Peter Pan (1953)

It’s Peter Pandemonium, folks! The story of Peter Pan follows three children as they’re lured out of a window in the belief that they can fly, and then whisked away to a world where kids never grow old, Native Americans are “unintelligent” and a pirate captain and his crew are unable to defeat small children in battle. Predictibly, the kids have their victory, one of the kids learns the value of growing up and Disney made some money off it. Here’s some of the most interesting stuff from the movie:

Opening Titles:

As usual with Disney films of the day, the opening titles are accompanied by the typical weird intense singing.  “aaaAAHHaaahAAAAAAAAHHHHH” – you know, that kind of thing. Then we see something unusual for a Disney movie: According to Wikipedia (yes, we’re citing Wikipedia), he actually wanted Peter Pan to be his second film, but the children’s hospital was not satisfied with whatever deal Disney was offering until four years after negotiations began. Presumably Disney was not offering to help enough sick kids with the previous offers.
Oh crap… We seriously thought we were done with Bobby Driscoll. You might remember him looking like this:

Well, it turns out he’s the star of this movie too. Not only that but Peter Pan’s appearance was based on him. Based on the above pictures, we would have done the same. Also back for another Disney film are Kathryn Beaumont and Bill Thompson who previously played Alice and the White Rabbit in Alice in Wonderland, this time playing Wendy and Smee. Thankfully, they didn’t bring back Luana Patten to say “TeeEEENCHI!

For a Disney movie considered one of their classics, this movie is bereft of likeable characters and certainly none deserve any sort of treatment as role models.

The narrator begins the story with a threat telling us that it’s “happened before, and will all happen again.” As we try to stop ourselves from trembling before the narrator’s wrath (those narrators can be kind of scary), we are introduced to the Darling family. To put it simply, the mother isn’t opposed to them believing in Peter Pan, the father thinks it’s ‘poppycock’ and the children are obsessed with him. Wendy is described as the “Supreme Authority” on all things Pan.

We are also introduced to the long suffering Nana. Nana is seen doing all the work to look after the kids. She cleans up their messes, makes their beds, alphabetizes their blocks and dispenses their medicine. Nana is awesome. But, she gets no respect and is treated like crap. People ignore her, trip over her and yell at her. She may be a dog, but that’s no excuse. She’s sentient and super intelligent. The strain on her is obvious.  We’re sure Sarah McLaughlin and the Humane Society would have something to say about this!

After setting up who is pro and anti Pan (kind of like setting up who’s dating whom and sexual preference on Glee), the father, George Darling, drops the most heinous bomb on the family, basically ruining everyones lives.

Father!

George!

What?!

No!

ruh-roh!

OH MY GOSH! WHAT HAPPENED?!

Wendy gets to have her own room.
That’s it? Yep. How many kids in Edwardian England had their own room? Suck it up, princess.

After delivering this devastating blow, George and Mary leave for a party and the children are left to sleep…

This is when Peter Pan and Tinkerbell arrive on the scene; sneaking into the nursery to retrieve Pan’s shadow. He had lost it on a previous visit when Nana, in all her awesomeness, took it from him. Nana’s got skills. (We actually just watched an episode of Dog Whisperer tonight which dealt with dogs that are obsessed with chasing shadows…)
This scene is important because it establishes two things:

A:

Peter Pan is creepy.

and B:

Tinkerbell represents many of the worst stereotypes of women.

Peter Pan being creepy is pretty self explanatory, but we should explain what we mean with Tinkerbell. Actually, let’s explain all the females seeing as they all fit into…

Two Classic Female Archetypes: The Virgin and the Whore

Tinkerbell is selfish, skanky and obsessed with her appearance. She falls in the whore category. The first give away is the extremely short dress. This was 1953, a time that many look back to as a simpler, less skanky time (unlike a few decades before that). She has snuck in with Pan, and they want to get in and get out as quickly as possible. Tinkerbell is easily distracted, and upon seeing a mirror, immediately wastes time by checking out her figure. She initially looks pleased, but then notices her hips.

Wow Tinkerbell, you’re such a fatty.  If you didn’t have wings, you’d have to pay for two airline seats when you fly, you disgusting blimp.

The key question here is why write this into the film?
It seems to us that Tinkerbell is one of those characters that Disney has promoted as likeable, despite having no redeeming qualities in the movie (much like hobo-cricket).

In the film, this seems to be helping to establish her as self-absorbed and lacking in confidence, wanting to be more desirable to men.

This might be fine if the marketing machine didn’t want to portray her as a role model.

Mermaids, centaurs, same diff.

The mermaids are selfish, vain, loose, catty and wanton and therefore whores. As soon as they see Wendy–their competition for Pan’s attention–they try to kill her; shrugging their murderous attempts off as “only trying to drown her.”

Wendy is a good wife in training. She’s a virgin. She’s got some fire, though, and that we can’t have. Thankfully our hero Pan whisks her away from the looming drudgery and trappings of Edwardian womanhood to…the…drudgery and trappings of Neverland… oh. This whole Neverland thing really kind of sucks for Wendy. At least, it should. Most everyone wants her dead and those who don’t expect her to immediately fill the role of mother. Isn’t that pushing the whole growing up thing a bit more than Wendy having her own room? Still, and especially by the end of the movie, she’s basically a younger version of her mother, Mary, primed and ready for a marriage contract. Yay!

The minor character Mary, the mother, is doting , docile and dainty. She is modest and graceful. A good mother and wife. She’s a virgin, too, but, you know, not.

