In the Edwardian London neighborhood of Bloomsbury, George and Mary Darling's preparations to attend a party are disrupted by the antics of the boys, John and Michael, acting out a story about Peter Pan and the pirates that were told to them by their older sister, Wendy. Their father angrily declares that Wendy has gotten too old to continue staying in the nursery with them, and it's time for her to grow up much to everyone's shock. When George Darling began to storm out the room he trips over Nana. Both Nana and George fall but the rest of the family only comforts Nana. George is shocked and this causes Nana to be put in the dog house. Nana is heartbroken as she never sleeps in the dog house. George feels sympathy for Nana but claims the children are not puppies and Nana is truly a dog. When George and Mary leave for the party, Mary asks if the children will be okay without Nana, because Wendy mentioned about capturing Peter Pan's shadow the previous night at the window. George calls the whole thing garbage and tells his wife that she's as bad as the children are, and that it's no wonder that Wendy is getting crazy ideas. That night they are visited in the nursery by Peter Pan himself. Wendy is awakened when Peter is trying to get his shadow on. Wendy offers to sew it on for him (as he is trying to reattach it with a bar of soap). Through conversation, Wendy learns that Peter likes to hear her stories. However, when Peter learns that she is to "grow up" the next day, Peter offers to take her to Never Land where she would never grow up. There, she could be the mother of the boys who live there. Wendy tries to kiss Peter out of gratitude, but Tinker Bell, who is jealous, pulls Wendy's hair. By this time, Michael and John awaken and are allowed to go with them. Peter sprinkles the three with pixie dust, and after a few false tries, they are able to fly by thinking happy thoughts.
Peter then takes them with him to the island of Never Land. A ship of pirates is anchored off Never Land, commanded by Captain Hook with his henchman Mr. Smee. Hook boldly plots to take revenge upon Peter Pan for cutting off his hand. Captain Hook laments Peter Pan's role in causing the crocodile to follow him, due to Peter cutting off his hand and throwing it to the crocodile. Tick-Tock found it so delicious he's following him everywhere for another taste. Tick-Tock suddenly shows up next to the ship. Hook hears the clock ticking and his eyebrows and pointing mustache begin twitching in rhythm (with the music of "Never Smile at a Crocodile"). The crocodile's eyes begin popping up to the tune, sending Hook into a panic. The crocodile then emerges from the water onto a rock rubbing his belly and licking his lips, accompanied by a wide smile towards the captain. Hook then screams for Mr. Smee to save him, and Smee shoos off the crocodile. The crocodile then frowns and wiggles his tail to the ticking clock while sulking away. The crew's restlessness is interrupted by the arrival of Peter and the Darlings. The children easily evade them, and despite a trick by jealous Tinker Bell to have Wendy killed, they meet up with the Lost Boys: six lads in animal-costume pajamas, who look to Peter as their leader. John and Michael set off with the Lost Boys to find the island's Indians, who instead capture them, believing them responsible for taking the chief's daughter Tiger Lily.
Meanwhile, Peter takes Wendy to see the mermaids, where they see that Hook and Smee have captured Tiger Lily, to coerce her into revealing Peter's hideout. Peter and Wendy free her, and Peter duels Hook and has the crocodile chase him away. As Peter crows in triumph, Wendy reminds him of Tiger Lilly, and he rescues the princess. Peter is honored by the tribe. Eventually, Wendy tells her brothers and the lost boys about the real world and having a mother, at which Peter believes they are leaving to grow up, never to come back. Meanwhile, Hook plots to take advantage of Tinker Bell's jealousy of Wendy, tricking her into revealing the location of Peter's lair. The pirates lie in wait and capture the Lost Boys and the Darlings as they exit, leaving behind a time bomb to kill Peter. Tinker Bell learns of the plot just in time to snatch the bomb from Peter as it explodes.
Peter rescues Tinker Bell from the rubble and together they confront the pirates, releasing the children before they can be forced to walk the plank. Peter engages Hook in single combat as the children fight off the crew and finally succeeds in humiliating the captain. Peter fights Hook in a final showdown until the pirate begs for mercy. Peter then allows Hook to leave and never return. He crows, and Hook lunges at him from behind. Wendy warns Peter, and he ducks, while Hook falls into the water below, where the crocodile was waiting. Hook and his crew flee, with the crocodile in hot pursuit. Peter gallantly commandeers the deserted ship, and with the aid of Tinker Bell's pixie dust, flies it to London with the children aboard.
Mr. and Mrs. Darling return home from the party to find Wendy, not in her bed, but sleeping at the open window; John and Michael are asleep in their beds. Wendy wakes and excitedly tells about their adventures. The parents look out the window and see what appears to be a pirate ship in the clouds. Mr. Darling, who has softened his position about Wendy staying in the nursery, recognizes it from his own childhood, as it breaks up into clouds itself.
However, he could not get the rights until four years later after he came to an arrangement with Great Ormond Street Hospital in London, to whom Barrie had bequeathed the rights to the play. The studio started the story development and character designs in the late-1930s and early-1940s, and intended it to be his fourth film, after Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, Bambi and Pinocchio (Bambi was later put on hold for a short while for technical difficulties and ended up being his fifth film while Pinocchio became his second film).
