Peter Pan (1953)
You don't remember this right
A That’s Not Canon Productions podcast
Hi there and welcome back to Oof! Right in the Childhood, a podcast where I watch, react, and commentate on the Disney animated feature films in the order that they were released. Today, I’ll be talking about 1953’s Peter Pan and whew, you do not remember this one correctly.
Before we talk about why that is, I want to discuss where it came from and how it was made. Peter Pan first appeared in Scottish Novelist J.M. Barrie’s novel The Little White Bird which was published in 1903. Though Peter’s story was only planned to appear in one chapter, it eventually grew and took up a fair portion of the book. In 1906, those 100 pages were published separately as a novella called Peter Pan in Kensington Gardens. Between these, J.M. also released a play in 1904 called Peter Pan, The Boy Who Wouldn’t Grow Up.
When the first production was put on, Barrie gifted the rights of the play to Great Ormand Street Hospital so that every production would pay the hospital for its rights. Barrie requested the hospital never reveal how much money the play brings in. They have thus far respected that request. But every time the play has been produced to this day, the hospital gets the royalties.
Walt himself emptied his piggy bank to see Peter Pan on stage on 1905. He fell in love, and planned Peter Pan as his second animated feature film. In 1935, he tried to acquire the rights from the hospital, but they were held by Paramount. After a few years, they went up for auction again, and Disney won the animation rights in 1939. The contract stated that the hospital would receive box office royalties, any time the movie was released into theatres.
Disney worked on Peter Pan until 1941, when, just like Cinderella and Alice in Wonderland, it got shelved as it wasn’t developed enough to be included in the bank deal. Though Walt knew he couldn’t release the movie until his debts were repaid, he still thought of Peter Pan. He assigned a director, Jack Kinney who took his job really seriously.
Six months later, Jack presented over two hours of storyboards for the movie. Walt listened intently and then said, “So, I’ve been thinking about Cinderella.”
Boy, working for Walt Disney had to be a rollercoaster of a ride.
When the studio was given the go ahead by the bank to make 3 new feature-length films in 1947, Walt felt that Cinderella was the closest to Snow White to give the studio its proverbial reboot. It makes sense. He started with a princess; he wanted to restart with a princess. It’s better than just restarting a superhero franchise like some studios I can think of. Oh wait, that might be Disney.
For the first time since Bambi, the studio brought in live action references to draw the characters. They brought in Margaret Kerry to act out Tinkerbell. There are some really cute pictures of her stuck in a giant keyhole and her teacher, Roland Dupree was brought in for Peter Pan. The animators said that drawing the children flying was the biggest challenge of the film, as they just had the actors walk around with their arms out. It sounds hilarious to think about.
The movie was budgeted for $3 million, at which Roy Disney balked. Cinderella, though a magnificent success, had only cost the studio $2.9 million, and to have a starting budget this large was absolutely absurd. In the end, it cost them $4 million, which adjusted for inflation is about $39 million today.
Peter Pan was the final RKO-distributed Disney movie. And when it was released, according to Box Office Mojo, it brought in over $40 million at the box office. That’s $389.9 million today, 10 times its budget!
And again, the Great Ormand Street Hospital received box office royalties for this and all theatrical releases of the movie. That includes the subsequent theatrical releases in 1969, 1976, 1982, and 1989. The problem came when Disney was beginning to release their movies onto home media. When we get to that era, I’ll talk more about the Disney vault, but we'll talk about Peter Pan today. Peter Pan was held for years.
For example, Disney released Mary Poppins onto VHS in 1980, and held Peter Pan for 10 more years. It wasn’t the last classic movie to be released, but it was definitely held until the end of the classics-to-video era. And that was for a couple of reasons. First, the original contract with the hospital didn’t include home video releases. Of course it didn’t. Home video releases were to 1939 what transporter technology is to 2020. It’s something we’d like to see happen, but it’s not something I’d write into a contract.
The second problem was that Disney wasn’t just making money off of the Peter Pan movies. They sold toys, clothing, lunchboxes. There were Disney parks making money off of Peter Pan and Tinkerbell’s images. And heck, in 1990, they started using the Disney castle opening screen on all the movies, and that includes Tinkerbell. There was no real way to calculate the profits Disney was actually making off of Peter Pan.
So they didn’t renegotiate the contract. Which, at first, seems a little skeevy. But they didn’t actually have to. They still had the exclusive animation rights to the story in perpetuity, and they could do with it what they liked. But instead of negotiating a new residual percentage and trying to calculate exactly what their profit from the Peter Pan properties was, Disney chose instead to simply make regular, large donations to the Great Ormand Street Hospital and their charity of the same name.
They announced a formal partnership with the hospital in 2008, and since then have donated over £10 million. They also provide the hospital with toys, decor, paintings, and official visits of Disney princesses for the children. They also show premieres of Disney films there for children who are too sick to leave.
