16/08/2016

Peter Pan - Time And Simply Getting Along

Thoughts On: Peter Pan (1953)


Wendy, Paul and Michael are taken to Neverland by Peter Pan.


I absolutely love this film. It's an immense classic, and will forever be a masterpiece. It manages to poke fun at issues of violence, race and gender to ultimately bring its entire constituency together with a resounding message of heart, naivety, togetherness and fun. Not bad for a film that came out in the 50s, huh? In all honesty, I don't understand how the narrative of old films being sexist and racist is so prevalent. I mean, just watch the films of the time. Anyways, let's not get into that, instead what is so brilliant about this film. Peter Pan has always been heralded as an archetypal kid, a symbol for the spirit of childhood and fun. This, while very true, is not the overall purpose of his character in respect to Disney's narrative. Peter Pan is in fact a pretty broken character and for the most part the anti-hero of this picture. It's this aspect of him that never goes overboard though, but is instead encapsulated by his arch nemesis. Before we jump into things I have to mention Spielberg's Hook. I covered this very early on (link here) and in doing so demonstrated the fundamental link between Peter and Hook. The key take away was that Peter is a child in spite of time. When time and consequence come into the picture, Peter will essentially become Hook. Hook is an archetypal sullen child in a man's body. He hates Peter because he can't be him. It's then time that is the biggest threat to both Peter and Hook. Hook's conflict with time is, however, materialised with the crocodile. It's the ticking croc that is a constant reminder that time wants to engulf and consume him, make him old, wither his bones, slow his heart to a stop. Hook is thus fixated on time. Peter couldn't care less, and somehow time has no effect on him. This gives us two archetypes. One is of timelessness (Peter) and the other is of fear and a constant fixation on time (Hook). Because of this, the titles of the two films discussed are given the names of the archetypes as this is what the protagonists fight against, but, just like Hook is not the main character of Spielberg's classic, Peter isn't the main characters of Disney's 1953 masterpiece either. It's essentially Wendy that is the core focus of Disney's Peter Pan.

It's with the opening that two themes are introduced: gender and childhood. The gender aspects revolve around George as the clumsy, slightly insane Dad. This is how the film first pokes fun at the theme of gender with the males, and later does the same with females and Tink. The mirror to the bumbling, irate Dad is the ditsy girl who gets tricked by the big bad guy. These jokes pointed at the characters are later redeemed however, with Tink realising her mistake and fighting with the Lost Boys, but also George bringing Nana back in, calming down and hugging his kids. It's seeing this opening paradigm of thematic character arcs that you can almost instantly recognise the core idea of this film. It's about change. It's about archetypes, about stereotypes, but as part of characters who don't need to change much, as part of characters that are deeper than just the clumsy Dad and the ditsy fairy. That there is what I love about this film. It says that archetypes (that some may not like) are in us all. I can laugh watching George stumble around the room and getting mad because I do the same thing sometimes. This works as a simple piece of observational comedy because what is also observed is that George, much like us all, doesn't just stumble around rooms and get mad. When we're stressed, getting ready to go out, we may somewhat represent what George is, but give us time to calm down we can all laugh about it - just as he does. The exact same thing happens with Wendy and Tink getting slightly jealous over Peter - simple observational comedy. But, what is further observed with Tink and Peter is that Peter would never give up Tink just as she wouldn't him. The glue stitching these two ends of observation - joke and resolution - is a childish idea of time, of letting things go because you are in the moment. In other words, you were mad or jealous then, but now can let that go. And children do this perfectly. One second they can hate each other, pulling one anothers' hair, fighting over toys, but in the next, can be back to best friends. This is because of their perception of time. They don't care about what happened 20 minutes ago as much as adults do. And for some reason, forgiving and forgetting is seen as an adult trait. It's this contradiction that Peter Pan draws out with this simple observation. It doesn't take being grown up to get along with your friends, or family, it takes looking at time like a child would.

