Future Retroism: Think a Happy Thought for Peter Pan
It’s hard to pin down exactly what makes Peter Pan such a widely beloved character. Perhaps it is the childlike wonder and whimsical nature of Neverland. Maybe it’s the darker tones that the story tends to take. It could be that it’s just the survival of the story itself.
The tale has been told in hundreds of different forms, from television and film to countless storybook and stage productions. With the release of a new Pan movie just on the horizon, many see themselves following the second star on the right and returning to the version that dazzled audiences in 1953, Walt Disney’s fourteenth animated feature film, “Peter Pan.”
The story opens with the Darling family in London. The Darling’s are comprised of Mr. and Mrs. Darling and their children Michael, John and Wendy and their beloved dog, Nana. Mr. and Mrs. Darling are about to head out for the night and they begin to set the children down to sleep. Once the adults are gone, that’s when Peter sneaks into the children’s room in an attempt to reattach his shadow that he had lost.
Wendy, alerted by the strange presence in the bedroom, offers to help Peter sew it back on. Tinkerbell, a fairy companion to Peter, feels that they are getting too friendly and she makes plans to deal with Wendy once and for all. After his shadow is reattached, Peter insists that they fly with him to Neverland, and claims they can fly if they only think happy thoughts. They soar off into the night sky, following the second star on the right, straight on until morning.
Upon arriving in Neverland, they are immediately assaulted by pirates and Wendy is attacked by Peter’s Lost Boys under instruction of Tinkerbell. Peter banishes Tinkerbell forever, or maybe just a week. John and Michael set off on adventure with the Lost Boys while Peter and Wendy try to find excitement on their own.
Meanwhile, the nefarious Captain Hook is plotting his next move. Hook hears that Pan has banished Tinkerbell and swiftly begins coercing her into revealing the location of Peter and the Lost Boys’ hideout. Hook becomes privy to the information, and after imprisoning Tinkerbell, he and his crew kidnap the Lost Boys and the Darling children, and plant a bomb inside the Lost Boy’s hideout.
Peter survives the blast and with the newly escaped Tinkerbell at his side he sets out to save the kidnapped children in a swashbuckling climax that would make Errol Flynn proud. In the end, everyone gets their happy ending and Peter returns the Darling children home to London.
This film is definitely darker than most Disney films of era. It didn’t gloss over the fact that Hook’s severed hand was caused by Pan himself. Walt Disney said that he felt Pan was too dark and uncaring a character and would be unlikeable by most viewing audiences.
Will it live on forever like the version that captured hearts and minds 62 years ago, or will it be as short lived as the 2003 version? Only time will tell.