Peter Pan (1953)

I really ought to stop watching all of these old Disney movies. I’m ruining perfectly good memories.

I had watched Peter Pan plenty of times as a child, but it was never one of my favorites. As I recall, I was too busy wishing I could sprout a tail like Ariel to be overly concerned with stories about a hook-handed pirate and a little boy who constantly torments him.  I firmly maintained that Peter Pan was for boys, and nothing in it would hold my interest.

Well, suffice it to say that after watching it again for the first time in years, I found plenty to interest me.  Unfortunately, for the most part it was for all the wrong reasons.

Based on a book by J.M. Berrie, Peter Pan tells the story of Wendy Darling, a young girl who has just been told she needs to stop acting like a child and grow up.  On that very night, Peter Pan flies into her room and whisks her, along with her two brothers, off to Neverland, a place where children never have to grow up.

A lengthy explanation of the plot isn’t really necessary.  After all, there have been countless incarnations of this story over the years, and it’s likely most people are at least passably familiar with a version of the tale.  The one in question is Disney’s though, and unfortunately I found quite a few issues with it.

The first offense occurs within the opening scene.  As Peter Pan bandies about the Darlings’ room trying to catch his shadow, we are met with a few side scenes of Tinkerbell, flitting about and adding nothing to the overall story.  In and of itself, there’s nothing offensive. It’s a way to introduce her character, especially since her pixie dust is needed to transport the children to Neverland.

However, it’s what she does that is quite frankly, obnoxious.  As she lands on a mirror and is admiring her reflection, she is struck by one particular image: that of her own butt, which apparently is much larger that she ever realized.

As she gauges the exact size of her hips, her face expresses her shock and disappointment all too well.  While Peter Pan is interacting with the children and establishing a personality all his own, this is what we learn of Tinkerbell: she’s vain.

Now I’m willing to get down off of my high horse long enough to recognize that Tinker Bell is not the star of the movie, nor is she the female lead.  Wendy does have a bit more to her character than Tink, but it doesn’t change the fact that this imagery was included in the first place.  It’s an unnecessary inclusion which only perpetuates the belief that women must be constantly concerned with their appearance.

Peter Pan and I were off to a bad start already.

As Peter and the children venture off to Neverland, we get to the real crux of the story.  Neverland is essentially every little boy’s fantasy come to life, with Peter Pan being the boy children everywhere wish they could be:  all of the girls adore him, the other boys look up to him as a leader, and there are plenty of opportunities for swashbuckling adventures which include making the grown-ups looks foolish.

I never realized it as a child, but literally every girl in this movie is vying for Peter’s affection.  With Wendy in the lead role, that makes every other girl a rival, and they’re not above fighting dirty to keep her away.

As one of the mermaids so flippantly remarks, “We were only trying to drown her.”

Ha ha ha. Yes, it’s wonderful to teach girls that if they’re jealous or want more attention from a boy they should just harass some poor, unsuspecting girl who was unfortunate enough to be in the company of said boy.  Great values, there.

Be it the mermaids, Tinkerbell, or Tiger Lily, ever girl on the island is competing for Peter’s attention.  Not only does it teach young boys that this is the norm, it teaches young girls that it’s alright to be petty and to view each other as the enemy.  I don’t believe this movie is single-handedly responsible for creating that sort of stereotypical cattiness often associated with adolescent girls.  It’s entirely possible that this sterotype was already firmly in place by the time this movie was created.  Peter Pan may have simply been going off of what was believed at the time.  Still, it’s a frustrating inclusion, especially in a movie that focuses so keenly on the wants and desires of a boy child.

On the flip side, for a young boy watching this film, it’s a pure delight.  Peter Pan is flying through the air, saving the day left and right, cracking jokes, acting silly, and making a fool out of his arch-nemesis, Captain Hook.  Peter Pan is the hero many young boys strive to emulate.  There’s nothing to dislike about this film from a boy’s perspective, and I can see why it’s so popular with that gender.  Still, it perpetuates many poor qualities as well, including disregard for female emotions and a focus on fun over safety or responsibility.  Once again, perhaps these are simply sterotypes of the day; however, stereotypes must continually be reinforced to hold any merit, and Peter Pan does just that.

The only element of depth I found and enjoyed was the ticking crocodile who constantly haunted Captain Hook.

The fear of the ticking croc is clearly a metaphor for Hook fearing time and, as they go hand in hand, the idea of growing old.  Exactly how Hook came to be in Neverland isn’t explained in the movie, nor is it mentioned if he can come and go as he pleases the way Pan does.  It seems fair to surmise though that Hook sought oou Neverland in order to stop aging, effectively cheating death.  It makes sense then that the sound of a clock, the symbol of passing time, would frighten him.

The fact that the incessant tick-tock comes from an overly zealous crocodile simply adds to the humor of the scenario.

Overall I wasn’t too impressed with the movie.  The long-forgotten details mentioned above stuck with me even after the movie was over, leaving a sour taste in my mouth.  I can see the appeal in the film for boys, but there just wasn’t enough to hold my attention.  I understand now more than ever why I wasn’t drawn to the movie as a child.

As I’m sure I’ll see in subsequent Disney movies, there were plenty of other female characters filling my little head with obnoxious gender roles.  I didn’t need Tinkerbell and her “big hips” to help the matter along.

-Jess

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