Arguably the worst of the Disney features up until that point, part of the general trend of decreasing returns since the pre-War Golden Age of Animation. Disney’s Peter Pan opens with a deservedy ‘magical’ touch Walt was known for but gradually devolves intp a looney toon-style comedy and rather shameful stereotypical depictions of First Nation peoples.
Peter Pan (1953) dir. Clyde Geronimi, Wilfrid Jackson, Hamilton Luske
Voices by: Bobby Driscoll, Kathryn Beaumont, Hans Conreid, Paul Collins
By Alan Bacchus
The opening of Peter Pan, the first act in London wherein the Darling family is getting ready for bed, and Wendy, the spry and subtly libidinous teenage gal waits for the return of Peter Pan to her flat. She, of course, after their last meeting kept his shadow knowing that he would return for it. In between the lines we might be able to gather an adolescent sexual attraction to Pan, but from children’s eyes Pan exudes the confidence and swagger of a classic swashbuckling hero. Who wouldn’t want to hang around with him?
Pan does return to Wendy’s flat and with a little sprinkle of Tinker Bell’s pixie dust, she and her two brothers Michael and John are able to fly into the night sky to Pan’s home Neverland. This sequence, the foursome flying over London, and over Big Ben set to the swooning chorus song “You Can Fly” has the old Disney touch, and is as good as anything in the pre-War glory days.
Unfortunately there’s little in the Neverland world to delight us in the same way. Once in Neverland we see Captain Hook and his band of pirates hell bent on besting his nemesis Pan. His plan comes in the form of kidnapping Tinkerbell, who gets banished by Pan after she attempts to kill Wendy. This becomes the most interest element of this picture. Tinkerbell, the cutsy guardian angel of Pan’s plotting against Wendy in a rage of sexual jealousy.
We can’t help but feel the sexual energy of the picture. Both Wendy and Pan on the cusp of adolscence speak to J.M. Barrie’s themes of childhood and the loss of innocence. Even the animation of Tinkerbell is meant to sexually tease the adult viewers. Her suggestive mini skirt is drawn with the kind of fetishness lampooned by the Jessica Rabbit character in Robert Zemeckis’s Who Framed Roger Rabbit. At one point we see Pan luxoriously relaxing with a group of scantily-cald mermaids, their shapely bodies barely covered up by seashells and long hair.
The narrative, as usual with early Disney is sparse, meant to keeping the attention of its child audience in the moment. Thus there’s a lack of sophistication in story we’d see in modern animation. While films like Dumbo and Bambi made for this with superlative and expressive choreographed animated sequences, Pan lacks this verve. Hooks interactions with the crocodile which stalks him is Looney Toons slapstick stuff.
But the film takes his deepest dive in the depiction of the “Injuns” which co-habitate the Neverland island. Stoic unemotive voices, peace pipes, feathered headdresses and other shameful stereotypes are downright embarassing. At one point Wendy even refers to them as ‘savages.’
Thankfully, like most of the early Disney movie, running time is only 77mins.
Peter Pan will be available on Blu-Ray from Walt Disney Home Entertainment on February 5