Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Happy 55th Anniversary to Peter Pan!

Today marks the 55th Anniversary of Walt Disney's Peter Pan! The film's story is based on the play Peter Pan, or The Boy Who Wouldn't Grow Up and the novel Peter and Wendy, both by J.M. Barrie. It was produced by Walt Disney and was originally released to theaters on February 5, 1953 by RKO Radio Pictures.

Disney had been trying to buy the rights to Barrie's play since 1935. He finally received them four years later, after he arranged with the Great Ormond Street Hospital in London (to whom Barrie had bequeathed the rights to the play). His studio started the story development and character designs in the early 1940's and intended Peter Pan as a follow-up to Bambi, but World War II forced the project to be put on hold. Just like Pinocchio before it, the original pre-war character designs for Peter Pan were very different from the final product. The original version actually had Nana go to Neverland with Pan and the Darling children and had a much darker ending. It was not until after the war that the actual production of the film commenced.

Margaret Kerry was Tinker Bell's live-action reference model, contrary to rumors that it was Marilyn Monroe. Margaret Kerry posed for reference film shots on a soundstage; 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 red-haired mermaid in the film.

Like Kerry, Bobby Driscoll was both the live-action reference model and voice actor for Peter Pan. Peter's flying and action reference shots were provided by dancer Roland Dupree.

Kathryn Beaumont, the voice of Wendy (eldest of the Darling children) also performed for the live action reference footage. In an interview, she said she had to hold out her arms and pretend to fly for all the scenes requiring it.

There are various differences between the Disney film, and the Barrie play and novel on which it is based. Until this movie, the role of Peter Pan had always been played by a young woman. Instead, Walt Disney chose to use an actual boy to provide the character's voice.

This film marked two lasts for Disney:

1) This was the final Disney film in which all nine members of the Nine Old Men worked together on it as directing animators.
2) It was the last full-length Disney animated film distributed by RKO. All of Disney's films after early 1954 would be distributed by Buena Vista, as well as all of the post-1954 re-releases of his earlier films.


  • Although original author J.M. Barrie is credited, this is the only major film version of Peter Pan which uses little of his original dialogue. Even the live-action musical versions, as well as the 1924 silent film version, use much of Barrie's original dialogue.
  • The melody for The Second Star to the Right was originally written for Alice in Wonderland (1951) for a song that was to be called Beyond the Laughing Sky.
  • In the original play, Captain Hook loses his right hand, but the Disney artists felt that would limit his actions too much, and switched the hook to the left hand.
  • Though the film was extremely successful, Walt Disney himself was dissatisfied with the finished product. He felt that the character of Peter Pan was cold and unlikable.

Featured in this blog entry are Wendy ("Peter! Oh Peter!") - 2008 Members Only Commission Release sculpted by Dusty Horner, Peter and the Mermaids ( "Spinning a Spellbinding Story") - 2007 Members Only 'Of Dreams & Magic' release sculpted by Dusty Horner, Captain Hook, Mr. Smee, Tiger Lily and Croc ("An Irresistible Lure") - 2007 Numbered Limited Edition (NLE) of 1,500 sculpted by Tim Bruckner and Skull Rock - 2003 WDAC Convention Registration Gift sculpted by Dusty Horner. Other WDCC releases from this film can be seen in the Peter Pan Image Gallery section of the website.


Timon said...

Thanks for doing this, because it's so timely. I recently heard on a podcast that the Great Ormond Street Hospital copyright royalties expired, and Disney donated 1 million pounds to them. Johnny Depp did the same.

There are so many great pieces that this film has inspired, so hopefully we'll still see a few more in the future.

Duckman said...

You're welcome Tim! Thanks for that bit of information regarding the Great Ormond Street Hospital. Hadn't heard that.

We've been so fortunate with the number of great pieces released over the years from this film. Wondering with it being an anniversary year, if we'll be seeing anything else in addition to Wendy this year?

I would still love to see them do Peter Pan and the Darling Children with Big Ben and Hook straddling Croc's mouth.