Welcome to my weekly discussion of the animated films of the Walt Disney Studio. I’m proceeding mostly chronologically. The title comes from a quote from Walt, “I never called my work an ‘art’ It’s part of show business, the business of building entertainment.” (These articles will be published on both sites until further notice.)
Title: Peter Pan
Source materials : The play Peter Pan, or The Boy Who Wouldn’t Grow Up by J. M. Barrie.
Budget: $4 million
Box office: During its initial box office run, the film grossed $7 million in domestic rentals. The movie has earned a lifetime domestic gross of $87.4 million.
Background: In January 1939, Walt Disney obtained the animation rights to the play outbidding the Fleischer Studios, and intended it to follow Bambi. By early 1939, a storyreel had been completed, and by the following May, Disney had several animators in mind for the characters. Vladimir Tytla was considered for the pirates, Norman Ferguson for the dog, Nana, (who also animated Pluto), and Fred Moore for Tinker Bell. When the war started, the project was shelved. After the war, the project was revived along with Cinderella and Alice in Wonderland.
Plot: George and Mary Darling’s preparations to attend a party are disrupted by the antics of their boys, John and Michael, acting out a story about Peter Pan and the pirates, told to them by their older sister, Wendy. Their father, angrily declares that Wendy has gotten too old to continue staying in the nursery with them. That night, they are visited in the nursery by Peter Pan himself, who teaches them to fly with the help of his pixie friend, Tinker Bell, and takes them with him to the island of Never Land.
A ship of pirates is anchored off Never Land, commanded by Captain Hook with his sidekick, Mr. Smee. Hook boldly plots to take revenge upon Peter Pan for cutting off his hand, but trembles at the presence of a crocodile, which consumed Hook’s hand and is eager to taste the rest of him.
Tinker Bell, who is very jealous of Pan’s attention to Wendy, persuades the Lost Boys that Pan has ordered them to shoot down Wendy. Tinker Bell’s treachery is soon found out, and Peter banishes her. John and Michael set off with the Lost Boys to find the island’s Indians, who instead capture them, believing them to be the ones responsible for taking the chief’s daughter, Tiger Lily.
Meanwhile, Peter takes Wendy to see the mermaids. The mischievous mermaids delight in tormenting Wendy but flee in terror at the sight of Hook. Peter and Wendy see that Hook and Smee have captured Tiger Lily. Peter and Wendy free her, and Peter is honored by the tribe. Hook then plots to take advantage of Tinker Bell’s jealousy of Wendy, tricking her into revealing the location of Peter’s lair.
Wendy and her brothers eventually grow homesick and plan to return home. They invite Peter and the Lost Boys to return to London and be adopted by the Darling parents. The pirates lie in wait and capture the Lost Boys and the Darlings as they exit, leaving behind a time bomb to kill Peter. Tinker Bell learns of the plot just in time to snatch the bomb from Peter as it explodes.
Peter rescues Tinker Bell from the rubble and together they confront the pirates, releasing the children before they can walk the plank. Peter engages Hook in single combat as the children fight off the crew, and finally succeeds in humiliating the captain. Hook and his crew flee, with the crocodile in hot pursuit.
Peter gallantly commandeers the deserted ship, and assisted by Tinker Bell’s pixie dust, flies it to London with the children aboard. However, the Lost Boys decide to return to Never Land rather than be adopted in London. Mr. and Mrs. Darling return home from the party to find Wendy not in her bed, but sleeping at the open window. The parents look out the window and see what appears to be a pirate ship in the clouds.
Animation: As they did for Cinderella and Alice in Wonderland the story was filmed for the animators to use as a reference. For the live-action reference, Margaret Kerry said she had to hold out her arms and pretend to fly as Tinker Bell for all the scenes requiring it. Additionally, Kerry served as reference for one of the mermaids along with Connie Hilton and June Foray. At the same time, the studio was looking for an actor to portray Peter Pan, in which Kerry suggested her dancing teacher Roland Dupree for the part. Dupree was interviewed and eventually won the role, in which he provided reference for the flying and action sequences. Bobby Driscoll also served as the live-action reference model for Peter Pan, although it was mainly used for the close-up scenes. Hans Conreid completed the voice work over the course of a few days, and served as the live-action reference for two-and-a-half years.
