Up to this point, Peter Pan is definitely my favourite of the classic Disney movies we've covered. And, I’m champing at the bit to wax poetic on such topics as why the Red Man is red, the finer points of piracy, the symbolism of a “clockodile” and the virtues of leaving the house whilst wearing your pajamas. However, there’s something else that begs our attention. Ironically enough, it's in this ultimate boy’s adventure story that the women also give us some excellent fodder for discussion. From the neighbourhood of Bloomsbury, London to the far off island of Neverland, Peter Pan provides us the opportunity to celebrate the virtues of motherhood while also exploring the ugliness of that green eyed monster that afflicts so many in the female species – jealousy.
Peter Pan offers a layered and complicated view on what it means to be a mother. On one hand, as storytellers they play an integral role in keeping the “spirit of youth” alive. On the other hand, they act as “the helping hand that guides you along” towards adulthood in contrast to the more gruff and reactionary father. These dual roles are especially confusing to a teenage Wendy where, back at home, she plays mother to her younger brothers yet resists and resents her father's attempts to move her out of the nursery and towards womanhood. Then, to complicate matters, when Peter Pan hears that Wendy has been destined to a fate of “growing up,” he decides to combat this by absconding her to Neverland where she will become, get this, the Lost Boy's mother. That's where we learn about the darker side to Neverland. The Lost Boys have all but forgotten what and who their mother even is while the youngest Darling boy, Michael, has only been away from home for a few hours and has already begun to forget. This sad realization, in part, acts as Wendy's turning point as she now understands that her father was right (not in approach, but in theory) and it's time to become more practical and grow up by returning home to her mum and dad – John, Michael and even the Lost Boys agree.
As mothers, women are invaluable but, at times, their inclination towards jealousy can be almost as destructive as mothering is nurturing. This is no truer than with Tinker Bell. As Peter Pan's fairy companion, Tink sits in the catbird seat as the unofficial queen to Peter's king of Neverland. That is, until Peter decided to take up with a more size appropriate and non-mute gal pal. And, Tink's reaction to the “big ugly girl's” presence is downright abhorrent. Her plot to rid Neverland of Wendy starts out innocently enough as she tricks the Lost Boy's into only trying to kill the “Wendy Bird.” But then, she goes full green monster allowing herself to be tricked into aiding and abetting their mortal enemy, Captain Hook, in his plot to kill Peter Pan by thinking she was only helping him kidnap and shanghai Wendy. Sure, “Stinker Bell” would go on to somewhat redeem herself but we can't completely let her off the hook (pun INTENDED!) considering she tried killing the poor girl. Not to be outdone, the mermaids, also threatened by Wendy's mere presence, would also try their hand at murdering her as they brazenly attempted to drown her right in front of Peter. Sure, Wendy may be the victim of multiple jealousy-fueled crimes of passion but that doesn't stop her from displaying a green streak of her own as she helplessly watches on in horror as the Indian Princess, Tiger Lily, dances and even shares a kiss with a very smitten Peter Pan (if you're keeping score at home, this whole scene leaves Tiger Lily, appropriately enough, firmly atop the “Neverland Jealousy Totem Pole”). And, even though darling Wendy didn't try to kill Tiger Lily she did something worse – much worse. She instead takes out her frustrations on the boys as she declares it's time for bed – in Neverland and before six-o-clock no less! To think, all this nasty female in-fighting is all because of a pointy eared boy, in green tights who doesn't want to grow up.
It's amazing that a story best known for its swashbuckling action sequences and heroic adventures is so driven by motherhood and gal-on-gal jealousy. In fact, it's Mrs. Darling (the only real mother in the movie) who was responsible for passing on the stories of Peter Pan to her daughter in the first place. In a tale about growing up, it's the mother who serves as the true conduit between childhood and adulthood. Then, it's the jealousy Wendy feels that serves as a catalyst in making her realize how childish she's behaving and that it's time to return her brothers to their real mother and grow up. After all, as great as Neverland is, there are no mothers and as Wendy so eloquently puts it: “A real mother is the most wonderful person in the world.”
On a more whimsical note...
Is Peter Pan even a good guy? He's over-the-top conceited “everyone else thinks I'm wonderful!,” tells the Lost Boys stories about himself, talks down to women “girls talk too much” and encourages children not to grow up. Not to mention, he's horrifically violent – he cut off Hook's hand and fed it to the Crocodile!!! Like Hook said “He's a flying devil!”
For being such a “practical man,” Mr. Darling sure uses a lot of silly speak like “fiddle-faddle,” and “poppycock.”
