5 Things You Didn’t Know About Disney’s Peter Pan (1953)
Walt Disney (born 1901) predated the creation of Peter Pan’s play by 3 years. Therefore, he was the perfect age to grow up with the popular play. He was an even better age to be influenced by the subsequent novel which revived the popularity of the show in 1911; being among the thousands of young children who fell in love with story. After seeing it live, he could never forget it, and it even prompted him to play the title character in school.
So, to honor this classic’s 65th Anniversary, and Walt’s love of the story, here’s a list of 5 things you may not know about Peter Pan!
#1: It Was Almost Abandoned
It was no surprise that Walt had always wanted to make a Peter Pan film. In fact, after making Snow White, Walt had originally intended for Peter Pan to be one of his earliest features. He procured the rights as soon as he could afford them and made plans to move into pre-production not long after Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs was first released.
But fate was not so kind. The rights of Peter Pan were very difficult to obtain because J.M. Barrie had donated them to The Great Ormond Street Hospital in Britain; an act of astounding charity that unknowingly made the rights difficult to license. Eventually, Walt did gain the rights, but it was too late. The U.S. had already been drawn into WW2. The U.S. Government took control of various studios, including Disney, to produce propaganda for the war effort. This brought Peter Pan to a screeching halt. In fact, the project seemed abandoned for good, until Walt managed to get the studio back on track after the war with Cinderella (1950). With the returns from Cinderella, Walt managed to fuel dream projects like Alice in Wonderland (1951) and Sleeping Beauty (1959), and Peter Pan finally made it to the screen after a hectic 15 years in production!
#2: Peter Pan Changed Everything
Peter Pan marked the end of two eras at the Disney Studio. The first was that Peter Pan was the last Disney film in which all of the ‘Nine Old Men’ worked together. The “Nine Old Men’ were the most influential, skilled, and loyal animators at the studio. All of the Nine stayed with the company after Peter Pan, but split up into different projects such as developing Disneyland, or working on live-action films. The second era that Peter Pan ended was that of the ‘third-party distributor’. Peter Pan was the last Disney film to be distributed by a third-party distribution company. In fact, Walt has been working most of his career to accomplish this. He was proud to unveil a brand-new company, Buena Vista Distribution, to the public later that same year! Now he would distribute his own films. This meant that he could finally have 100% control over his product from start to finish. In the past, companies like RKO Radio Productions (the distributor of Peter Pan) would control Disney’s product after it was finished. With Buena Vista, Disney finally had the ability to do what he wanted with his films whether he was finished with them or not.
#3: The Story Was Almost Completely Different
Over the 15 years of its production, the story of the film changed drastically. In one early version of the film, Peter Pan thought that John was too grown-up for Neverland and abandoned him. This would have made one of the main characters of the original Peter Pan story nonexistent in early drafts! In addition to possibly dropping certain characters, there were also dramatic changes to the overall tone of the film. There was an especially dark and more serious version of the film that was storyboarded, targeted more towards teenagers, that Walt promptly shut down for being too scary. And in a final possibility, Nana, the nursemaid dog, was going to accompany the children to Neverland. In fact, the narrative of the story was going to be told from her point of view!
Of course, any one of these possibilities would have made the story completely different from the beloved tale we know! But it’s fascinating to see what direction the Disney artists went before they settled on the right course. It’s always interesting to see what could have been.
There is an popular rumor going about Tinker Bell which has gained quite a bit of notoriety. Legend has it that Tinker Bell was modeled after the famous film star Marilyn Monroe. While this is a very interesting, and naturally compelling theory, it is unfortunately NOT TRUE! The idea of Marilyn being popular enough to influence the design of a Disney character has become so popular that Marc Davis himself (Tinker Bell’s designer and animator) went on record to say that he actually directly based Tinker Bell’s design on model Margaret Kerry. Margaret provided live-action reference for the character and the influence of her distinctive features can be clearly seen in Tinker Bell. Tinker Bell may bear a passing resemblance to Marilyn, but it’s impossible for her to be based on the starlet, since Marilyn didn’t really become famous until AFTER Peter Pan!
Peter Pan has one of the most fascinating voice casts in all of Disney’s history. A star-studded cast, including a few familiar Disney veterans, filled out the ranks. The title role was filled by Bobby Driscoll, a veteran of five Disney films, and a popular teen heartthrob. Surprisingly, he was the first male to play Peter Pan on film ever! In addition to Driscoll, another Disney child star, Kathryn Beaumont, played Wendy Darling a mere two years after appearing as Alice in Disney’s Alice in Wonderland. Finally, to everyone’s excitement, long-time character actor Bill Thompson (White Rabbit, The Dodo, Scrooge McDuck, etc.) played the lovable Mr. Smee.
But it wasn’t only Disney Luminaries who made up the cast. The great Golden Age starlet Heather Angel (Bulldog Drummond) provided the voice of Mrs. Darling, Television superstar Tom Conway (The Falcon) voiced the narrator, and last but not least, unparalleled Radio King and stage veteran Hans Conried (Orson Welle’s Mercury Theatre Company) turned in the distinctive performance of the hilarious Captain Hook; a fan favorite villain. In fact, Hans’s voice is so comparatively unique, that it’s hard not to notice that he also plays Mr. Darling; continuing a peculiar tradition of the stage performance where the same actor always played both characters!
Enjoy these facts? Let us know in the comments! We want to know; what’s your favorite thing about Peter Pan?
4 thoughts on “5 Things You Didn’t Know About Disney’s Peter Pan”
My favorite Disney film ever since I was a kid was Peter Pan. I have grown to know more about Peter and James M. Barrie since then. There have been so many film adaptations since then but Disney’s was the most successful.
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