20 Weeks of Disney Animation: ‘Peter Pan’

Walt Disney followed up the disappointment of Alice in Wonderland with Peter Pan in 1953. The story of Peter Pan, originally written for the stage by J.M. Barrie, had been on Disney’s back burner for more than a decade by this time. However, due to other projects and the impact of World War II, the film was not able to be made until later on.

Read: 20 Weeks of Disney Animation: ‘Alice in Wonderland’

With Peter Pan, Disney and his animators continued using techniques that had been successful with their previous films. One example would be their use of live-action models. To get the character of Tinker Bell just right, the studio brought in dancer Margaret Kerry as a reference for the character. Marc Davis- one of the Nine Old Men and the animator for Tink- studied Kerry and used her movements as a guide to animate the character. Actor Bobby Driscoll, who had worked with the studio in Song of the South and Treasure Island, came on board to voice Peter Pan. For Wendy, they brought back Kathryn Beaumont who had recently provided the voice of Alice. Also like Disney’s previous films, Peter Pan continues the tradition of great original songs. This film and those songs are so linked together, it is almost impossible to think of one without the other. Two specific songs come to mind. “The Second Star to the Right”, which opens the film, is both gorgeous and nostalgic. For me, it evokes those feelings of childhood better than any other Disney song I can think of. The second song would be “You Can Fly”, which is so full of joy, it is contagious. I challenge you to listen to this without smiling!

However, perhaps the greatest thing about Peter Pan has been its long-lasting cultural impact. It has become one of Disney’s most prized staples on film and television as well as in the parks. In fact, Tinker Bell is the literal embodiment of Disney magic. Even if a child has not seen Peter Pan, they can immediately place Tinker Bell as a symbol of Disney, same as Mickey Mouse. From the opening of Walt Disney’s weekly television show to her appearances at the parks, the symbol of Tinker Bell has represented that Disney magic since the 1950’s, and continues to do so to this day.

Growing up, Peter Pan was always in my consciousness in one form or another. I enjoyed it in many incarnations including the original book, the 1991 film Hook, and the 2003 live-action film. I even read the “Peter and the Starcatchers” book series, which acted as a prequel. However, my first introduction to the story was, like so many others, this 1951 film. I was in awe of the fantastic world that Walt Disney and his team had created. I would often go to bed with the music from the film playing in the background, the songs becoming embedded in my memory over time. To this day, I have a fondness for the story and a warm place in my heart for the original film. It isn’t perfect, however. The depiction of the Native American characters continue to be problematic. This is something that I hope the upcoming live-action version will do correctly and that they will be presented in an accurate and respectful manner.

Live-action remake: It has been announced that there is a live-action remake of Peter Pan in the works, with David Lowery as director. Lowery directed the remake of Pete’s Dragon and also wrote this screenplay along with Toby Halbrooks. Titled Peter Pan & Wendy, the cast will include newcomer Alexander Molony and Ever Anderson as the titular characters, respectively. Tinkerbell will be played by Yara Shahidi and Alyssa Alook will play Tiger Lily, who we revealed will play a pivotal role in the film. The role of Captain Hook will be played by the great Jude Law. Production will begin in March of 2021. It is likely that this film will be going straight to Disney+.

Peter Pan in the theme parks: Peter Pan and Tinker Bell have a huge presence in the Disney parks. One of the most popular rides at Disneyland is “Peter Pan’s Flight”, which has been there since opening day in 1955. 60 years later, in 2015, enhancements were added to the ride. Besides this attraction, many Peter Pan characters are available to meet in the parks, including Peter, Tink, and Captain Hook. For years, Peter Pan was a part of the show Fantasmic! until it was eventually replaced with Pirates of the Caribbean.

Sequel: 50 years after the release of Peter Pan, we got a sequel, produced by DisneyToon Studios. Unlike the previous DisneyToon sequels, Return to Never Land was released for the theatrical market, a curious decision that the company only made one more time before returning to their home video roots. The film, premiering in early 2002, picks up several years later during World War II. Wendy is grown and has kids of her own, including the no-nonsense Jane who doesn’t believe in Wendy’s stories about Never Land. However, when Captain Hook kidnaps Jane and takes her to Never Land, she begins to question what she believes is real.

Peter Pan on the stage: Disney Theatrical Licensing has adapted a short, musical version of the film for young performers. Titled Peter Pan Jr., it features the original songs and is intended for local schools and community theatres to produce. In 2009, Disney premiered Peter and the Starcatcher on the stage, which serves as a prequel to Peter Pan and is based on a series of children’s novels published by Hyperion Books.

Spin-offs: In 2008, DisneyToon Studios released its first Peter Pan spin-off, the CGI Tinker Bell. Due to its success, this film become part of the Disney Fairies franchise which is made up of a total of six films. This has also been integrated into the parks with the “Pixie Hollow” attraction. A television spin-off called Jake and the Never Land Pirates premiered on Disney Junior in 2011 and follows a gang of young pirates in Never Land who often go head to head with familiar characters such as Captain Hook and Peter Pan.

Peter Pan, along with its sequels and spin-offs, are available to watch on Disney+.

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