During this time Disney explored many possibilities of how the story could be interpreted. In the earliest version of the story, the film started by telling Peter Pan's back story. But on May 20, 1940, during a story meeting Disney said "We ought to get right into the story itself, where Peter Pan comes to the house to get his shadow. That's where the story picks up. How Peter came to be is really another story." Walt also explored opening the film in Neverland and Peter Pan coming to Wendy's house to kidnap her as a mother for the Lost Boys. Eventually, Disney decided that the kidnapping was too dark and went back to Barrie's original play where Peter comes to get his shadow and Wendy is eager to see Neverland. The scene in the nursery went through many alterations. For instance, in one version it was Mrs. Darling who found Peter Pan's shadow and showed it to Mr. Darling as in the original play. In another version of the film, Nana went to Neverland with Pan and the Darling children, and the story was told through her eyes. In other interpretations of the story, John Darling was left behind for being too serious, practical and boring. The film also included Wendy taking her "Peter Pan Picture Book" and Peter and the children eating an "Imaginary Dinner." At one point there was a party in Peter's hideout where Tinker Bell got humiliated and in her rage went and deliberately told Captain Hook the location of Peter Pan's hideout at her own free will. However, Walt felt that this was against Tinker Bell's character and that she had "gone too far" and changed it to Captain Hook kidnapping and persuading Tinker Bell to tell him. There is a point in Barrie's play where Captain Hook puts poison in Peter's dose of medicine and Tinker Bell saves Peter by drinking the poison herself only to be revived by the applause by the theater audience. After much debate Disney discarded this fearing it would be difficult to achieve in a film. In earlier scripts, there were more scenes involving the Pirates and the Mermaids that were similar to what Disney had previously done with the "Seven Dwarfs" in Snow White. Ultimately these scenes were cut for pacing reasons. The film was also a little bit darker at one point since there were scenes involving Captain Hook being killed by the crocodile, the Darling family mourning over their lost children, and Pan and the children discovering the pirates' treasure which is loaded with booby traps.
Then on December 7, 1941, the United States joined the Second World War after Pearl Harbor was attacked. The following day the U.S military took control of the studio and commissioned them to produce war propaganda films. They also forced Peter Pan as well as Alice in Wonderland, The Wind in the Willows, Song of the South, Mickey and the Beanstalk and Bongo, among others, to be put on hold. After the war ended in 1945, the studio was in debt and they could only produce package films to support themselves. It was not until 1947, as the studio's financial health started to improve again, that the actual production of Peter Pan commenced, even though Roy O. Disney did not think that Peter Pan would have much box office appeal.
Rumor has it that Tinker Bell's design was based on Marilyn Monroe, but in reality, her design was based on Tinker Bell's live-action reference model, Margaret Kerry. Margaret Kerry posed for reference film shots on a sound stage; the footage was later used by supervising Tinker Bell animator Marc Davis and his team when they drew the character. Kerry also provided the voice of the redheaded mermaid in the film.
Like Kerry, Bobby Driscoll was both the live-action reference model, mainly used for the close-up scenes, and the voice actor for Peter Pan. Peter's flying and action reference shots, however, were provided by dancer and choreographer Roland Dupree. In an interview, she said she had to hold out her arms and pretend to fly for all the scenes requiring it. Kathryn Beaumont, the voice of Wendy, eldest of the Darling children, also performed for the live-action reference footage. Similarly, Hans Conried, the voice of both Captain Hook and Mr. Darling, also performed the live-action reference footage for those characters (it was one of the few elements left over from the play, that Hook and Mr. Darling were played by the same actor). In contrast to rotoscoping the animators did not merely trace the live-action footage, for this would make the animation look stiff and unnatural. Instead the animators used it as a guide for animating by studying the human movement in the situation required. For example: "How far does the head turn when a character looks over his shoulder?" Milt Kahl the supervising animator of Peter Pan and The Darling Children, claimed that the hardest thing to animate was a character floating in mid air.
Peter Pan got mainly positive reviews from the critics, and currently holds a 75% "fresh" rating on Rotten Tomatoes based on 28 reviews. The New York Times gave the film a mixed review, praising the animation itself, but also declaring that the film was not really true to the spirit of the original Barrie play. However, Time Magazine gave the film a highly favorable review, making no reference to the changes from the original play. Alternately the controversies over the differences between the play and the film were short lived and Peter Pan is today considered one of Disney's animated classics. There is another controversy that spawned in recent years over the portrayal of the Indians, which is considered racially stereotypical.
Michael Jackson cited Peter Pan as his favorite movie of all time, from which he derived the name for his estate Neverland Ranch in Santa Barbara, where he had a private amusement park. Ronald D. Moore, one of the executive producers of the re-imagined Battlestar Galactica, has cited this film as the inspiration for the series' theme of the cyclical nature of time, using the film's opening line, "All of this has happened before and it will all happen again," as a key tenet of the culture's scripture.
This is considered the most commercial Disney movie to date, having a theatrical sequel and five Tinker Bell spin-off films (as of 2014), as well as a popular children's programs on Disney Junior to this day, which also airs on Hamilton to this day.
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