The Native American princess Tiger Lily doesn’t fit smoothly into either of these archetypes seeing as she is courageous, self possessed and possibly the least woeful female role model in the whole movie – but then again, Native Americans are portrayed as barely human so maybe she doesn’t really count at all.

Portrayal of Native Americans

This is how Disney saw native Americans (circa 1953).

Pan, as a cure for the boys’ boredom, sends John, Michael and the Lost Boys on a 19th Century-style safari saying ,  “Alright, go out and capture a few Indians.” Yes! It’s just that easy! Even a group of little boys could do it!
John explains why this is possible: “Now remember, the Indian is cunning, but not intelligent.” Why yes, kids, this is a totally okay thing to think! Also, how can you be cunning without being intelligent? Hmm…

Somewhat appropriately, John’s arrogance leads to the boys capture by the Indians. Any idea that this should be read as a challenge to negative stereotypes of Native Americans is soon refuted by this steaming turd:

In case you missed it, here are some chunks of corn from this fresh dung heap:

Why does he ask you how?
Once the Indian
didn’t know all the things
that he know now
but the Indian
he sure learn a lot
and it’s all from asking how

When did he first say “Ugh”?
In the Indian book it say
when first brave married squaw
he gave out with heap big ugh when he saw
his mother-in-law

What made the red man red?
let’s go back a million years
to the very first Indian prince
he kiss a maid
and start to blush
and we’ve all been blushin’ since

Obviously Disney did serious anthropological research before writing this song, interviewing members of several Native American nations to ensure accuracy and sensitivity.

I hope you learned something about Native American culture kiddies!  – *spew*

Lucky Dip…They’re All Turds: the Men of Peter Pan

While the portrayal of the ‘Indian’ men all boil down to offensive stereotypes, the other men barely fare any better. We’re using ‘barely’ loosely here. The male figures are just a mess without a solid reliable good guy among them.

Captain Hook – He’s bad and foolish, but generally alright for a pirate. You know…Pan cut off his hand. You’d be a little upset, too, wouldn’t you? Still, he’s no role model. He is a snappy dresser, though, so points for that.

Smee – Captain Hook’s bitch.

Peter Pan – He needs to be CHT!ed in the neck Cesar style. He’s a mixed bag.  He starts off as potentially likeable, but quickly becomes obnoxious with his thoughtless, self-centered and destructive behaviour. He expects Wendy to take over all the mothering duties. “Hey, Peter! Thanks for ripping me away from my loving parents (and Nana!) on false pretenses to act as maid, nurse, nanny, and cook. You’re a pal.” He’s basically a turd. Not a winner. Did we mentioned he cut off Captain Hook’s hand? Gross.

George Darling – The father of the family, he’s portrayed as short tempered and patronizing to wife and children, still he’s trying to help and probably just trying to do what he thinks is best for his family. He seems generally exasperated. Maybe stuff at work isn’t going well.

John – A colonial Edwardian scientific man in the making. All around British upper class twit. He proves himself a terrible leader of the lost boys during their Indian-hunting safari. Poor little Michael almost suffered…

...Death by Bear...

...Death by Hippo...

...and Death by Rhino butt.

Despite this, he’ll probably purchase a dandy little military commission as a grown up. Nice how that works.

Michael – Basically he’s just the baby. With that said, he is capable of the most awesome skill in the movie:

Turd-launching himself into the air.

The rest of it

So, Pan, Skankfairy, and the kids fly to Neverland. The mermaids try to drown Wendy and Skankfairy tries to get Pan’s band of child soldiers to shoot her out of the air. They encounter the natives, the pirates, there’s a scuffle between Pan and Hook, Pan wins, then the kids go home. At home they’re greeted by their parents, the father sees the golden ship in the sky and rediscovers his Panite roots. The End. There, we’ve just saved you a bunch of time.

More Beef with the Dis

How responsible is it to take complex characters and serve them to the audience as good or bad in such black and white terms? Is it so important to have heroes and villains to market? Captain Hook and the other pirates are bad, Pan and everybody else are good. (Even George Darling, bad at first, is a believer in the end, and thus, good.) With the possible exception of Skankfairy, who is traitorous, mood swingy, and jealous, but, you know, she’s a woman…

Disney, for as long as we can remember, has been treated by parents as a source of good, wholesome entertainment, but really where is the goodness and wholesomeness in a movie where ancient and beautiful cultures are denigrated and the most-loved characters are an obnoxious self-centered turd of a boy and a violently jealous fairy with body image issues? Wendy is essentially treated as a balance to the uncaring nature of Pan, but not without being bossed and dragged around by him. Pan’s a pimp; and not a good one. The few decent characters there are end up being pushed into situations that aren’t fair to them.

But no, it’s Disney and it’s a classic and kids have grown up with it for decades, so no, really it’s a great movie.

Potent Ponderable:

  • Is the portrayal of Native Americans in this film less offensive than the racist content of the frequently banned Song of the South?
  • What was Captain Hook’s name before he lost his hand? We think it was Captain Hand, but that’s just a wild guess.
  • An earlier draft of the movie saw Nana as a more prominent character; traveling to Neverland, with the whole story being told from her perspective. Too bad it was trashed.
  • We discussed at length whether Michael’s magic power is in fact turd-launching or fart-launching.  As he is a wee lad in a diaper, it’s hard to tell. What do you think?

Ratings:

MLE:
Rating:  4/17
Rating versus Joe versus the Volcano: Thumbs down.

Ricktopher: 
Rating:  6/24
Rating versus Joe versus the Volcano: Thumbs down.

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