*** By J.M. Barrie. This is going to be sort of a combined review of the book and movie, because I ran out to check out the book a couple days after seeing the movie, so there must a be a connection, right?
My introduction to Peter Pan was like most kids': the Disney animated film. I also saw a stage production by our local Civic Theatre's youth troupe. I was totally enamoured of Princess Tigerlily, and what I saw was enough for me. But it's very comforting and exciting to know now that there is much more to Peter Pan than what you get from the cartoon or even the stage version of the story.
Peter Pan the book and Peter Pan the 2003 movie are not identical in plot, but the movie mirrors the mood and the overall spirit of the original book. There's hardly a need for me to run through the plot for you, you know it well enough. What is important is the mood, the magic, and the message.
The Disnified version of Peter Pan makes Neverland a place of rip-roaring adventuresome fun, and paints adulthood to be rather dull; is it any wonder Peter would want to stay there forever? And why on earth do the Darling children want to return to London?
The book, echoed by the movie, shows a different picture. Neverland is free of responsibility, but it is also a very dangerous place, both for the external dangers -- pirates, largely, but also wild beasts, Indians, and, surprisingly, mermaids -- but for the internal ones that come of being a child, "gay and innocent and heartless." The Lost Boys miss meals because often their feasts are only make believe. Peter, with a very weak sense of object permanence, has trouble remembering faces from time to time, and his distinction between hours and days and years is nonexistent.
All adventure aside, the root of the story is the tragedy not of growing up and forgetting childhood dreams, but of never growing up. In the movie this conflict is illustrated beautifully in the tension between Wendy and Peter, Wendy about to fall in love and Peter refusing to give into emotion. He understands that deep emotion brings as much pain as joy, and that it is a thing of adulthood; so he shuns it. Denying emotion, remaining "innocent and heartless," ultimately leaves him alone, however, when all the other children decide that they would prefer to return to London and human connection, even though it means foregoing adventures and fun of the Neverland sort.
It's more like real life, because, as critics of Peter Pan as an archetype have pointed out, real children generally want to grow up; it's adults who wish they were children once more. Peter Pan leaves the adult reader not without a tinge of regret for childhood lost, but it also reassures us that we made the right choice -- that in spite of the mundanity of our lives, love, family, and career are worth at least as much as the pirates and fairies of childhood.
Posted by Lisa on January 24, 2004 09:48 AM