Sir James M. Barrie’s book Peter Pan was a long-time favourite of Walt Disney’s, and the pioneering animator worked for years to bring it to Technicolor life. The oft-performed play had already been brought to the big screen once before, but Disney’s version was a lively new vision.
In turn-of-the-century London lives a well-to-do family called the Darlings. Wendy, eldest of the Darling children, is a girl with a fanciful imagination, telling stories of the magical scamp Peter Pan, the boy who refused to grow up.
Mr. Darling disapproves of his daughter’s tall tales, insisting that the growing girl move out of the nursery she shares with younger brothers John and Michael.
On their last night together, the children get a visit from Peter Pan, who has come to find his missing shadow. After Wendy helps Peter sew his mischievous shadow back on, the grateful boy offers to take Wendy, John and Michael on a trip to Never Never land, despite protests from Peter’s jealous fairy friend Tinkerbell.
With a sprinkling of pixie dust, Peter and the children fly out above the London skyline, toward the second star to the right, and straight on ’til morning.
In Never Never land, nasty pirate Captain Hook is up to his old tricks, capturing Indian princess Tiger Lily and terrorising Peter’s gang of perpetually-young hoodlums, the Lost Boys.
Peter flies to the rescue, doing battle with the criminal Captain. Wendy, John and Michael do their best to help, but the three end up captured themselves, forcing a showdown between Peter and Hook, with a hungry crocodile anxiously awaiting the loser.
Disney spared no expense on the $4 million film (and for the jaded, that was a massive budget back in 1953). Sequences were shot with costumed live-action actors to serve as a reference for animators.
And in another bold move, Peter was voiced by a boy – Disney child star Bobby Driscoll – rather than the traditional approach of having a woman play the part (as Mary Martin had done on stage).
Musical highlights included You Can Fly, You Can Fly, The Elegant Captain Hook and Never Smile at a Crocodile. The high budget paid off with instant success, and regular re-issues have assured Peter Pan a place among Disney’s classic animated works.