Saturday, September 14, 2013

Stubs - Peter Pan

Peter Pan (1953) Starring (the Voices of): Bobby Driscoll, Kathryn Beaumont, Hans Conried, Paul Collins Directed by Clyde Geronimi, Wilfred Jackson, Hamilton Luske. Screenplay by Milt Benta, William Cottrell, Winston Hibler, Bill Peet, Erdman Penner, Joe Rinaldi, Ted Sears and Ralph Wright. Based on the play Peter Pan, aka The Boy Who Wouldn't Grow Up and Peter and Wendy, by J.M. Barrie. Produced by Walt Disney. Run Time: 77 minutes. Color. U.S. Animated. Adventure, Musical

What a better way to spend Friday the 13th then watching an animated Disney classic? Okay, so that’s debatable, but this Friday the 13th, that’s what we did. And who hasn’t seen Peter Pan before? The pattern goes, as it does with most classic Disney films, you watched it as a child, become a parent and share it with your child, their child, etc. etc.

The film begins in Edwardian England (1901-1910), just after the death of Queen Victoria, which really has nothing to do with the story, other than it’s an interesting historical fact. George (Hans Conried) and Mary (Heather Angel) are an upper middle class couple living in the London neighborhood of Bloomsbury. They have three children, John (Paul Collins), eight, Michael (Tommy Luske) four, and Wendy (Kathryn Beaumont), twelve.

Wendy enjoys retelling stories to the boys of Peter Pan (Bobby Driscoll), who fights pirates and Indians and leads the original Lost Boys gang who are all eternally youthful. Of course, Peter likes hearing these stories, too, and one night he’s gotten too close and Nana, the family dog and nurse maid to the children (call child welfare), grabs away his shadow, which Wendy locks up.

Wendy enjoys telling her brothers stories of Peter Pan.
It’s the night of a big party; George and Mary are rushing around getting ready, while Nana, the dog, gets the children ready for bed. Apparently, part of that ritual, besides the stories of Peter Pan is a vile medicine/tonic the children receive as part of their health regime. George is off looking for his gold cufflinks, which the boys have copped for buried treasure, drawing a map on father’s stiff shirt front (this is Edwardian times). Nana picks up in George’s wake, as he trips over toys in the nursery, where the children sleep, finally knocking himself and the dog over. The hit in the head and the fact that everyone in the family is more concerned about the dog make George decide that things as they are have to stop.

The Darling children's nanny is a dog called Nana.
He decides that the Peter Pan stories are just riling up the boys and blames Wendy, whom he decides is too old to be sharing a room with her brothers. She is on the cusp of adolescence after all. He also decides that a dog is not a good nanny for the kids and ties her up outside. No nanny is apparently better than a four-legged one, as George and Mary prepare to leave for the party, with the children in bed and no one else in the house to watch over them. (I think they call it child abandonment now.)

George and Mary Darling set out with their children unattended.
Peter Pan returns with Tinker Bell, a vengeful pixie, to retrieve his shadow, which he finds and captures. Wendy sews the shadow to his shoes, because that’s how that works and Peter becomes infatuated with her, but in a maternal sort of way. He wants to bring her back to Neverland (not the Michael Jackson ranch) to be the mother for the Lost Boys. While she wants to go, she can’t without John and Michael. With the help of happy thoughts and pixie dust, the three join Peter and Tink as they make the overnight flight from London to Neverland, which is really just an island.

Peter Pan leads Wendy, John and Michael to Neverland.
Just off shore is Captain Hook’s (Hans Conried) pirate ship. Hook’s first mate and sidekick, Mr. Smee (Bill Thompson), takes care of his captain’s every need and liaisons with the crew. Hook is planning revenge for his dismemberment thanks to Peter. 