So, when we get to the movie after this short sponsor break, try to remind yourself how much money it’s provided to sick children. It definitely doesn’t forgive everything, but at least it’s done some good.
I want to take a moment to thank my supporters on Patreon. Supporters on Patreon help me cover hosting fees and upgrade my equipment while being able to choose to promote small businesses. There are a few changes this month. As of now, all supporters, starting at the Whistle While I Work level, or $1 a month get an ad free versions of every episode one day early. Fairy Godmothers like Jason and Mixie at the $5 level still get a bonus episode on the first of every month. This month, I explore Mary Poppins in depth. From Walt badgering a woman for the rights she didn’t want to give to possible rape culture moments, Mary Poppins is practically perfect in every way, so come over to hear everything you didn’t want to know about Mary Poppins. If you'd like to become a patron, you can search the show over at Patreon, or you can follow the link in the show notes or on my website.
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Before we get to the film, I want to explain that Peter Pan may be the entire reason why there is an “Oof! Right in the Childhood” podcast. See, this all started out on a plan to watch the whole Disney feature film catalogue and post a reaction thread to my Facebook wall. And I was so excited to watch this film I was in love with as a kid, and then, holy crap there’s a lot to say “Oof!” about here.
So right off the bat, I’m going to give you a trigger warning for sexism, a whackload of racism, and some troubling themes of violence.
Between when I watched Peter Pan a couple of months ago and now, Disney has added a new, unskippable notice to this and some other films like Dumbo that says, and I quote “This programme includes negative depictions and/or mistreatment of people or cultures. These stereotypes were wrong then and they’re wrong now. Rather than remove this content, we want to acknowledge its harmful impact, learn from it, and spark conversation to create a more inclusive future together. Disney is committed to creating stories with inspirational and aspirational themes that reflect the rich diversity of the human experience around the globe. To learn more about how stories have impacted society visit: www.Disney.com/StoriesMatter"
And really that’s what most of us are looking for. Not an erasure, a greater discussion about what went wrong and, moving forward, how to fix it. All that said, let’s get on with the show.
I also want to mention that, though I've seen this many times, I was far more interested in watching the tape of the 1960 stage production that had Mary Martin as Peter. I was an odd child.
Apparently the opening number was originally part of Alice in Wonderland, but was cut and had its lyrics rewritten for Peter Pan.
Ah yes, we're starting with Mr. Darling, who yells about not being able to find his cufflinks. Which he likely put away. He hurts himself looking for them.
Everyone in this household believes in Peter Pan except for Mr. Darling. Wendy is voiced by the same girl who played Alice.
Nana the smallest St. Bernard delivers the childrens’ tonic, makes their bed, and puts away their toys. Where can I get me a dog that cleans my house?
The boys are sword fighting. George barges in and destroys all of Nana’s hard work and then yells at her. The children have taken his shirt front and cufflinks. The shirt front is a treasure map. Someone get these kids some paper.
George is angry that Wendy has told the boys stories. The British parents of the early century are — something. My Patreon bonus episode is on Mary Poppins, and George Banks and George Darling seem like they could have tea together and talk about how monstrous their very well-behaved children are.
George Darling is terrible. I hope he's sad when his kids go missing. He might have a point about Wendy having her own room. She’s thirteen or fourteen. But I feel like there are some implications I’m missing here. His boorish attitude is immediately rewarded by being hurt.
Poor Nana! That's right. She's the one who was treated badly. What a jerk.
"No more dogs as nursemaids in this house," well, I guarantee that a human nursemaid costs more.
I often wonder about Disney's relationship with his parents when I watch his cartoon versions of parents. There’s some indication that he wasn’t thrilled with his father in Saving Mr. Banks, but I really don’t know how much of that was true.
Wendy says she’s got Peter Pan’s shadow as she falls asleep. George absolutely loses what’s left of his temper when he hears this.
Peter and Tink break into the room and begin to look for the shadow. Tinkerbell is easily the sexiest thing Disney had drawn up to this point, and though the idea that she was based on Marilyn Monroe is absolutely wrong, but I see how people got there.
He’s trying to stick the shadow on with soap. Um...why? How? This never made any sense. But Wendy’s going to sew it on. Tink gets thrown around in the drawer. This may be the beginning of the animosity she feels for Wendy.
"Get on with it, girl." Okay, first, how dare you?
Peter is completely uninterested in Wendy until she says she has to grow up tomorrow, and then he’s like, “Not on my watch!”
Tink's all like "What is happening right now?"
She gets all jealous when Wendy tries to kiss Peter. In the stage production, every time Peter “gives someone a kiss,” he hands them a button. It’s a running gag.
