Ranking Disney: #14 – Peter Pan (1953)
I had a real tough time with this film, because, on the one hand — I fucking love this movie. Peter Pan is about all that is great and wonderful with childhood. Plus, it’s a Disney classic, and an amazing film. On the other hand — there’s a lot in it that I don’t like. Those Indians, for example. And the fact that Peter is really a giant dick. So I knew this was going high, based on it being what it is and on the parts that I do like (specifically the idea of Wendy not wanting to grow up and Tinkerbell… more on her later), but I wasn’t sure how much the parts I didn’t care for would weigh it down.
I’m still not sure I made the exact right choice here. When ranking it, I had no problem sticking it here, but the more I think about the stuff I love about this film, the more I feel I should have ranked it a little higher. But, why quibble about one or two spots? Plus, when you see what the next two films are — they’re all pretty interchangeable at this level. As long as we can agree this is a top 15 film, that’s most of the battle anyway.
The story begins at “the second star to the right,” as a narrator tells us:
“All this has happened before, and it will all happen again. But this time it happened in London. It happened on a quiet street in Bloomsbury. That corner house over there is the home of the Darling family. And Peter Pan chose this particular house because there were people here who believed in him.”
And we see the Darling family as Mr. and Mrs. Darling prepare to go out to an important dinner. And Mr. Darling can’t find his shirtfront or cuff links. Meanwhile, in the children’s room, John and Michael play as Captain Hook and Peter Pan, as told to them by Wendy. And Mr. Darling comes in looking for his lost articles, and finds that his shirtfront has become a treasure map for the kids’ game. And he ends up tripping all over their toys (and the dog, Nana, who thinks she’s a nurse for the children) and getting upset, so upset that he says Wendy can no longer stay in the room with her brothers and will get her own room. He also ties up Nana outside. (Though he does show his sensitive side here, telling Nana that it’s not her fault, that, “sooner or later, people need to grow up.” Which is absolutely not true at all.)
As Mrs. Darling tucks the children into bed, Wendy says she has Peter Pan’s shadow, before falling asleep, and that Mrs. Darling should keep the window open in case Peter comes back. And, sure enough, as Mr. and Mrs. Darling leave, we see, up on the roof, Peter Pan and Tinkerbell.
They enter the house and look around for Peter’s shadow. There’s a weird moment where Tinkerbell looks at herself in the mirror and criticizes how big her ass looks. Though they play it off as her hips, where she puts her hands flat on her hips and brings them out to measure how far apart they are. Either way, it’s a weird moment. There’s always one in Disney movies.
Then Peter finds his shadow in a drawer and chases it around the room (also managing to lock Tinkerbell in the drawer. He’s a real asshole to her, Peter), eventually catching it and in the process, knocking over an end table. This wakes up Wendy, who says the proper way to get his shadow back on is to sew it.
Meanwhile Tinkerbell is stuck in the drawer, because her hips are too big to fit through the lock. Way to help girls’ self-images, Disney.
Then Wendy talks a mile a minute about Nana as she sews on Peter’s shadow. He says, rightfully, “Girls talk too much.” And then when she realizes what she said, he says, “Well – get on with it, Girl.” And she tells him her name is Wendy, and then says her full name. And he says, “Wendy’s enough.” I feel like very similar conversations happen at fraternities every weekend across the country.
Then we find out the reason Peter lost his shadow is because he hangs around their house, listening to Wendy tell stories about him, because he loves hearing stories about himself. And here you thought Peter Pan was a nice guy, didn’t you? He says he tells the stories to the Lost Boys, but I don’t buy it. Maybe this is who Carly Simon wrote that song about.
Anyway, then Wendy says she’s going to have to grow up tomorrow, which makes Peter lose his shit. “Grow up?! What?!” The reason he’s concerned? “No more stories.” Selfish fuck. Then he says he’s taking Wendy to Neverland, where she’ll never grow up. Clearly this man is a step beyond “if there’s grass on the field, play ball.” He decides to bring Wendy to Neverland to be mother to the Lost Boys, so she can tell them stories all the time.
He keeps trying to take Wendy away, and she starts thinking about logistics. What will she tell mother, she’ll have to pack, and all that. Then she decides she wants to give Peter a kiss. This pisses off Tinkerbell, who hulks out to get out of the drawer and jealously yanks on Wendy’s hair. Not a very nice relationship between she and Peter. He treats her like shit, flirts with other women, and yet she still fights for him. Interesting messages in this film. And we haven’t even gotten to the racism yet.
