Walt Disney long held an affinity for Sir James M. Barrie’s classic children’s book Peter Pan. But even though he acquired the story rights in 1939, it would take until 1953 before his imaginative interpretation would enthrall theater audiences. Some six decades later, audiences of all ages remain hooked on this animated masterpiece.
The Darlings are an affluent family living in turn-of-the century London. Their eldest daughter Wendy is fond of employing her colorful imagination to weave tales of a young boy who refused to grow up – stories that she is all to eager to share with her young siblings, John and Michael. Her father disapproves of such fantasy and insists that she move out of the nursery she shares with her brothers.
Spending their last night together in the nursery, the children are visited by Peter Pan, who is searching for his lost shadow. After Wendy helps boy and shadow reunite, a grateful Peter suggests the group all fly with him to Neverland. Peter’s pixie friend, the jealous Tinker Bell isn’t too keen on the idea but with a little sprinkling of magical pixie dust, the group is soon flying over the skyline of London, “towards the second star to the right and straight on ‘til morning.”
Never Neverland just so happens to be the home of the sinister Captain Hook, a nasty pirate fond of terrorizing Peter’s gang, The Lost Boys. Hook has managed to capture Tiger Lily, an Indian princess and Peter dutifully comes to their aid. His traveling companions do their best to assist, but wind up captured by the Pirate. Peter will have to take the fight to Hook himself and the loser is going to end up as lunch for a hungry alligator.
When Peter Pan was performed as a play, it was traditional for a girl to play the title role. Disney took a different approach, using child star Bobby Driscoll to provide the voice of the young hero. To assist the animators, scenes were first shot with real actors so they could be used as a reference to make the fight scenes more realistic. All in all, Disney would pump $4 million into the production of Peter Pan, a huge budget for the time. No matter, it paid off handsomely.
With a collection of memorable songs such as “You Can Fly, You Can Fly” and “Never Smile at a Crocodile”, the film was destined to become an instant classic and remains one of the most beloved animated films that Disney ever produced. Almost sixty years later, the Disney Company released a sequel called Return to Neverland in 2002. And when Walt opened Disneyland in 1955, he made sure to include a ride called “Peter Pan’s Flight” which has allowed millions of kids of all ages to take to the skies and fly with Peter over the London Skyline and the treacherous Neverland. It’s no coincidence that it is perhaps the most popular ride in all of Disneyland.
If you harbor your own fond memories of this timeless Disney movie, we hope you’ll share your recollections of Peter Pan in our comments section.