Apparently, Pan cut off the Captain’s hand, and fed it to a crocodile, who developed not just a taste for human flesh, but for Captain Hook in particular. The pirate trembles whenever the croc is nearby, which he knows because the croc swallowed whole an alarm clock, which is still ticking inside him. The hand has been replaced with an eponymous hook. (Here’s a question, is it by “happy” happenstance that Captain Hook now has a hook, since that’s his name or if not, would he be Captain Stump?)
In order to find Peter Pan’s hiding place, Hook decides to kidnap the daughter of the Indian Chief called Big Chief (Candy Candido), Tiger Lily (Corinne Orr), who like everything feminine on the island has it for Peter, though Peter doesn’t know what to do with the attention. (Part of the problem with never growing up.)
Tiger Lily, the daughter of Big Chief being held captive by Captain Hook.
Hook’s crew is growing restless, since they’d rather be out at sea, doing what pirates like best (Ham Nite?). Peter’s arrival gives them something to do, when Hook orders an attack. But Peter and the Darlings have no trouble evading the cannon balls fired at them.
Tinker Bell flies ahead and tells the Lost Boys (Cubby: Robert Ellis; Nibs: Jeffery Silver; the Twins: Jonny McGovern; and Slightly: Stuffy Singer) that Peter wants them to shoot Wendy down and kill her. (Tink is a bit of a scamp, what with death to her enemies and all.) The boys do as ordered and throw rocks at Wendy, knocking her out of the sky, only to be rescued by Peter.

Peter and the Lost Boys he commands.
For her treachery, and lack of remorse, Tinker Bell is banished from Neverland, forever, though her sentence is quickly commuted to one week. While the Darling boys go with the Lost Boys (who like the Darlings are still dressed in pajamas, though theirs seem to be animal themed) on a walk about the island to look for Indians. Naturally, John, who has just arrived on the island, is made the Leader of the group.

Tinker Bell is banished for a week from Neverland for plotting to kill Wendy.
While they’re off doing that, Peter takes Wendy on a tour of the island so she can meet the mermaids. Wendy feels out of place and with good reason. As jealous as Tinker Bell is, the mermaids try to drown her in their lagoon. Peter at first laughs off the murder attempt, but things change in a hurry when Hook and Smee and a bound up Tiger Lily arrive by boat. The idea is that she will be trapped and drowned in a rising tide unless she spills the beans on Peter’s hideout.

The mermaids are happy to see Peter Pan.
Usually, the Lost Boys and the Indians play fight, with the winner letting the loser go right away. But today is different. The Indian Chief blames the Lost Boys for Tiger Lily’s disappearance and if she’s not brought back by sunset, he will punish the Lost Boys by burning them at the stake.
Peter plays mind tricks on Captain Hook and Smee, separating the two and giving Smee orders in a spot on imitation of Captain Hook’s voice, telling him to return Tiger Lily to her tribe. It might have worked too if Smee hadn’t rowed past the real Hook and asked what he was doing. Hook and Peter get into a sword fight, which ends up with Hook hanging by the hook over a cliff. Down below in the water is the Croc with a taste for Hook. Smee has to rescue his Captain and they make an escape just ahead of the Croc. Pan, eventually, rescues Tiger Lily, waiting until after the water has already overwhelmed her, but a rescue is a rescue.

The Croc has a taste for Captain Hook and he's hungry.
Back at the Indian village, Pan is treated like a hero and there is a fete. Every time Wendy tries to enjoy the party, she is treated like a squaw and told to retrieve more fire wood. Fed up with her treatment, Wendy returns to the hideout.
Peter is made an honorary Chief for returning Tiger Lily to her father.
Captain Hook hears of Tinker Bell’s banishment and plots with her to seek revenge on Wendy. Thinking she can get rid of her rival, Tinker goes along with the plot and shows him on a map the exact location of the hideout, Hangman’s Tree. She is rewarded for her help by being locked in a lantern.
Inside the hideout, there is a mutiny in the works. Wendy and her brothers are growing homesick for house and hearth and she invites the Lost Boys to join them, saying her mother would welcome them. The Lost Boys are interested in going, but Peter Pan refuses. Pan sulks as the boys one by one follow Wendy’s lead and one by one are captured by Captain Hook and his crew as they exit. Hook leaves a time bomb to kill Peter. Tinker Bell, who overhears the plot, frees herself from her lantern jail cell in time to snatch the bomb out of Peter’s hands just as it explodes.
The children are taken to Hook’s ship and given the option of joining their ranks or walking the plank. Convinced that Peter will rescue them, Wendy encourages the others to walk the plank rather than throw in with Hook.
Peter escapes unharmed from the explosion, but Tinker Bell is wounded. After attending to her, the two confront the pirates and free the children. While Peter duels with Hook, the Lost Boys take on the rest of the crew.
Hook tricks Peter into a mano a mano fight without flying and nearly bests Pan, but in the end, Peter triumphs. Rather than killing Hook, Peter agrees to banish him, but the pirate attacks one more time. It ends with Peter pushing the Captain into the mouth of the crocodile. While Smee and the rest of the crew attempt to rescue their Captain, Peter, with Tink’s help, pilots the ship back to London. On board, though, the Lost Boys change their minds and decide to return to Neverland with Peter rather than be adopted by the Darlings’ in London.

