G, but with a large amount of parental intervention. Because all Disney animated films were G rated back in the day, we have to hold it up to the standards of today. This film's racism is downright upsetting by today's standards. It's not something that can really be eliminated from the film because it occupies a large section of the film. For some reason, Peter Pan kind of gets a pass when it really shouldn't. Maybe because it's considered a classic, people forget about the very uncomfortable stereotypes. Still technically G.
DIRECTORS: Clyde Geronimi, Wilfred Jackson, Hamilton Luske, and Jack Kinney
Hey, if there's ever been a day that has made me want to quit this blog, it was today. There's nothing that makes me want to write right now. Peter Pan isn't exactly the movie that's going to keep me going, so be aware what I'm doing right now? It's a mitzvah. I feel like I've written about this movie before, so this also feels like a waste of digital real estate. But since it doesn't show up in the film index, I'm going to write about it. It's what I do and sometimes it just feels like a chore.
I want to talk about the racist elements of Peter Pan. Disney's no stranger to confronting its racist past. I mean, considering that Disney+ decided not to release Song of the South, it understands its checked past when it came to the portrayal of separate races. But stuff like Dumbo can get ignored from time-to-time. While Dumbo is recognized enough as a brand, it never really transcended the threshold into becoming a true Disney classic. Peter Pan is a different beast. Heck, Tinkerbell appears at the beginning of a whole bunch of Disney movies. She's probably the second place mascot for Disney behind the Mouse So the film just dares us to not comment on the very uncomfortable storytelling elements that this movie still presents. Disney is not willing to divorce itself from Peter Pan and it makes sense. Heck, I still love the loose concept of Peter. The boy who wouldn't grow up is an alluring concept. But is it worth it to the success of Disney to keep showing wildly offensive portrayals of Native Americans. I know that there have been changes to the song "Why is the Red Man Red?", but these seem to be small moves.
I commented on this when I looked at The Love Bug. There's an argument to be made that some art still needs to be presented when separated from its cultural biases. But there's also stuff like Peter Pan. Peter Pan is the ultimate escapist fantasy. The movie even implies that the events of the film are simply the product of Wendy's imagination. Wendy imagines this whole world where she learns about the joys of childhood and the dangers of adulthood. Eventually, because she needs to learn a lesson in the process of aging, she discovers that eternal youth can actually be pretty toxic. But Neverland is the product of Wendy's imagination Sure, Victorian London could be far less progressive than 2020 America (by a smidge), but one of the adventure stories that Wendy identifies with is being kidnapped by a savage. In her head, that's the American Indian / the Native American.
Wendy's concept of excitement is remarkably telling. I know, I'm taking the magic out of Peter Pan. Neverland is completely fictional, at least in this entry. The fact that Captain Hook is Wendy's father is really telling to the whole adventure. You could argue that it's real and, to a certain extent, it is. Neverland is a liminal place, between reality and fantasy. I do be believe that Michael and John went to Neverland, but it's something outside of being grounded in a place. Second star to the right and straight on until morning is a great location, but it is also wildly subjective. But Wendy's imagination is a place where she's constantly being a passive character in her own adventure. This is Wendy's story. Her dream is to meet a boy who can take her on his adventures. She wants to be the damsel in distress. Yeah, it's good that she learns her lesson about how toxic immaturity / arrested development can be. But she never really puts herself in a place that would be self-actualized. Why isn't it Wendy who fights alongside Peter against Captain Hook?
It's something really telling what Wendy thinks of herself. Her conflict with her father is what inspires the entire adventure to Neverland. The stories that she has been telling come to life and Wendy is transported to a fantasy world full of mermaids, savages, and pirates. No one in this world really likes her except Peter. Peter is her only friend and there seems to be a sense of romance building between them. But rather than make herself a hero in this land full of brigands and fantasy monsters, she's completely content to place herself in constant danger, only to have Peter rescue her. Now, this all could be a metaphor for the fact that she's completely dependent on her parents. Rather than striking out into the real world, her parents, particularly her father, criticizes her for being so childish. But Neverland is full of independent children. Why isn't Wendy the greatest of these? Michael and John take to Neverland's system of child heroes immediately. Wendy, however, sticks to the outmoded sense of a patriarchal system. She mirrors Tiger Lily, a model for heroism who is captured. However, the mermaids immediately hate Wendy and try drowning her. Wendy doesn't have an excuse for not understanding that the mermaids want to drown her. After all, this is her fantasy. (I'm really sticking with this interpretation.) Similarly, she's mortified that the Lost Boys view her as a mother. The creation of Neverland in her mind is an attempt to avoid growing up and becoming a mother.
Perhaps most telling about Wendy's self-esteem is the fact that the only other major female character hates her. J.M. Barrie might actually hate women. Maybe this is part of the Disney story, not the novel. I only got to the first fifteen pages with Olivia before she got bored, so Tinkerbell never entered into the storyline. But look how catty Tinkerbell gets with the only other sign of femininity. This is Wendy's fantasy and she's afraid of savages, and other women. The pirates, despite being the only characters that act as antagonists, aren't really to be feared. Captain Hook, as the bad guy of the piece, is the least scary. He's actually evil in this land of make believe and no one is really scared of him. But Tinkerbell actually wants to murder Wendy. Heck, everyone wants to murder Wendy, especially if they are female. The story of a boy who never grows up hides the actual fears that Wendy has and that's of the female sex. Everything is competitive. Men like Peter are inherently children and refuse to help the situation. Rather than live in a world where she shirks responsibility and looking from man-to-man to help, she needs to grow up and marry young. It's a really weird message.
Again, a lot of this analysis is based on the idea that Wendy is making this all up, or believes that she is. It really does feel like Wendy's dream because Wendy is doing all of the growing. I'm actually bummed that I'm finishing up (it's getting so late), but there's some stuff to unpack if my theory is right. I hate that it is fundamentally a racist film nowadays, but there's something really interesting going on in the background...that is ALSO regressive?
Film is great. It can challenge us. It can entertain us. It can puzzle us. It can awaken us.
Mr. H has watched an upsetting amount of movies. They bring him a level of joy that few things have achieved.