Peter Pan
directed by Clyde
Geronimi & Wilfred Jackson
(Walt Disney, 1953/1998)

I have a soft spot for Disney.

There, I admitted it. I know, it's not proper to like Disney these days. That entertainment empire, built on the weary shoulders of an overworked animated mouse, butchers classic fairy tales to create sanitized, saccharine versions. Disney rarely treats mother figures well, if they're present in stories at all. And the industry giant apparently tramples anyone who gets in its way.

But, damn it, as a kid I just loved those cartoons. And I was pleasantly surprised when a sentimental girlfriend back in the early '90s twisted my arm until I agreed to go see Beauty & the Beast with her.

Bless you, Stephanie, wherever you are.

I rediscovered the magical fascination I'd lost somewhere in the murky years of adolescence. Now I have a large and growing collection of animated Disney features on video. The latest addition is the 45th anniversary edition of Peter Pan. This animated gem confronts head-on the ages-old question asked by every kid at some point: Is it really necessary to grow up?

I was a kid again as I sat there and rediscovered the mischievous, devil-may-care nature of Peter. I was reintroduced to Captain Hook, one of the most colorful and despicable of Disney's villains, and Mister Smee, one of the classic bad-guy sidekicks.

Watching the movie for the first time as an adult revealed a host of new details I'd overlooked as a child. Who remembers Tinkerbell's sudden discovery that her hips are wider than she'd like? Vanity, thy name is fairy!

I certainly didn't recall the extent of Tinkerbell's fiery jealousy, nor her murderous intent towards poor Wendy! I shan't even discuss the latent sensuality of that short-skirted pixie girl, or the ongoing sexual tension between Peter and Wendy, and again between Peter and Tiger Lily. (Tiger Lily ... a young Pocahontas, perhaps?)

There are quite a few prophetic cameos in the film. For instance, it was on Peter's island that we get our first glimpse of seashell brassieres, like the one which would later conceal the modesty of the Little Mermaid. And weren't those monkeys in The Jungle Book?

The London skyline, complete with Big Ben, the Tower Bridge and a labyrinth of rooftop chimneys, lacks only a grimy Dick Van Dyke dancing through the shadows.

OK, so the songs are a little dated. Only "The Elegant Captain Hook" stood the test of time for me, but unlike some Disney features, Peter Pan isn't saturated with music. And -- hoo boy! -- those are probably the most politically incorrect bunch o' injuns I've seen in a long time. Ugh. (And don't those Disney folks know what "squaw" means?)

Included with the 45th anniversary edition is a 15-minute short on the making of Peter Pan. It takes the story from its origins as a play nearly a century ago, from the pen of playwright James M. Barrie, through its various incarnations as silent films and musicals.

You get to meet the characters behind the cartoon, like Bobby Driscoll, the voice of Peter himself (and the live-action star of Disney classics like Song of the South and Treasure Island), Kathryn Beaumont, who was Wonderland's Alice as well as Neverland's Wendy, and animator Marc Davis, who designed Tinkerbell using model Margaret Kerry (not Marilyn Monroe, as the urban myth goes). You'll see original storyboards, some darker and more sinister in tone, from Walt Disney's 20-year quest to bring Peter Pan to the screen. You'll get to see stills from the costumed, live-action version filmed by Disney to give the animators visuals to work from. All in all, it's an educational quarter-hour, and a welcome addition to the body of Disney lore.

So, back to my earlier question: Is it really necessary to grow up? The answer is a resounding "NO!" so long as features like "Peter Pan" exist to resurrect, even briefly, our childhoods.

[ by Tom Knapp ]

Buy it from