Taylor
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Previous Film: The Story of Robin Hood and His Merrie Men
Next Film: The Sword and the Rose

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Posted on December 7, 2013, in Articles, The Whole Picture and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 5 Comments.

  1. When re-watching this for my Disney Canon-Forgotten/Minor Characters Project, this is the only film that I previously liked, but found quite boring after re-watching it 😦 not sure why.

  2. Peter Pan is always a favorite! I especially like the Peter Pan’s Flight ride in Walt Disney World. I go on it every trip! Although, I do have to agree with The Animation Commendation. As much as I love the whole plot, it does get a little boring after re-watching it.

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