Peter Pan Does Not Fly
Disney+ released on its platform a new movie Peter Pan and Wendy a new version of the timeless tale of the boy who wouldn’t grow up. (light spoilers follow)
Peter Pan opened originally as a stage play in 1904. It quickly became a great success catapulting the author, J.M. Barrie to even greater popularity as a playwright. Barrie was the foremost playwright of his day and though most of his plays are long forgotten Peter Pan remains.
Some interesting facts about the original production of Peter Pan. First, on stage Peter was always played by a woman, usually one of diminutive size. It was felt that a child couldn’t do what Peter needed to do, so a woman was cast in the role and this has stayed true, for the most part, to this day. Another casting decision tradition tries to keep alive is that Mr. Darling, the father, and Captain Hook were always played by the same man.
One fun fact about Peter Pan is that in the original production, Peter taught the children to fly by simply thinking happy thoughts. This became problematic as children would go home from the play, think happy thoughts, and leap out the window, causing a few broken bones. When Barrie got wind of this, he added fairy dust to the flight equation and the accidents ceased.
I remember a similar incident when my friends and I first saw Mary Poppins. We thought the umbrella was how she flew so we jumped off the porch steps holding an open umbrella hoping to find ourselves in the clouds, but we ended up in the dirt.
Peter Pan has had three official films that are specifically based on Barrie’s original play. The first was the Disney animated film which premiered in 1953. This film was really Peter Pan light. Disney took away the truly scary parts and let Captain Hook live in the end. Being an animated film, this was the first time a boy played Peter Pan. Bobby Driscoll, a great favorite of Walt Disney at the time, voiced the character. Captain Hook and Mr. Darling were both voiced by the great character actor Hans Conried. The second film version was produced in 2003, which stayed truer to Barrie’s original work. This was a live-action film and Peter was played by a real boy only one probably a bit older than what Barrie had in mind, Still it was a great cast and all the traditions of a Peter Pan production were held.
70 years after Disney made their first Peter Pan film, they released a second, They should have left well enough alone.
When the film was first announced, the producers claimed it would be true to the original work; closer to the release they claimed it was based on the original work and the animated version. The truth of it is they took the whole story and totally messed it up. It reflects neither the original play nor the animated film.
I was very disappointed with Peter Pan and Wendy. First Wendy should be about 10 years old in this film she looks like she’s 19. Peter is about the right age, but the questions posed by this movie are not the same as Barrie’s play or his subsequent novel. The movie seemed less about growing up and the painfulness of that process and more about a few kids off having an adventure.
The flying sequence was a big disappointment. The 2003 film version had a wonderful flying sequence that was breathtaking. The new film was lackluster and boring. You’d think in 20 years Disney could have done something spectacular. It was nice to hear an orchestral version of You Can Fly from the animated motion picture, but it was far from a good flying sequence.
Another thing is the use of music. In most of the other Disney live-action remakes the songs were kept in. In this they were ignored. Not all the songs are appropriate anymore but three, The Second Star to the Right, You Can Fly and Following the Leader could all have been used. The last one would have needed some slight lyric changes.
The next problem are the Lost Boys. Some of them were girls. This is one time that girl inclusion doesn’t work and is not helpful to girls. In the original story, Peter explains that the Lost Boys are boys that fall out of their strollers. If no one comes to claim them they are sent to Neverland. When asked by Wendy why there are not any girls Peter replies that “Girls are too smart to fall out of their strollers”. It complimented girls that there were none in Neverland and gave a strong reason why Wendy was needed there.
Neverland itself was just an ugly island. Neverland should be bright colors and exotic. This Neverland was drab. I don’t know where they filmed but it would have been better if they had filmed on a set instead of on a real island. It didn’t work. This is a fantasy and should look like one.
I read an interview with the director of the movie saying that in the early part of the 20th Century, they knew very little about a child’s psychological make-up and he wanted his movie to be more in tune about what we know of Children now. He was way off in that statement. Barrie wrote these stories based on the games he played with four boys whom he would become almost a father to. Barrie had a boys heart in many ways and loved children. His story, especially the novel written in 1911 can still fascinate a child and delight an adult. Isn’t that what good literature should do? Isn’t that what a good movie should do? Unfortunately, Peter Pan Wendy does not fascinate or delight.