All This Has Happened Before, and It Will All Happen Again

Posted: 30/12/2012 in 1953

Peter Pan the boy himself

The Walt Disney production of J.M. Barrie’s beloved play Peter Pan is a bit of a mixed bag.  It contains some pretty animation, it has a wonderful score, and some interesting themes to ponder on.  On the other hand, it is sexist, racist, and does not offer much new to neither the Barrie play nor the Disney animation repertoire.   That said, the good news mostly outweighs the bad, and we get a good offering from Walt Disney studios for this year.

I would like to first of all address the elephant in the room.  The way indigenous peoples of the Americas are portrayed in this film is troublesome.  I personally have a hard time getting past the “What Makes the Red Man Red” scene.  Additionally, Tinker Bell is probably the most interesting character that Disney gives us in this film.  I’m not sure that is a good thing necessarily however.   Outside of a Marilyn Monroe character, we’re not likely to find a more sensuous  character this year.  In fact, her relationship to Peter Pan is rather ambiguous relationship-wise.  She comes across as one of many female interests of the adventurous (and could we possibly say womanizing?) Peter Pan.  Overall, it is almost hard to figure out what Peter Pan’s deal is.  Children will love this, but if adults ponder on the character itself, the innocence of childhood that Barrie originally pondered is sort of lost with this version.

Those major flaws aside, Peter Pan does force the adult audience ask what the film is actually about.  In many ways, this is an anti-establishment, rebellious piece.  Peter Pan is definitely from the fringes of society, and he lures three prim and proper British children into his world of carpe diem.  Or is this Disney tipping its hat to Barrie’s original homage to youth and innocence?  For me, I think it is the former.  There is a brash nature to Peter Pan’s character.  One that experiences freedom on the social level that most proper British citizens of the time would find inappropriate.  He does not not have an imperialist attitude either, one that can be easily be contrasted with properly bred John.  So maybe the film is anti-imperialism along with anti-establishment?  Is it worthy of note that Peter is the only American in the cast?  Is there any significance to that?  Or is this just a good movie for kids?  I think it runs deeper than that, but it can also be enjoyed at the surface.  Perhaps that is what has made the Disney formula (and this film does follow a pre-scribed formula that we’ve seen before and will see again) work so well for so long.

*** ~AOS

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