Now, bringing things back to Wendy and childhood, we'll stay with the opening whilst keeping a loose grip on the theme of gender. Wendy is, again, seen through the looking glass of stereotype. She's an average kid with quite a lot of imagination. She believes she's a child, and likes being just so. What she doesn't realise though is that she's pretty grown up. It takes Peter Pan to show her this. In fact, the two needn't have gone to Neverland if Wendy only realised how much of a kid she isn't. It's with the early proposition of a kiss that demonstrates Wendy's maturity. She is kind of interested in boys. Peter on the other hand is shown to be a true kid because he never indulges in the girls around him (the mermaids, Tink, Wendy, Tiger Lilly). He just laughs, wants to hear all about himself, or gets red faced when they approach him. And, it's for that reason that Peter is the only true child in Neverland. All the other Lost Boys, as well as Wendy are only around him to later realise that they are growing up. It's Wendy and women in general that are shown to be more mature than boys though. They seem to grow up sooner and remain more composed. This is the aspect of femininity that this film celebrates and is encapsulated with the image of a mother. Mothers are shown respect in their capacity to nurture a child, understanding time as a factor and having patience. Meanwhile, men are shown respect for the games they play and the rules by which they play them. By this I mean to reference the idea of good form that Peter and Hook seem to uphold. Whenever one cheats they are punished (Hook being chased by the crocodile). There is a cross over her to the women too with Tink also being made fun of every time she's a bit of a bitch toward Wendy. It's in this that you can see men and women being drawn together. Throughout the film it's shown that the two sides can play together, can play each others games, and by one another's rules. Again, the glue keeping them together is childhood, is a kids' disregard, yet eagerness to play. Nonetheless, Wendy still grows up in Neverland.

Wendy serves as the fulcrum by which fun is balanced with looking after oneself. This concept is best demonstrated with her bedtime stories. She tells the boys fun, entertaining, inspiring stories, but only so they get their sleep, so they get their nightly dosage of dreams. This idea of fun juxtaposing sense and pragmatic solutions is mirrored with the theme of race with the Indians. This is a sequence that to some would seem insensitive, and I agree, but its insensitive for good reason. Neverland is in short an extension of a child's imagination and children see the world in simple terms - like a huge Native Indian with red skin and a pipe that is constantly fighting with cowboys or white hunters. This insensitively simple view of a culture is, however, reduced to nothing more than a game. Cowboys literally do fight and capture Indians, but, they let each other go afterwards. It's this mocking of race relations and a violent history with childish games that brings Peter and the Chief together. The two, like the film, ignore non-sequiturs and simply concentrate on playing their game of pretending to kill each other instead of actually doing it. It's leading off from this point of levity, of inconsequence, that we should come back to Hook and Peter. Hook, as said, represents consequence. Peter, with literal flippance as a flying 12 year old, fights Hook by not caring, by having fun. It's then with the end of the film that we have serious consequence faced with hope, faced with flippance. When Wendy walks the plank she has irrational confidence in Peter. She upholds an idea of honour, of good form, a childish idea, and jumps. Peter, of course, catches her. She keeps trusts a childish idea of 'everything will be ok' and it allows everything to perfectly slot into place and work because this is the core message of the film. Trust is what brings people together. Hook trusts no one, he uses people, he is a cowardly codfish, cannot trust himself and so leans back on bad form as a short cut to winning. Wendy and the other kids show themselves to be a team by trusting each other, by getting along, by taking literal leaps of faith knowing that there is someone willing to catch them. This is why themes of race and gender are so important to this film. It's about having a childish perspective of time, trusting one another as well as having good form and being there to catch whoever is falling - all whilst having a good time.

And it's that there that marks what it means to be an adult. Being an adult is embracing time, is being able to cope with situations, by having enough naivety and courage in you to look after others as well as yourself. Trust in time, trust in self, trust in others. That is everything that Peter Pan stands for. It's Peter himself that then never grows up to forever be a standing archetype against the paranoid Hook for a revolving set of doors letting Lost Boys and Girls into Neverland to realise they've grown up enough to appreciate the little childhood they've got ahead of them. You've got to love that, no?

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