He tries to catch Tink and wakes up the boys. Now everyone’s involved. “She says you’re a big ugly girl.” Okay, I love the modern ideation of Tinkerbell, but in this version, she’s quite something.
Wendy is unphased. “Well, I think she’s beautiful.” Good job Wendy. Strong women support strong women.
How do we fly? We just think of happy ideas. The kids are going to imagine, in this order, a mermaid cove, a pirate ship, and of being a member of a Native American tribe. I’m PCing that up. That’s what we call foreshadowing, kids. And they — can’t fly.
That’s because Peter forgot the pixie dust. Quick note of that. When Barrie wrote the play, it was in a constant state of flux. He rewrote it ever so often to keep up with the times. And the pixie dust came from the first rewrite. See, when the play hit theatres, they boys could just fly because they could, and children who saw the show then tried to fly themselves and broke a few arms.
So, Barrie’s first rewrite was to add in the pixie dust to allow flying. It cut down on post-theatre injuries.
Peter grabs Tinkerbell out of the air, holds her by the wings, and spanks her to release some dust on the kids. This movie, y’all.
For some reason, I have a memory of the children singing You Can Fly in the bedroom, but I guess I just made that up.
Think of Christmas, think of snow...
I never noticed that line thrown in "Every dream that you wish will come true" which is from Cinderella.
A fish tries to eat Tinkerbell. It’s very exciting.
"Second star to the right, and straight on til morning," always seemed like a bad navigation method. There are a billion, billion stars in our Galaxy. Right while facing what direction? Straight on til morning traveling at what speed? These are the things I have always thought about.
We zoom into a beautiful island and pirates singing about how great being a pirate is. They’re throwing knives at a chalk drawing of the Captain. That’s almost a mutiny. They’re upset that they haven’t killed anyone in a while. One says, “We’ve almost forgotten how to slit a throat,” and point of fact, I’ve never slit a throat, but I’m pretty sure there’s not a specific technique. I could do it.
Captain Hook, who graduated from Eton, by the way, is trying to figure out where Peter Pan is hiding. He’s checked Mermaid Lagoon and Cannibal Cove. He ignores Crocodile Creek for reasons that will be obvious. Then he lands on the, um Native American Reservation and calls them a racial slur while also acknowledging that they know way more about the island than anyone else.
Oh, this is just the start of the racism, y’all. Hold onto your pants. The 1950s is so 1950s.
Tiger Lily will know where Peter Pan is! I’ll just torture her so she’ll tell me. Some dude is singing about how great being a pirate is, and how a pirate’s life is short. So Hook shoots him.
"Cutting your hand off was just a childish prank." I'm sorry, WHAT?
Enter the crocodile. We know because it ticks. Apparently pocket watches don’t digest.
Smee is shaving a seagull's butt which flies off making it seem that he cut off Hook’s head.
Look, children flying! Shoot them with a cannon! They’re, um, standing on a cloud. I mean, Mary Poppins does that, why not Peter Pan. You know what? I did not realize how many parallels there are with Mary Poppins and Peter Pan.
I love Tinkerbell so much, but she's absolutely awful in this movie. She starts a fight with the lost boys, tells them that Peter’s orders are to kill Wendy, and is completely unapologetic about that. "I intended to kill Wendy, and I'm fine with it."
Peter banishes her forever, but then on Wendy’s request decides a week is enough.
"Go out and capture some Indians," Oof! Right in the childhood.
Following the leader! I love this song. It’s really the last one before the movie devolves into super racism. There are so many biomes on this teeny island. They go through rainforest, savannah, and arboreal forest.
Oh my god. Everything about the "hunting the Indians" scene is so cringey. "Blackfoot, part of the Algonquin tribe. Quite savage, you know." Ugh. John, we don't call people savage. That’s a no no.
I cannot list everything in this scene that is messed up, and I’m not going to. There are a metric ton of racist depictions and ideals. The Native Americans are actually red. Like legit, red. I'd like this scene to end, please.
The Lost Boys are pretty cool about John getting them captured. The Chief’s speech pattern is just so, so racist. This is so bad!
Onto the mermaids! That’s happier, right? It’s not.
There's a fan theory that one of the red haired mermaids here is Ariel's mother and that the pirates killed her. The mermaids proceed to try to pull Wendy into the water and splash her.
"We were only trying to drown her." Pardon?
Wendy’s dismay is interrupted by Hook rowing by with Tiger Lily in the boat.
Take a moment to look at Tiger Lily. As a kid, I thought she was the most beautiful thing that Disney had ever drawn. She is beautiful, but the problem is that her facial structures are the same as Wendy’s. Basically, they drew a White girl, coloured her slightly darker and put her in generic Native American garb and said, “This is what pretty looks like.”
