It had been a really long time since I had seen Peter Pan before Netflix brought it yesterday. Watching it, I was very surprised, both by how much I enjoyed it, and by how dated it seemed.
The most obviously dated element is the
American Indian stereotypes. They’re almost uncomfortably bad (“We smoke-um peace pipe,” “Squaw fetch firewood”), and the Indians play a much larger role than I recalled.
The other thing that reminds you just how long ago this movie came out is the music. Elvis Presley’s debut album didn’t come out until 1956, so the songs here are essentially musical theater and show no rock influence.
After being reminded of the age of the film, there are also aspects that seem extremely progressive for 1953. The Darling parents are the bad guys at the start of the film, forcing Wendy to abandon her childish ways and grow up before she’s ready. Four years before Leave it to Beaver, this seems like a nearly subversive perspective.
Peter’s refusal to grow old is another subversive aspect to the movie. What struck me in this latest viewing is how much of Peter’s eternal childhood arises from his refusal to settle down with one girl. Throughout the film, we see Peter show interest in Wendy (whom he claims to want as his mother), Tinkerbell, the mermaids, and Tiger Lilly. This philandering seems oddly misplaced in a children’s movie, but made Peter Pan a much more sympathetic character for me.
- There’s an unbelievable amount of jealousy between the women, with Tinkerbell and the mermaids jealous of Wendy, and Wendy jealous of Tiger Lilly.
- It’s not only Peter and the Lost Boys who refuse to grow old, though. What about Captain Hook and the pirates? What’s a better way to hold on to adolescence than to become a pirate?
- After watching a lot of modern children’s entertainment, it’s a bit disconcerting to see a movie like this without jokes aimed at adults. I guess the point is that a good kids’ movie doesn’t need knowing nods to the adults in the audiences.