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“All this has happened before. And it will all happen again.”
– Opening lines
No truer words have ever been spoken.
JM Barrie’s Peter Pan is as timeless a fantasy story as you can get. It’s nothing short of pure magic. Who among us hasn’t wished to never grow up and live in a world not run by fun-sucking adults? Who can openly admit that they never dreamed of flying and going on exciting new adventures every day? The tale of Peter Pan appeals to the kid in all of us. It doesn’t surprise me that every couple of years we seem to get some kind of new retelling of it because the lore of the Boy Who Never Grew Up offers so many possibilities. It’s difficult to pin down which version could be considered the most definitive adaptation (though the 2003 film comes the closest to being the most faithful in story and tone) but this is a case where every single one out there has something to offer for each generation. There were stage plays and silent films for those who were children when the book first came out, the 1960’s musical starring Mary Martin (and later Cathy Rigby) was an annual television tradition for decades, Fox’s Peter Pan and the Pirates is considered one of the most creative animated shows of the late 80’s-early 90’s, Steven Spielburg’s unofficial sequel Hook has gone on to become a cult classic (as well as a kickass video game), and of course we have the film I’ll be looking at today, the Disney animated one from the 50’s.
Walt Disney once played the role of Peter Pan in a school production; as such, the story was very close to him. Peter Pan was planned to be one of the first animated films his studio would release – story ideas were tossed around as early as the mid-30’s – but it fell into development hell thanks to the frenzy of World War 2. Look carefully when watching the 1941 film The Reluctant Dragon and you’ll see early maquette versions of some of the characters in a few places. After the much-needed success of Cinderella in 1950, work resumed on Peter Pan. The results, however, were mixed, with some critics and even Walt himself being disappointed with the final product. Most audiences, on the other hand, gravitated towards it, and today it’s considered a classic of Disney animation as well as one of the most outstanding adaptations of Barrie’s work. Why is that? Let’s find out.