Eye For Film >> Movies >> Peter Pan: Special Edition (1953) Film Review
Scots author JM Barrie once asserted: "Nothing that happens after we are 12 matters very much." Disney, it seems, would beg to differ as they have repackaged their 1953 version of his stage play Peter Pan.
So the big question is, can the story still fly for a new generation?
Somehow, as a child I missed the seven-yearly cinematic release of Peter Pan, so this week I watched it on DVD for the first time. On the eve of being told that she has to leave the nursery and move towards adulthood Wendy Darling (voiced by Kathryn Beaumont) and brothers Michael (Tommy Luske) and John (Paul Collins) meet Peter Pan (Bobby Driscoll), "the boy who never grew up". I headed off with them for adventure in Neverland, where they and the Lost Boys cross cutlasses with the dreaded Captain Hook (Hans Conried) and his band of dastardly pirates.
Certainly the central premise of a Puck-like child who finds he has to make adult decisions to save his friends from disaster holds up well to modern scrutiny. And there is an energy to the animation, which features plenty of rough-and-tumble slapstick even away from the main storyline, to keep kids enthralled for the most part.
Tinker Bell, in particular, is the life and soul of the party, her 'pixie dust' sparkle overlaying several scenes in a way which puts more modern CGI techniques to shame. Where the film falls down slightly for a modern audience is in terms of its social mores - and the cut-glass accents which children now will no doubt find most odd. There is also quite a bit of smoking on display. Dastardly Hook is partial to dragging on two cigars at once and even the kids get to have a go with a peace pipe. Although it isn't glorified - Michael, in fact, goes quite green when he takes a puff - it still jars somewhat with a modern mindset.
Perhaps the most dated aspect of the film, however, are the Red Indians themselves, caricatured to such an extent that they are almost, yet not quite, beyond offensive. The central, and inherently racist, idea of Indians - er, that's the native American peoples you're dissing there, Walt - only speaking in grunts is not great and the - unfortunately, very catchy - song containing the lines "what makes the red man red?" is not something you're going to want your kids to be singing around school in today's, thankfully, much more multicultural society.
Put these reservations (no pun intended) to one side, however, and the adventure still has a lot of heart. Peter and Wendy may not be as colourful as some other Disney favourites but, thanks to the fine supporting cast of Hook, his comic sidekick Smee (Bill Thompson), the ticking crocodile and the emotionally highly strung Tinker Bell, there is plenty to enjoy.
It's not quite the classic it is sometimes claimed to be, but still a good slice of family entertainment.Reviewed on: 15 Mar 2007
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