If Walt Disney had never made another cartoon feature after BAMBI in 1942 he would still be remembered as the man who transformed the animated full length film into an art form. SNOW WHITE , PINOCCHIO , FANTASIA and BAMBI all belong on the list of the greatest achievements in American Film. Disney's next phase in full length animation took place after World War 2 and although these subsequent works may not match the brilliance and creativity of the earlier films, they still possess the superb craftsmanship the Disney artists are famous for. Missing from the new batch of films was the meticulous background detail that distinguished the earlier projects. Starting with Cinderella in 1950, the animators seemed to concentrate more on clean, uncluttered backgrounds but the drawing was just as professional as before , characters still brought to life with fluid, lifelike movements. Colors tended to be bright and splashy, but the cartoonists also knew when subtlety was called for, and scenes occurring at night were done with convincing atmosphere and shadows. The success of Cinderella confirmed that the movie-going public was still willing to be entertained and moved by a cartoon movie, and Disney and his artists forged ahead with an impressive array of animated features that to this day remain models of the Art Form. Perhaps the greatest of these was PETER PAN, first released in 1953. Based on J.M. Barrie's immortal play and novel about the little boy who doesn't want to grow up, PETER PAN had been a project stewing in Disney's mind for years. It wasn't until after the War that work on the film really took off. When the movie was completed and finally released to theaters, Disney seemed rather ambivalent about its achievement. He had a hard time defining who Peter actually was as a character but to millions of children in movie theaters all over the world, that didn't seem to matter. PETER PAN is not very deep story-wise. It lacks the heart and sentiment of the Barrie original, which to some degree is a good thing. Past stage versions and the spectacular 1924 Paramount film version could be cloyingly sentimental at times.
The Disney version is light and breezy and moves at a clip. The London sequence which opens the picture is spectacular in both the backdrops and the animation itself. When Peter, Wendy, John and Michael leap out of the Darling nursery window and fly over nighttime Edwardian London the viewer is treated to some of the most thrilling animation ever created for the movies. Later sections of the movie are equally enchanting, and the personage of the villainous Captain Hook is brought to great comic life by Disney animators and the marvelous vocal talent of Hans Conried. As with past Disney efforts, the song score is superb. "Second Star to the Right", "You Can Fly" and "Your Mother and Mine" are highlights in a tuneful soundtrack created by Sammy Cahn and Sammy Fain.
PETER PAN holds a special place in my heart. It was the first movie I ever saw. As a 4 year old sitting with my father in an ornate, red carpeted movie palace in Cincinnati, Ohio, looking up at that big screen watching Peter and his friends swooping and flying over the roofs and spires of London was an overwhelming experience. I was hooked, so to speak, and it is an image that has stayed with me ever since. This is the film that initiated my love affair with movies. PETER PAN is one of the iconic films of the Baby Boom Generation.