Peter Pan takes on Captain Hook and his sword with his only knife.
When the Darlings return home from their party, they find Wendy asleep at the window, rather than in her bed, like John and Michael. When they wake her up, she excitedly tells them of the adventure she and her siblings have been on. The parents dismiss the story as fantasy that is until George sees what appears to be a pirate ship in the clouds and realizes he recognizes it from his own childhood.
Seeing the film again when everyone is an adult is a little different experience than the first or fifth time and certain themes get picked up that might not have been noticed or discussed before.

Peter, who is really not a human boy, but rather a sprite, comes across a self-absorbed jerk. He loves attention, even if it’s from girls, and loves to regale anyone who will listen with stories of his adventures. He doesn’t notice that every woman on the island has it out for Wendy and not in the scare off the competition kind of way. No. Tinker and then the mermaids try to kill her or at least have Wendy be killed by others, as in the case of Tink. He almost lets Tiger Lily drown while he pats himself on the back for besting Captain Hook yet again. He wants complete devotion from the Lost Boys and when he doesn’t get it, he sulks.

Now granted, this is how children of his age often behave anyway, but do kids really need a role model for not taking responsibility? They don’t call it the Peter Pan syndrome for nothing. Everyone should retain a bit of the child in themselves, but there is a big difference between that and being childish, which is really what Peter is. Peter as a character doesn’t really change; it’s those around him who do, sort of like Sheldon in The Big Bang Theory.

If I had stayed with New Discourse film theory, I would probably be boring you all with the Freudian interpretations of the storyline, what with the same actor playing both father, George Darling and Captain Hook (as in the original play); Peter’s fascination with Wendy as a mother-figure, etc., but I honestly don’t think J.M. Barrie had that in mind when he wrote the play.

I’m afraid it has been years since I’ve seen this play. But I did some research and found that the play ends quite differently than the movie. The Lost Boys return with Wendy and Mrs. Darling adopts them. There is a hint that Mrs. Darling knew Peter when she was younger, too. Peter refuses the offer of adoption, not wanting to become a man. He promises Wendy that he’ll come for her every spring.

Not satisfied, Barrie wrote an additional scene for the play, called The Afterthought. Years pass and Peter returns for Wendy, but she’s grown up and even married one of the Lost Boys. Peter feels betrayed that Wendy grew up, but her daughter Jane agrees to go back to Neverland with Peter and be his mother. In the novel Barrie wrote based on the play, the cycle continues with Jane’s daughter Margaret going back to Neverland with Peter and on and on. This extra scene is not always performed with the play.

But our concern here is the Disney movie and not the original material on which it’s based. It is tough to say you shouldn’t see a beloved classic and I’m not going to say that here. However, you should know that some depictions in the film, I’m specifically referring to the Indians, is very stereotyped and while it might reflect what was permissible at the time, is not what would be considered politically correct today. Outside of Washington, they’re not referred to as Redskins much anymore and the song “What Made the Red Man Red?” is now just seen as misguided. But viewpoints have changed since this film’s release in 1953 and the original release of the play in 1904. Wouldn’t you be shocked if they hadn’t?

Bigotry and oedipal interpretation notwithstanding, Peter Pan is a film about the desire we all had at one time, not to grow up and take on responsibility. Peter is a jerk, because he’s a kid and I mean that in the nicest way possible. It is hard to imagine, when you’re ten, how hard adult life is going to be and even once you’re an adult yourself you sometimes wish there wasn’t so much on your plate to worry about.

Peter Pan, like all of the classic Disney animated films, from Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937) up through The Fox and the Hound (1981) should be seen and enjoyed. They are part of growing up, even if you never see one in a theater. While some of the songs may not stand the test of time, the crocodile is still funny and should give you a laugh and make you feel lucky to be alive, even on Friday the 13th.

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