J.M. Barrie’s book and stage play “Peter Pan” are the works that first inspired Walt Disney to create stories for children. Disney saw it as a boy on the London stage, and he never forgot it.
Peter Pan is a magical boy who has visited generations of children in the real world. It has been adapted several times for the screen, but no version is more enduring than Disney’s Peter Pan from 1953. It is the classic that teaches children to have faith in their dreams, to treasure their childhood, and to believe in magic. The film has just been re-released on Blu-Ray and DVD.
In it Peter Pan visits the three children in the Darling family, Wendy, John, and Michael. Peter Pan is legendary in their household, and the children believe he’s real. He’s the main character in all their childhood stories, and their mother believes he is the spirit of youth.
When the prospect of Wendy leaving the nursery to move into her own room arises, Peter Pan panics because it would mean the end of the bedtime stories. Fearing the prospect of his friends growing up, Peter whisks Wendy and the boys off to his magical home in Neverland, where exciting escapades await them as well as some harrowing run-ins with the villainous pirate Captain Hook.
“Peter Pan” a product of its time
Disney perhaps had a bit of a dilemma on its hands when it came to re-releasing this film in 2013. The movie was originally released in the early 1950s, and was based upon material created in Victorian England. It reflects many of the views commonly held at the time, including stereotypes now considered racist and sexist. Since the 1950s there’s been a massive culture shift: the feminist movement, the civil rights era, and a much kinder view of Native Americans (thanks in part to movies like “Dances with Wolves”).
Yet to recut “Peter Pan” to present a more politically correct version would have left Disney with nothing, because the stereotypes and sexist views are sprinkled throughout the movie. In the end, Disney wisely chose not to deprive a new generation of movie goers of an enduring classic. Disney has taken a step back and presented the film in its original version, allowing parents to choose how to discuss with their kids any issues that might arise.
On initial viewing the sexist stereotypes might be a little shocking to an audience so used to empowered female protagonists and the generation of intelligent and resourceful princesses starting with Belle of “Beauty and the Beast” in the early 1990s.
Yet considering the time period, Wendy is empowered. She’s sweet, responsible, and nurturing. As the eldest sibling, she is the articulate storyteller. She speaks her mind, though Peter Pan playfully criticizes her saying, “Girls talk too much.” (On a side note, Kathryn Beaumont is the voice of Wendy and also Alice in the animated “Alice in Wonderland.” She is now a school teacher.)
Unfortunately Peter Pan’s playful mocking of Wendy is only scratching the surface. “Peter Pan” portrays “jealous females” time and again. There is the problem of Tinker Bell and the mermaids carrying out plots to kill Wendy (!) Moms anxious to introduce their daughters to the movie where Tinker Bell made her debut will want to be forewarned. The mermaids in Neverland take “mean girls” to a new level with their attempt to drown Wendy. Peter insists it’s all in good fun, but parents may be left with their mouths hanging open. There is also the issue of negative self-image, however briefly, when Tinker Bell is displeased with her hip size when viewing her reflection in a mirror.
Fortunately, Tinker Bell has undergone a considerable transformation in the new millennium. The new series of Tinker Bell movies is outstanding, especially “Secret of the Wings.” She’s still fiercely independent and not afraid to break the rules occasionally, and the biggest difference is that she has a voice.
I had not seen Disney’s Peter Pan since my own childhood and back then was not sensitive to the treatment of Native Americans in “Peter Pan,” which comes from a time when “Cowboys and Indians” was one of the most popular games for kids. Parents might cringe when they hear Native Americans called “Injuns,” “savages” and “red man” time and again.
Yet the Disney’s Peter Pan is such a classic that I would not recommend depriving children from the pleasure of seeing it. If the issues don’t arise now, they will in other viewings of films and TV shows from an earlier time when views on race and women were different. A thoughtful conversation with children after the film will help put it into context and provide some perspective.
Peter Pan: Stunning animation and music
The film’s hand-drawn animation, overseen by Walt Disney himself, is glorious, especially on the new Blu-ray Diamond edition. The movie has been beautifully restored and it’s wonderful to see that this children’s classic animated tale has been preserved (many other films from the time period are not so lucky).
Walt Disney himself would be delighted to see a new generation of movie goers enjoying the film, and children will love its oddball sense of humor, outlandish characters, and the delightful notion that children can fly if they think happy thoughts and get just a sprinkling of pixie dust.
The beautiful restoration of the sound is nowhere more apparent than in the songs, such wonderful classics as “You Can Fly” and “Your Mother and Mine.” These songs are one of the best reasons to watch the movie with your children, because they are bound to put smiles on the faces of young and old alike and bring back wonderful childhood memories for parents.
The Blu-Ray Diamond edition of Disney’s Peter Pan comes with wonderful extras including a great documentary about a childhood spent growing up around the nine masterful artists behind Disney’s beloved animated classics, including Walt Disney himself, called “Growing Up with Nine Old Men.” The Diamond Edition also includes a story book app, coloring pages, deleted songs and scenes, plus a never-before-seen alternate ending. It’s a feast of entertainment for you and your kids to enjoy together.
Ultimately, “Peter Pan” is magical and heart-warming. It touches on the universal themes of children fearful of leaving childhood behind, and yet ultimately, inevitably, having to face growing up. And in the end, they want to.
Reel Mama’s recommendation: The G-rated film is appropriate for five and up. There is some smoking and violence portrayed (including Captain Hook shooting one of his mates because his music annoys him.) Overall, however, the film resonates and rises above the negative stereotypes portrayed.
Disclosure: I received a copy of Disney’s Peter Pan for review purposes. I only review products that I believe are fabulous and that my readers will love. All reviews are 100% my own.