Peter in foreground, followed by Wendey, Michael and John. Artist: Bob Grant.


Original Medium: Live stage production
Performed in: London
First appeared: 1904
Creator: James M. Barrie
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In retrospect, at least, it seems perfectly natural that Disney would produce a feature-length cartoon based on James M. Barrie's 1911 novel, originally titled Peter Pan & Wendy, in 1953 — having done the "other" classic female protagonist

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… from British children's literature a year and a half earlier. If it wouldn't inevitably invite comparison's with MGM's near-perfect 1939 live-action production, perhaps they'd have made a trilogy of it with the classic American female protagonist, Dorothy.

Barrie's Peter Pan character actually made his first appearance in the 1902 novel, The Little White Bird, but he didn't truly come to life until Barrie's stage play, Peter Pan, or, the Boy Who Wouldn't Grow Up, was first performed, in 1904. With the publication of his novel based on the play, in 1911, the character entered the realm of children's classics. The story was first filmed in 1924. The Disney version was released February 5, 1953.

Unlike a lot of Disney versions, this one had no "classic look" that the studio could tamper with only at its peril. By basing the characters on Barrie's verbal descriptions, and sticking more-or-less faithfully to the story (a notable exception was letting Captain Hook be last seen running from the Crocodile, rather than disappearing into its belly), critical scorn was largely avoided. In fact, the worst said of it at the time was that it merely repeated what was good about the play, without adding very much in the way of originality. Subsequent generations seem to have forgotten that — it's remembered as a thoroughly enjoyable classic in its own right, greeted enthusiastically with each new release, whether in theatres or on home video.

Peter's voice was provided by Bobby Driscoll, a veteran face actor just starting to outgrow the child roles he'd been playing for the past decade. His first voice role was in the previous year's Father's Lion, where he played Goofy's son, a prototype of Max Goof. The female lead, Wendy Darling, was Kathryn Beaumont, whose less stellar career had taken a similar path, her only other voice role being the title character in Alice in Wonderland. Wendy's brothers, Michael and John, were Tommy Luske and Michael Collins, respectively, neither of whom is known for other voice work in animated films. Peter's sidekick, Tinker Bell, didn't speak.

Captain Hook was made one of Disney's more memorable villains by character actor Hans Conried, who not only supplied the voice (as he'd done for villains in Drak Pack, Dudley Do-Right and the Mr. Magoo version of 1001 Arabian Nights) — he'd even performed the role, with the animation rotoscoped from his performance. Conried's first Disney role had been the Magic Mirror in a 1951 Snow White TV reference. Hook's most prominent minion, Mr. Smee, was voiced by Bill Thompson (Touché Turtle, Droopy).

The usual merchandise flowed from Peter Pan, including a comic book adaption from Dell, where the cover was by Bob Grant (Pluto) and the interior by Al Hubbard (Scamp). For years, the adaption was reprinted with each new release, by either Dell or Gold Key.

Disney's was the first cartoon adaptation of Peter Pan. The second was a 1989 animé from Nippon Animation. Fox Kids (Eek! the Cat) produced Peter Pan & the Pirates in 1990, with Jason Marsden (Danger Duck in Loonatics) as Peter and Tim Curry (Nigel Thornberry) as Hook. That was also the year of a French comic book prequel.

In 2002, Disney itself released Peter Pan II: Return to Neverland, one of its endless straight-to-video sequels to its animated classics. In it, Neverland again enters Wendy's life in the real world, but too many years have passed and Wendy's daughter Jane (first seen in Barrie's original novel and added to many later stage productions, as was Jane's daughter, Margaret) takes her place. Like the sequels to The Little Mermaid, Cinderella and many others, this feature seems likely to remain a mere footnote to the original.


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Text ©2007-10 Donald D. Markstein. Art © Walt Disney Productions.