While animating Peter Pan, Mikt Kahl claimed that the hardest thing to animate was a character floating in mid-air. The role of Captain Hook was assigned to Frank Thomas, and certain sequences were given to Wolfgang Reitherman who animated Hook’s over-the-top scenes including when he tries to escape Tick-Tock the crocodile. Ollie Johnston animated Mr. Smee.
“The Second Star to the Right,” “You Can Fly!” -“What Made the Red Man Red?” “Your Mother and Mine,” and “The Elegant Captain Hook,” were written by Sammy Cahn and Sammy Fain. “A Pirate’s Life” was written by Ed Penner and Oliver Wallace. Background Vocals were sung by The Mellomen.
Bobby Driscoll as Peter Pan. Driscoll gad already appeared in several Disney projects, including Song of the South and as Jim Hawkins in Treasure Island . After playing Peter Pan, Driscoll had a long career on television. The live-action model was by Roland Dupree.
Although, it was rumored that Tinker Bell was designed after Marilyn Monroe, Margaret Kerry was the live-action model for Tinker Bell. She was a dancer and also appeared in Clutch Cargo.
Kathryn Beaumont returns as Wendy Darling. She previously played Alice, and also performed as the live action model. Paul Collins and Tommy Luske as John and Michael Darling.
Hans Conried as George Darling and Captain Hook. As in the stage play, the same actor voiced both Captain Hook and George Darling. He also appeared as the live-action model. Conried appared in several television series and provided his voice to many animated programs. One of his last roles was Mr. Belasco in Barefoot in the Park.
Heather Angel as Mary Darling. In addition to playing Alice’s sister in Alice in Wonderland,she appeared in Lifeboat and Suspicion for Alfred Hitchcock, and appeared in the television series Peyton Place and Family Affair.
Disney stalwart Bill Thompson returns as Mr. Smee. He will later appear in Lady and the Tramp andSleeping Beauty. He was also the voice of Droopy and Mr. Slate.
The Lost Boys were voiced by Robert Ellis as Cubby, Jeffrey Silver as Nibs, Johnny McGovern as Twins, and Stuffy Singer as Slightly. June Foray, Connie Hilton, Margaret Kerry, and Karen Kester as the mermaids.
Critical Reception: Bosley Crowther of The New York Times criticized the film’s lack of faithfulness to the original play claiming it “has the story but not the spirit of Peter Pan as it was plainly conceived by its author and is usually played on the stage.” Variety described the film as a “feature cartoon of enchanting quality. The music score is fine, highlighting the constant buzz of action and comedy, but the songs are less impressive than usually encountered in such a Disney presentation.”
Peter Pan has been seen as racist in recent years due to the way Disney portrayed the Native Americans in the film. They are displayed as wild, savage, violent and speak in a stereotypical way. The characters often call them savages and at one point Captain Hook refers to them as “redskins”. Marc Davis, one of the supervising animators of the film, said in an interview years after the production that “I’m not sure we would have done the Indians if we were making this movie now. And if we had we wouldn’t do them the way we did back then.”
Legacy: Disney Fairies is a series of children’s books published by Random House, which features Tinker Bell and her friends. It also has a film series starting in 2008 with the self-titled film about Tinker Bell. Peter Pan was portrayed as a villain on Once Upon a Time . Although there are a lot of film versions of Peter Pan, not all of them are Disney. The animated Return to Never Land was released in 2002 as a sequel to this film. The television series Jake and the Never Land Pirates includes Hook and Smee as main characters, as well as being set in Never Land. Following the studio’s success of live-action adaptations of Disney cartoon films including Maleficent, Cinderella, The Jungle Book and Beauty and the Beast, Disney announced a similar movie that is in development: a live action Peter Pan movie with David Lowery directing and co-writing with Toby Halbrooks.
Peter Pan’s Flight is a popular ride found at Disneyland, Walt Disney World, Disneyland Paris and Tokyo Disneyland. Riders board a flying pirate ship and fly over scenes from the film. Peter Pan, Wendy, Captain Hook and Mr. Smee make appearances in the parades, as well as greetings throughout the theme parks.
My take: The “Indian” sequence is cringe-worthy, and quite frankly could be cut without affecting the film. That aside, the pirates are fun, Hook is both menacing and comical. Peter and Tink tend to be petulant, both of them pouting when they don’t get their way.
Next Week: Peggy Lee supplies the music for Lady and the Tramp