So Peter decides he’s going to take them to Neverland. And how will they get to Neverland? Fly, of course. But they can’t fly. Because they need the dust. Not angel dust (though I imagine that also works), pixie dust. So Peter grabs Tinkerbell and slaps her on the ass a few times —
— seriously —
— which releases enough Pixie dust for Wendy, Michael and John to fly. He makes it rain dust. And they fly off to Neverland.
And when we get to Neverland, we see Captain Hook’s ship and Smee and all that. The crew is upset because they want to go out and rape and pillage and all Hook wants to do is get Peter, because Peter’s the reason he has a hook for a hand (and such an appropriate name). Apparently Peter pulled his hand off and threw it to the crocodiles. Which is pretty cold blooded if you ask me. Oh, and Hook is evil. How do we know he’s evil? There’s a gay singing pirate up on one of the sails and he shoots him dead because he doesn’t like his singing.
Oh, and the crocodile that ate his hand follows him, wanting the rest. The crocodile also ticks, because he’s got a clock in his stomach. And Hook is deathly terrified of it. He’s kind of a little bitch about it. Just shoot the fucking thing.
Anyway, Peter and the kids show up, and Hook starts shooting the cannons at him. Peter stays behind to distract him and has Tinkerbell lead Wendy and the kids to safety. Only Tinkerbell hurries to the Lost Boys and tells them to shoot Wendy down. But it doesn’t work, as Peter comes and catches Wendy before she lands on some rocks. Tink’s a jealous little cunt, isn’t she? I know, and that’s why I love her.
So then the boys go out hunting while Peter “shows” Wendy around the island. Uh huh. He about to get it in.
So the boys go out — “following the leader” — and run into some Indians, who are the most stereotyped Indians I’ve ever seen. It’s pretty fucked up. Anyway, they tie all the boys up and say that if the chief’s daughter, Tiger Lily, isn’t returned by sundown, they’re gonna burn them at the stake.
Meanwhile, Peter brings Wendy to meet the mermaids, which, based on how the mermaids treat Peter, is like Henry bringing Karen to meet Janice Rossi. (“She’s a whore! Sir, you have a whore living in your building!”) And the mermaids also don’t like her. They splash the shit out of her. But then Hook rows by with Tiger Lily on his way to skull rock.
At Skull Rock, Hook tells Tiger Lily that if she tells him where Peter lives, he’ll set her free. Otherwise, she’s dead (since he tied an anchor to her, and will leave her sitting on that rock as the tide comes in). But then Peter shows up and foils him and there’s a whole comic chase that leads to Hook almost being eaten by an alligator.
By after Hook gets back, he finds out Peter has banished Tinkerbell (for trying to kill Wendy), and decides to trick Tinkerbell into coming to the ship in order to force Peter to come to him to rescue her. Meanwhile Peter returns Tiger Lily and is awarded a ceremonial title by the chief. And they smoke the peace pipe and sing a horrendously offensive song. And while that’s happening, Smee kidnaps Tinkerbell, who sullenly (sullen wench) watches the party from afar. He brings her back, and Hook pretends to want to help Tinkerbell get rid of Wendy. He says they’re going to “Shanghai” her (trust me, it is as it sounds. Look it up on Urban Dictionary, it’s fucked up). And Tinkerbell is so happy about this she tells him where Peter’s hideout is. And then Hook locks her in an empty lantern.
Meanwhile, as Peter and the Lost Boys are pretending to be Indians, Wendy says they need to get the fuck out of there. She has to bring the kids home, back to their mother. And Peter is pissed, because she’s gonna leave and go grow up. And he says she can never come back once she’s all grown up. And she sings about mothers to the Lost Boys, just as Hook is about to ambush them. So he captures them all and drops a bomb into Peter’s room, pretending it’s a gift from Wendy. But later, as he’s bragging about it, Tinkerbell escapes and rushes back to tell Peter. Only he thinks she’s still jealous, and doesn’t realize she’s trying to warn him. And then the bomb goes off. And everyone thinks Peter is dead.
Then later, we see Peter going through the wreckage and finding Tinkerbell, who is near death. This happens just as Hook is forcing all the boys (and Wendy) to choose between joining his crew or walking the plank. Naturally they choose the plank. And Wendy goes first, but as she drops, there’s no splash. Because Peter caught her.
And Peter and Hook have a sword fight. And Peter wins.
And he spares Hook, telling him to leave and never return, but Hook tries to kill him anyway, and ends up being chased off to the horizon by the crocodile.
And Peter, who now is captain of the ship, sails it back to London, with the help of a little of that pixie dust, you know you know.
And then the parents come home and find Wendy sleeping by the window.
She tells all about the adventure, which they figure is all just her imagination, until they see Peter’s ship sailing across the moon in the shape of a cloud.
