AS soon as you hear the close-harmony girls moaning about “The Second Star To The Right" behind the titles of Peter Pan you will know what to expect. This can be nothing but a Walt Disney cartoon film. So what is the use of complaining because it isn't the same thing as Barrie's play?
Barrie, as good a showman as any that has been, wrote a neat little piece, replete with adult whimsy, which accommodating youngsters still allow their elders to take them to see because the pirates and the redskins are rather exciting. The dramatist was using the old, still new trick of appealing to two kinds of audience with the same show.
Barrio knew what he was doing. He put down strict instructions, which you can read in the stage directions for the play... “Naturalism should be the aim of everyone in the play. If they cannot help being funny they are begged to go away."
In other words, Peter, Wendy, the Lost Boys, the pirates and the redskins and all had to be played seriously enough to impress both the youngsters who want thrills and the grown-ups who seek to regain their lost youth.
Disney deliberately discarded the author’s injunction. And British film criticism got hot under the collar over the apparent affront to Barrie in the rejection of the charm of his "Peter Pan" and the production instead of a comic extravaganza.
The film neglects the play's original idea about the sadness of having to grow up and forgo the make-believe of the nursery.
One of the best moments in the play was the building of the House in the Trees at the end of the show – a kind of looking-back for the Darling children, to indicate that we may all recapture a bit of our youth if we wish to try.
Disney does without that. He is an American, primarily making an entertainment for Americans. People in America, especially the children, don’t want to look back. The past is dead. History, they figure, belongs to other nations. Press on, America! Push on to bigger and better everything! Who, asks the American, wants to recapture his lost youth?
Now the Hollywood film producer has to deal with adolescent audiences and he has to earn a living. For the most part, Disney's followers are young people brought up on the standards of the strip cartoon.