The Return of Peter Pan and Wendy on Disney+

In 1953, Disney’s animation, Peter Pan, a film full of fantasy and iconic characters, hit theaters. It was an old studio project, still led by its founder. Walt Disney dreamed of the story of the boy who refused to age since 1935, having bought the rights and started working on the story three years later. Today, 70 years later, Disney+ takes a fresh look at the story, with the live-action Peter Pan and Wendy, updating several themes considered “dated” in the original.

The 1953 design took a while to reach the screens due to the 2nd World War because, after the attack on Pearl Harbor, the studio was hired by the US government to produce war training and propaganda films, taking priority away from animation. Still, they ran in parallel, using live-action reference footage that was filmed with actors on sound stages so the animators captured the movements perfectly. There’s a nostalgia to Peter Pan too because it marked the last work of the original nine members of Disney’s animation team, known as the Nine Old Men.

Released in February 1953, Peter Pan was even included in the Cannes Film Festival and was praised, although the depiction of Native Americans is problematic. Peter Pan, Tinkerbell, Wendy, Captain Hook, Tic-Tac, and many others have always been popular characters in the Disney universe, so much so that they gained more content over the years: Return to Never Land, from 2002; the prequels focused on Tinker Bell, in 2008 and finally the live-action adaptation of 2023.

The version directed by David Lowery speaks to today’s audience, contextualizing the original novel by J. M. Barrie, written in 1911. It was in Barrie’s play that the scriptwriters found the necessary elements to work on the film that is now showing. For example, Captain Hook had a name before he became “Hook”, and it is even suggested that he had attended the prestigious Eton College before becoming a pirate. This non-detailed passage provided the opportunity for Peter Pan and Wendy to finally tell the villain’s story and explain his connection to Peter. For example, Hook was “James”, a friend at Neverland, but the future pirate had to leave his friends in search of his mother. This separation hurt Peter. To make matters worse, upon returning to Neverland, James is taken by pirates and raised to become captain of the Jolly Roger. Peter, who didn’t accept his initial departure rejects him because he only sees him as an adult and evil.

The director appreciates the “original spirit” of the 1911 play and 1953 film, as it pushes universal themes of growing up, belonging, acceptance, and fantasy that connect with audiences around the world even so many years later. In times of disconnection, nothing is more current, he believes. In the current version, Wendy Darling is a girl who is afraid to leave her childhood home behind and meets Peter Pan, a boy who refuses to grow up. Together with her brothers and a little fairy, Tinkerbell, she travels with Peter to the magical Neverland, where she meets the evil pirate, Captain Hook (Jude Law), and embarks on a thrilling and dangerous adventure that will change her life forever.

The film is now on Disney+. Time to fly to Neverland!


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