Like most productions of the play, both Mr. Darling and Captain Hook are played by the same actor. Nana the Dog and the Crocodile also serve as counterparts as the Croc is drawn with dog-like characteristics. One point where the movie does stray from the play is that Peter Pan is played by a boy (Bobby Driscoll) and not a girl.
You might recognize the voice of Wendy (Katherine Beaumont) as she also played Alice in Alice in Wonderland.
What kind of weirdo teenage girl prefers hanging out with her younger brothers and loves living in the nursery in lieu of having her own room?
Before Peter Pan the name “Wendy” didn't exist.
As they throw knives at a likeness of Captian Hook, his crew looks like they're about ready to stage a mutiny on the account that they “ought to be lootin ships and slittin throats while the cap'n plays ring around the rosies with Peter Pan.”
In Stromboli and the Queen of Hearts, Disney dabbled with the idea of the comical villain but, with the fearsome fop Captain Hook, they perfected it as he would serve as the archetype for many a Disney antagonist to come.
Some of the notable locales of Neverland include Peg Leg Point, Blindman's Bluff, Crocodile Creek, Hangman's Tree, Mermaid Lagoon, Skull Rock, Indian Camp and Cannibal Cove.
I'm guessing the unseen Aborigines John mentions are the eponymous cannibals of Cannibal Cove.
With its wildlife and indigenous peoples, I'd venture to guess that Neverland is an amalgamation of North America (Indians and Grizzly Bears), Australia (Aborigines and saltwater crocodiles) and Africa (Rhinoceroses, hippopotamuses and monkeys).
Did you know that (some of) the Lost Boys have names? Cubby is the bear, Nibs the rabbit, Slightly the fox, Tootles the skunk and the unnamed twins are the raccoons.
Some mermaids wear shells, some don't... hubba hubba!
Know-it-all John claims the Indians are of the Blackfoot tribe, a part of the Algonquin group. However, while the Blackfoot tribe does dwell in teepees and smoke peace pipes, they do NOT carve totem poles. I'm guessing they're their own tribe which is unique to Neverland.
With Dumbo, we discussed the difference between the racist and the racial. Unfortunately, with its cartoonish stereotypes and derogatory slurs (savages, Injuns, redskins, etc), the depiction of the Neverland Indians is decidedly “big heap” racist. Call me a bad person but every sequence involving the Indians and especially the song "What Made the Red Man Red?" remain my absolute favourite parts of the movie. Two things can be equally true: racist.... yet, a delight!
In a movie full of foxy ladies (Mrs. Darling, Wendy, Tinker Bell and the mermaids), Tiger Lily sits atop “Neverland's Hotness Totem Pole” as well.
Ironically, Captain Hook's right-hand man Mr. Smee regards Peter Pan's cutting off of Hook's left hand as “only a childish prank.”
You wouldn't guess it but Mr. Smee proves to be the most piratey of all the pirates and quite the frontrunner as he can be seen sneaking off to the dinghy with a treasure chest and a bag of loot right as Peter Pan and the Lost Boys turn the tables on Hook and the rest of the crew during their climactic fight scene on Hook's ship.
Neverland > Wonderland... by A LOT! Plus, Neverland is REAL while Wonderland was just a dream.
Time works a bit differently in Neverland: Peter and the Darlings leave England and fly to Neverland at about 8pm, arrive in Neverland the next morning, spend the entire day there and return back home by 11pm – that's a whole day in three hours!
Sure, Hook's deeds of attempting to murder Peter, subsequently blowing up his home with a bomb, kidnapping the children and attempting to shanghai Wendy only to make her walk the plank are decidedly dastardly. However, it's a bit hypocritical when Peter chastises Hook with a “this time you've gone too far!” considering he cut off the man's hand and fed it to the Crocodile.
Nothing is funnier than when a defeated Hook is forced to declare “I'm a cod fish!”
By the way, what's so bad about being a cod fish? By all accounts, cod is a fine fish!
Like Alice in Wonderland, Peter Pan continues to have a strong influence on popular culture. One example that comes to mind is this shot from the television series Lost (2004) with a captured child's teddy bear.
I'd rather not discuss the influence that Peter Pan had on Michael Jackson's strange and tragic life.
The final scene where Mr. and Mrs. Darling look on in awe as they watch Captain Pan's ship flying through the sky reminds me of the final scene in Goonies (1985) where all of the adults are just as amazed to see One-Eyed Willie's ship out on the open sea.