According to animation expert Charles Solomon, Walt Disney was reluctant to make Peter Pan. After acquiring the rights in 1939, he dragged his feet for years and put his staff through countless rewrites.
The sad thing is, the finished product doesn’t quite stand with the best in the Disney canon. The stage version starring Mary Martin, taped for TV in 1960 and newly released on video, is the clearly superior fantasy. The problem is not so much the liberties the animated version takes with James M. Barrie’s original play as it is the Disney team’s inability to get a grip on the story. It comes off as a series of disconnected bits, not a magical meditation on the melancholy fate of growing up.
Still, many of Disney’s bits are marvelous. When Peter, Wendy, and assorted siblings ascend through the skies over London and swoosh ”straight on till morning,” the viewer gets a soaring sensation that only animation can provide. Peter Pan is filled with excellently weird scenes, such as Captain Hook’s skull-shaped grotto lit menacingly from within and his humiliating pratfall combat with his alligator nemesis.
Such touches are a treat for animation fans, but they can’t outweigh the movie’s flaws. The tunes are mostly undistinguished, the portraits of women (especially Tinkerbell and the mermaid creatures) are annoyingly demeaning, and the uninspired sequences outnumber the good ones. Adults who want to rewind a bit of their childhood with this should be prepared for a mild letdown. Kids will probably have more fun taking the plunge with Disney’s The Little Mermaid. B-