Peter Pan (1953)

Like most people for–gosh, I don’t know, the last few decades, maybe?–I grew up seeing many a Disney film. I saw an awful lot of them an awful lot of times. A number of those famous, over-sized clamshell VHS cases occupied my parents’ home and made VHS shelving difficult. I loved most of them without regard, would watch most with a shrug, though I certainly had some I liked more than others. Some I’ve never actually seen, even from the early and mid-period decades, that seemingly everyone I knew as a child had seen. Of course I’m only talking about feature films–I’ve seen a smattering of shorts, but by no means a large percentage of them. I did constantly flip through the monstrous hardcover Disney book my father owns (I do believe it’s still on a shelf somewhere there, hopefully the dustjacket not too mangled by my clumsy child’s hands!) and watched a strange Halloween compilation (I’m still not sure if it was an early Disney channel broadcast, a VHS compilation or a network syndicated program for holiday special purposes–though I definitely know it was compiled and recognized some of the sources), but I divorced myself from the company in the mid 90s, especially upon the release of Hercules, which was infuriating to someone noted for being a bit of a purist like myself, who had a long history of association with Greco-Roman mythology. Still, that came more than forty years after this film, so I’m going to try not to get into that. Well. Not too far into it, anyway.

If anyone has never read my reviews, or never noticed the pattern to them–I tend to use my second paragraph to summarize in whatever fashion I choose, occasionally riding heavily on open scenes (especially if I value the integrity of the rest of the events as a mystery to viewers) and sometimes summarizing nearly the whole film. I’m not sure what to do here. Who doesn’t know the essence of Peter Pan as a story? It might be confused or polluted, more true to Barrie’s story or this one ingrained, but generally I think most anyone knows it. Still, I suppose it would be odd to leave it completely out, and rather assumptive because I know how easy it is to find that one person who has never been exposed to that thing you’re sure everyone has. Wendy Moira Angela Darling (voiced by Kathryn Beaumont) is the eldest of the Darling children, with the younger being John (Paul Collins) and Michael (Tommy Luske). Their parents, Mary (Heather Angel) and George (Hans Conried) have conflicting viewpoints, our narrator (Tom Conway, who worked in three Val Lewton horror productions for RKO) tells us. Mary feels Peter Pan is the symbol of youth, while George, as he himself says, thinks it’s “poppycock.” When George becomes aggravated with their imaginations and free-roaming play, he dumps their canine nursemaid Nana outside and sends them to bed, threatening to remove Wendy from the nursery when he and Mary return from a trip out on the town. Peter Pan (voiced by Bobby Driscoll) appears, though, and offers to bring the Darling children to Neverland, much to the annoyance of the jealous Tinkerbell (who is voiced by, well, bells). In Neverland they adventure with the Lost Boys (Johnny McGovern, Robert Ellis, Jeffrey Silver and Tony Butala) in skirmishes with local Indians (the chief voiced by Candy Candido), mermaids and the villainous Captain Hook (also voiced by Hans Conried) and his pirates, especially righthand man Smee (Bill Thompson).

It’s always half disappointing to watch old Disney films (oh, I’m going to break that effort I claimed I was going to make now, sorry!), as it’s always a reminder of what the company used to produce, as compared to the dreck that oozes out of it these days–even if it does work out some quality pictures from time to time still. What was once a studio built around fantastically beautiful, iconic, engaging and creative animated films has become a soulless corporation so clearly interested in money over experimentation and expansion (despite, ironically, now having the money to do both more readily) that seeing something as beautifully rendered as Peter Pan is just saddening. What Disney pictures were was a way of adapting stories, usually children’s stories, into more kid friendly (don’t ask me!) forms, set to unknown chorale’s angelic voices and carefully rendered cel animation. The grace and fluidity of the Disney animation studio’s heyday seems unmatched even by itself–when watching the movement of many of the characters, especially the more relaxed or feminine ones, there’s just a stunning flow to each motion that computer-based animation (and I don’t just mean CGI, but cel-imitating computer animation) just can’t match.

In the space of short running times, Walt Disney’s studio always produced movies that seem both action-packed and full-featured to children, while managing to go no further than their (typically) limited attention spans. The adaptations were rarely completely (if at all) faithful, but usually at least struck closer (with sexual overtones or violence toned down or removed) than ones like Hercules (sorry, I really hated that movie). They were not so intent on laying messages out at the feet of children, but managed to consistently convey the ones intended by the original stories, however subtly.

I’ve got to say that this film holds up well for me as an adult, never outreaching its grasp, and often exceeding my expectations–even having seen it numerous times as a child, with clever shots and animations (many involving Tinkerbell). It’s also fun to hear Hans Conried’s voice, distinctive as it is (as is Bill Thompson’s actually–and I never before noticed the floating Cockney accent before), as my memory was tickled into a chuckle over realizing Conried was also the voice of that dastardly villain Snidely Whiplash.

I’ve also got to say I’m proud of myself for not ranting too heavily on Disney as it currently exists. Please do watch these old classics though–they are indeed classics and very entertaining, well-produced films, despite the endless merchandising and recycling they’re all beaten through, whether they fit or not, by the modern incarnation of that production company.

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