Peter proceeds to trick Smee into releasing Tiger Lily.
"Why it's Peter Pan." Smee is amazing.
Smee almost shoots Captain Hook, then gives away that he’s alive before he can kill Peter.
The crocodile is here. Hook displays typical symptoms of PTSD and the crocodile is his trigger. And honestly, that seems fair. The croc is trying to eat him.
Oh the girl you came to save? Yes, Peter, you should save her!
Smee gives Hook some good ol’ head trauma. Then we get some fun sexism. “A jealous female may do anything for revenge.”
And oh, we went back to the Native Americans. Oh my god. So much oof. Even their sign language has a racist structure. And now we’re going to have a song that I know I blocked out the whole of What Makes the Red Man Red. And you know what? I wish it had stayed blocked. This whole scene is just a downward spiral of terribleness. I won’t even give it the time to quote some of it’s awfulness, but holy crap. It even throws in sexism with racism. Such a classic.
Why is Wendy not allowed to dance, but Tiger Lily is? Wendy at least draws the line there. She’s going home.
Meanwhile, Smee captures Tinkerbell then gets blind drunk.
Hook tricks Tink by throwing everything on Wendy.
Tink does this whole dance around their map to show them the way to where Peter lives, but they already have it on their map. Apparently, Peter Pan and the Lost Boys live in the Hangman's Tree. Eek.
And what do you know? That tree does have a noose hanging from it. Dear Lord, I’m glad we don’t know why it got that name. There’s a whole bunch more potential racism there.
"Oh, Wendy, everyone thinks I'm wonderful." Lord, give me half the self assurance of a mediocre White boy.
Michael thinks Nana was their mother. They’ve been gone less than a day, and he’s forgotten what their mother looks like. Wendy sings a song about how great moms are. No mention of dads. Given what we’ve seen of their dad, that seems fair. Even the pirates miss their moms.
Wendy’s bringing 8 young boys back to her mother. I'm sure she won't mind at all.
Peter’s all, “Once you’re grown up, you can never come back.” But the pirates?
They’re dropping a gift down the hole to kill Peter. It would be more humane to slit his throat. I’m left to assume this is a dirty bomb.
The pirates are happily dancing and singing about how great Hook is. Sign up as a pirate for a free tattoo? Excellent! If you don’t, you walk the plank, and the mermaids will definitely kill Wendy. Who knows about the rest. All the boys are totes ready to be pirates. They’re excited.
Wendy insists that Peter will save them. Don’t know why Hook couldn’t keep his mouth shut for 18 seconds.
Tink was completely ready to let all the Lost Boys die until she found out they were going to blow up Peter.
Tinkerbell gets free, flies to Peter’s aid, and wrests the box out of his hands. This is her redemption arc, but I mean, she saved the only boy that she ever cared about to begin with. She does tell him to rescue Wendy and the boys. There’s this brief interlude of Peter begging her not to go out. This is the point in the play where you have to clap to show you believe in fairies. It’s the best part of the play, and that’s actually saying something.
Wendy walks the plank, but doesn’t splash. Tink and Peter are there to save them. I guess their fairy dust has worn off by now?
Small children fight off adult pirates. Smee abandons ship. There’s a whole colonialism moment where Hook calls Peter a coward because he doesn’t fight “the right way” which was a huge thing for the British. But Peter does fight without flying. It’s Hook that fights dirty. Very Imperialist of him.
Unlike in the play, Hook doesn’t die. In the play, his last line is Floreat Etona which is how we know he graduated from Eton college. Barrie was also good friends with the creator of Long John Silver, so they believed Hook had met up Silver before he ended up on Neverland, and that’s who he based his persona on.
Peter’s flying the ship back to London. As a kid, I always thought this was patently unfair to ask of Tinkerbell. Like, what if her dust is of limited supply? Or it needs to regenerate? These are the things I thought of.
I guess the children got back before their parents realized that they were gone. All of a sudden, George is a decent human being?
“You know I never mean those things.” Apparently George says these things a lot.
Wendy says that she is ready to grow up now, but George is okay with her not doing so.
They see the ship in the clouds and George says he remembers that ship from when he was a child? That feels like a story in and of itself!
You know, the more I think about the expulsion of Wendy from the nursery and the question of whether she’s ready to grow up, I wonder if this is a question of puberty. Possibly the idea of her growing up is really the question of if she will go through menarche now. Will she “become a woman” or stay a child? And for some reason, her father gets to decide that for her. Sure. Okay.
But I’d love to hear your thoughts on Peter Pan. How do you remember this movie from your childhood? Did you block out some of the more troubling parts like me, or despite the title of this episode, do you remember this right?
Let me know on my social media. You can find me on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook under the username oofmychildhood. I’d love to hear from you.
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So, until next time, keep the magic alive.