I had actually never seen the Disney version of Peter Pan before, although I had read the book and seen the teleplay with Mary Martin as Peter. Now that I’ve seen it, I have to say that I was surprised at just how slapstick it was, especially in scenes with Captain Hook. There’s even a bit where he’s fighting Peter and doesn’t fall until he realizes he’s not standing on anything, which is typical for Looney Tunes, but not so much for Disney. Even his struggle with the crocodile is portrayed in a silly fashion, and we never actually see him being eaten, which I guess is how Disney could rationalize his reappearance in a direct-to-video sequel. I’ve heard that some earlier conceptions for the film made it considerably darker, and Peter Pan really is a pretty dark story in some ways. Since they couldn’t get rid of the darkness entirely, it seems that they masked it somewhat with gags. The thing is, Hook was already somewhat amusing in his foppishness, and one of my favorite scenes was when he replaced his usual hook with a gold one for his talk with Tinker Bell.
One complaint I’ve seen mentioned regarding the movie, which SamuraiFrog references in his review, is that Peter is really more of an adolescent than a child. It seems that at least the girls in the film think so, and his reaction to Tiger Lily’s kiss is probably a bit extreme for a young boy. The mermaids also obviously have the hots for him.
It’s kind of weird, considering that he’s supposed to be the boy who never grew up, and being pretty much oblivious to the advances of girls is essentially part of that. Speaking of which, considering that Wendy not wanting to grow up is kind of the main theme of the story, it’s weird how she already acts pretty grown up.
I also should say something about Tinker Bell, since her jealousy drives much of the plot, and she seems to be the most heavily merchandised character from the film. There’s also a series of direct-to-video movies starring her; I haven’t seen any of them, but one of Beth‘s young cousins dressed up as one of the other fairies from this series a few years back. A major part of her appeal is that she really is portrayed as an unashamedly sexy character. She was typically played by a flashlight on the stage, and while Disney’s version wasn’t the first to give her a human shape (a brief documentary on Beth’s videocassette copy mentions a silent film that influenced Walt in that respect), it’s the most famous. I really have to wonder what kind of relationship she’s hoping for with a guy who’s much larger than her, possibly younger, rather obnoxious, and quite likely a different species entirely; but crushes don’t always have to make sense, I suppose. Incidentally, am I forgetting something, or is Tink the first tiny fairy to appear in a Disney animated feature film? The Blue Fairy in Pinocchio and the Fairy Godmother in Cinderella were both the size of humans, and we see human-sized fairies again in Sleeping Beauty. It’s tempting to say it’s a regional thing, as Peter Pan is an English story and those other three from the European continent, but I don’t think it’s that simple. I believe there were indications in Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream that Oberon and his subjects were tiny, but I don’t think the same was the case with Morgan le Fay or Spencer’s Faerie Queene. For some reason, the tiny fairy has become the most accepted in popular culture, including by Disney, even though it’s not consistent throughout fairy lore.
As a whole, I didn’t find the movie particularly memorable, but it did have its moments. I appreciated that they took some time to develop John Darling’s character, as I seem to remember him being essentially an extra in stage performances. And the animation was really quite good. It just wasn’t one of my favorites, but that’s going to happen from time to time.