– – – – –
Official Disney Number: #14
Run Time: 76 minutes
Release Date: February 5, 1953
Budget: $4 million
Box Office: Apparently it made $40.8 million domestically in its first run, and $87.4 million all-time domestically.
– – – – –
- “The Second Star to the Right,” performed by Chorus
- “You Can Fly, You Can Fly, You Can Fly,” performed by Chorus
- “A Pirate’s Life,” performed by Chorus
- “Never Smile at a Crocodile,” performed by Chorus
- “Following the Leader,” performed by Bobby Driscoll, Paul Collins, Tommy Luske, and Lost Boys cast
- “What Makes the Red Man Red,” performed by Candy Candido
- “Your Mother and Mine,” performed by Kathryn Beaumont
- “The Elegant Captain Hook,” performed by Hans Conried and Bill Thompson
– – – – –
– – – – –
- Walt had been trying to buy the rights to “Peter Pan” since 1935, intending for it to be Disney’s next film after Snow White, but he couldn’t get the rights until 1939, and by then, they were knee-deep into Pinocchio and Fantasia and Bambi, and then they had the war, which forced them to cut back on budgets. So it wasn’t until after the success of Cinderella that allowed them to return to the material they wanted to make, and this went back into production.
- Walt wasn’t happy with the film, feeling that Peter was too cold and unlikable. (Gee, you think?)
- This was the last time Disney’s “Nine Old Men” worked together on the same film, and the last time a Disney movie was distributed by RKO. After this, Buena Vista handled distribution for them.
- This was Michael Jackson’s favorite film (not surprisingly).
– – – – –
1. This is a classic opening shot, and I’ve seen this more than a few times in Disney. (I’m also pretty sure they fly through this bridge in Great Mouse Detective.)
2. Interesting variation of the “house at the end of the street” shot. You’ve seen that shot a bunch — Lady and the Tramp, One Hundred and One Dalmatians — they do it a lot. This is essentially that, except the house is on an angle.
3. The classic “side window” Disney shot.
4. I say this every time — Les Vampires is one of my all-time favorite films, and any time I see something that’s even remotely a reference to that, I’m gonna point it out. And trust me, if there’s any shot that’s more of a reference than this one, I don’t know what it is.
5. This is just fucking creepy. He looks like a rapist.
6. How many times have you seen me bring up other films referencing this shot throughout the course of this list?
7. She turns red when she’s mad. I love her.
8. They referenced this in The Rescuers, with Medusa waterskiing on her crocodiles.
9. Character reflected in the water. Done creatively as well. A++
10. This shot reminds me of a shot in something else — I wanna say The Rescuers, as they fly over Manhattan. Because I think there I referenced how it was a similar overhead manhattan shot that Oliver & Company opens with. But, very similar type of shot.
11. Characters walking over a lot. Direct Snow White reference, too.
12. Great visual gag. These are the kind of things that make Disney better than most.
13. First, I love how characters with rapiers always have that pose, where it’s crotch level and they thrust forward with their hips. Second, this framing is the same framing they used for the classic climactic battle in Sleeping Beauty. You have to reference it, because it’s become such iconic Disney framing.
14. This, on its own, is a great image. And they reference it in Tarzan. So I had to include it somewhere, for comparison purposes.
15. What a gorgeous shot. Possibly the most gorgeous image in the film. It’s like something out of Miyazaki.
16. They reference this directly in Treasure Planet, as Scroop is coming up for Jim before he goes careening off into space. (Hopefully I included the image in that article.)
17. They showin’ some panties up in here.
18. This image, to me, is one of the greatest single pieces of animation Disney’s ever done. The way she lights up the leaf and you can see her behind it — beautiful animation.
19. I’d like to end this by reiterating just how much I love Tinker Bell. I love everything about how they drew up this character. How she hates Wendy because she’ got a thing for Peter (though the way he treats her despite that is a bit disconcerting). I love the moment where she’s like, “Jesus, is that what my ass looks like?” (Though that’s nothing to be ashamed about. honey. Damn, girl, you got a fine ass!)
But my absolute favorite Tinker Bell moment is when she tells the Lost Boys Wendy is a bird they have to kill and almost leads to Wendy falling onto the rocks and dying. And then when Peter’s like, I can’t believe you did this, Tink,” she responds like this — that flippant, “I don’t even give a fuck. Ain’t my fault the bitch lived. Go ahead. Be mad.” The way she struts away actually made me stand up and applaud. That’s an attitude we see far too little of in Disney. (Actually, she may also be the most sexually charged Disney character. In terms of sexuality. Not many Disney characters walk around like that. Maybe that’s why she’s one of my favorites.)