After the disappointing box-office failure and critical drubbing of ALICE IN WONDERLAND, Disney turned to another property he had long wished to film - PETER PAN, based on author J. M. Barrie's stage play about a boy who refuses to grow up. Although some fans of the original material abhor the film, PETER PAN would go on to become one of the most beloved Disney movies of all time. It's essentially an adventure story, as the magical Peter and his new London friends Wendy, Michael and John to Neverland, where they encounter the notorious pirate Captain Hook.
PETER PAN lacks the heart of earlier Disney films but succeeds as a fun adventure with some great slapstick interludes. It's the villains that give PETER PAN much of its fun quotient. The scenes of Captain Hook battling to stay out of the jaws of the alligator that ate his hand years ago have the energy and wild gag sense of a Tom and Jerry cartoon. First mate Mr. Smee (voiced by Bill Thompson, using his Droopy Dog voice) is one of the better comic sidekicks in Disney films and Captain Hook himself, played by Hans Conreid, is the best character in the film and the most fun to watch. Conreid's distinctive voice is perfect for the role, and the character design and animation of Hook himself make him a superior Disney villain.
However, the characters on the side of the good and the nice suffer from underdevelopment. We never get to learn anything about Peter himself, and the reason for his very existence remains a cypher throughout the film. Wendy is an admirable heroine, bravely walking the plank rather than giving in to Hook's demands, but her two brothers, plus the "lost boys", must compete for screen time and thus never really get established as memorable characters, although the younger brother has some cute moments. Wendy's father and Nana the dog, two of the best characters in design, animation and personality, only appear in the opening and closing scenes.
Although it remains a brisk, entertaining film, PETER PAN has dated. All the Indians in Neverland are depicted as ugly, except for Princess Tiger Lily, who is, of course, the epitome of cuteness. These caricatures even get their own production number, "What Makes the Red Man Red?", in which they answer such probing questions as "when did the Red Man first say 'ugh'?". In general, females are not portrayed in a good light either. The mermaids are all about the jealousy over Peter's friendship with Wendy, as is Tinkerbell, who is vain, spiteful and flighty. One of the most eye-popping moments in all of Disney is when Peter snatches Tinkerbell out of the air and smacks her on the butt several times to produce pixie dust, as casually as a man would smack a bottle of ketchup! The fifties, huh? ½ - JB
Return to Neverland (2002)