This is one of many adaptations of J. M. Barrie’s play, but is probably the most well-known one.
Okay heavy criticism had been levelled at this film over the years for certain aspects of it so let’s skip right to that.
Yes, I agree with the majority assertion that the Indians in this movie are terrible stereotypes in the way they are drawn and presented, both in voice work and in how other characters describe them. John’s line about the Indians not being intelligent actually made my jaw drop watching the film for this review. The Indian chief is on the top of my personal list of things I fast-forward through in this movie. Honestly I always found him scary as a kid and that hasn’t really changed, apart from really growing to like the dancing sequence with him, because that was done by my idol Ward Kimball. Also I have to admit that ‘What Makes the Red Man Red’ is very catchy and I still enjoy it as a song. That said the lyrics and all of the stuff I just mentioned are not okay, along with the use of the words squaw and red-skins. However, this was made in the 50s before Native American rights came to the forefront. Furthermore this is Disney. The company at the time prided itself on being a wholesome family friendly art-form that did not seek to do anything controversial. They worked in technical innovation, not pushing society’s boundaries. I don’t expect it to be some paragon of modern virtues totally ahead of its time. Even a show like Star Trek that was about trying to push boundaries and explore difficult topics, and be something interesting and timeless has issues that arise from the era in which it was made. I will not blast the film for not knowing better, in that time this kind of stereotyping of ethnic groups was acceptable in the industry and if we want to continue showing this film to modern audiences that must be accepted. So the question that can now be asked is should we keep showing it? Should this film instead be stuffed in the vault a la Song of the South and left there? I would argue no it doesn’t need to be dropped into history simply because it has racial issues. I mean outside of thinking the Indian chief was a heck of a lot scarier than Captain Hook I didn’t notice any of this when I was young and so I think it’s okay for kids to see it, because chances are they won’t notice it either. And if they do notice and are aware enough to ask questions parents can explain why Native Americans are portrayed like that and why it’s not okay to do that today. So this can be used as a learning tool and I think a very accessible one.
Actually watching this as an adult I found the one thing that really bothered me this time around wasn’t the Indians really it was the relationships between the female characters. Outside of Wendy and her mother they are all negative. Every single one is portrayed as females being against one another and all of it is over a guy. Tinkerbell is jealous of Wendy and so are the mermaids. Wendy is jealous of Tiger Lily, and they’re all pinning after Peter who is really kind of jerky goof-ball. He really is a very typical selfish child, more concerned about his own feelings and desires than anyone else’s. Very true to Barrie’s original concept so that’s good; I just don’t find him very much fun or all that interesting. Honestly the portrayal of every female character as jealous and catty is really off-putting to me, if you’re looking for an example of strong female bonds this film certainly doesn’t have it.
Okay so far we have bad Native American stereotypes and bad female stereotypes, along with a main character who I don’t find very likable. Is there anything in this film that does work? Yes, and the first thing is that the slapstick is hilarious. I loved Hook and the crocodile fights as a kid and it’s still great now. The great contrast of Hook and Smee as his bumbling right hand man is a laugh-riot too. Even the bits with George in the beginning hitting his head on the drawer and ranting on about Peter Pan are great stuff. I like that we establish the Darlings as a regular family in opening scene too. George isn’t some ham-handed horrible father, just a guy who gets over-excited on occasion. The voice acting overall is really good and the animation is top notch. Tinkerbell, while I may not like her personality, still has a great display of that personality in her body language. The floating effect with Peter is wonderful and all the subtle movements Hook’s eyes and moustache twitching into time to the tik tok of the clock inside the crocodile are just a thrill for me to watch as aspiring animator, this is great stuff. The look of the film is also really good, there’s a nice variety of locations and Peter’s hideout in the tree is the best clubhouse ever. The songs are fun and catchy and ‘Your Mother and Mine’ is wonderfully touching. Finally I think Hook is a really great villain. He’s charming when needed while also being cruel, bombastic, and scared witless when the situation calls for it. He is acts all sophisticated when he tricks Tinkerbell into revealing Peter’s hideout and then just goes full out monster in the final battle when he taunts Peter. Then to top it all off he goes right back to being a scared codfish when the crocodile comes back at the end. If only Peter was this interesting.
Re-watching this as an adult I also really like all the little subtle ways Wendy is on the cusp of young adulthood. The obvious one is her crush on Peter, while he is still very much a child and totally not interested in anyone that way. But the other stuff intrigues me too. The way she is motherly to her brothers and to Peter sometimes. Yet she still wants to have fun. She enjoys flying and initially wants enjoy the party at the Indian village. She is really straddling the edge of childhood and young adulthood and it’s nice to watch really. John and Michael are also fun to watch and I like the wide age range of the kids that allows for different reactions to all the situations. John is the serious scholarly type while Michael is the young innocent kid who just wants to have fun. They act as the characters you can imagine yourself being and since they have a large age range the film ages really well through childhood, at least I found that to be the case.
To sum it all up I have to say that I still really like this film. It has a fun story, great animation, a good voice cast, the songs are nice, and there’s some nice subtle stuff to explore for the adults in the audience. Are there problems with it? Absolutely. The women’s relationships and lack thereof and especially the portrayal of Native Americans are very problematic when viewing this from a modern perspective and rightfully so. However, I think that it’s something to be discussed and acknowledged not ignored or dismissed, and so I think people should watch the film talk about the good and the bad that’s there, and yet still enjoy it as a fun adventure film.