Ah, Peter Pan– alas, we are returning to one of my favorite stories. As someone who loves to examine literature for all of its metaphors, imagery, literal symbols, figurative symbols, and all of that mishugas, the story of Peter Pan is one that stands out to me for an entire host of reasons. And really, every version is very different. Peter Pan is a story that, depending on the version being told, hits all of the same bullet points yet somehow always manages to change small things about the titular character and the way he relates to those around him. And me personally, I’ve always found those nuances particularly fascinating.
There are a metric butt ton of Peter Pan stories at this point, more than I have the capacity to watch, rate, review, examine, or really…track down (you know some of them are long lost pieces of media or out of print). So, I took it down the personal road (as we Lurkers tend to do– subjective reality is best reality) and thought about six versions of Peter Pan that had the greatest impact on me as a kid.
I was lucky enough to get to include Peter Pan as an entry in an article I wrote for Cracked many years ago. The article was called 5 Female-Driven Fantasy Movies That’d Fall Apart In Reality. In the Peter Pan portion, my argument was that Wendy’s biggest fear, or at least enough of a point of contention that it was the catalyst to the entire film, was growing up. While she and her brothers told stories of Peter Pan (and still to this day among all of the versions of the movie I’ve seen, it’s still unclear to me how she collected those tales), it seemed that she had never met him before.
Thus, when Wendy’s father declares in a fit of anger that it’s time for her to grow up and leave the nursery tomorrow, Wendy is devastated to the point that her overwhelming desire to stay a child somehow manifests Peter Pan to her window and so, he whisks her away to Neverland. Which is why, as I stated in my Cracked article, the whole narrative falls apart because Wendy would never go to Neverland to mommy a bunch of boys if her biggest fear is having to grow up and take on adult responsibilities:
[Why] Wendy From Peter Pan Would Never Agree To “Mother” The Lost Boys:
Right off the bat, Peter Pan contradicts Wendy’s narrative arc and why she’s ready to hop on the next pixie-dust train to Neverland. Remember, the point is that Wendy doesn’t want to grow up. Every version of the movie, from the animated Disney film to the 2003 live-action adaptation, has some sort of ruckus involving Wendy, her dad, and Nana the dog-nurse. Dad gets pissed, declares the dog unfit to raise children (which is bogus, because not only is the dog the only one paying attention when Peter Pan shows up, but I don’t see her yelling at the kids through the whole flick), and tells Wendy she needs to grow the hell up and leave the boy-cave.
Because of this, Peter, the star of Wendy’s (strangely accurate) bedtime stories, flies to her window to take her away to Neverland. Wendy and her brothers are so dumb that they don’t even question that they’re being kidnapped. Wendy is stoked; she’s heard of this magical place, she’s met the jealous flashlight pixie, and now she’s ready to check out some fantastic shit with the cute (albeit violent) flying boy.
They hit the pixie dust (freakin’ hippies), excuse themselves while they kiss the sky, and own that second star to the right … whereupon Peter suddenly makes Wendy play mommy to, like, ten shitty little boys? Wait, what happened? Hell, she was just looking for some sweet flirtation — a boyfriend at most! Suddenly he’s not only asking her to be a mom, but he also won’t even stick around to “be a dad.” Instead, Peter ignores Wendy completely and bounces off to the next adventure.
Let me just say that if a girl is bold enough to take off with her flying boyfriend in the middle of the night, she definitely has some spunk in her. She wouldn’t evade growing up just to hit Neverland and, well, grow up! In a hurry. To raise a bunch of annoying-ass boys. What Wendy would really do is give them all the finger, get brunch with Tiger Lily, and declare everyone in Neverland to be insane fucks.-Loryn Stone, Literary Savant via Cracked.com-
Now, please understand that this Wendy/Peter back and forth isn’t just a rambling, scrolling Torah of pop culture words– there’s a reason for it. The way Peter Pan and Wendy interact very much has an impact on the cumulative outcome in our ultimate Peter Pan discussion. Does he punk her around and treat her like shit? Or is he boyfriend, cute boyfriend? And because of that, we will be using the following criteria to judge the ultimate Peter Pan:
- Cocky, Swagger, Bad Boy, or Dick
- Relationship with Wendy
- Weapons seen using
- Relationship with Hook
- You say you cut off a hand. How does this Pan fight?
- Relationship with Tiger Lily
For the sake of not sounding too repetitive here, we will leave Relationship with Tinkerbell off this list. For the most part, whether it’s a version where Tinkerbell can speak, she is mute, or she is a literal flashlight, she is consistently possessive of Peter and a twat to Wendy. And think about it– she has Peter Pan by the balls. The only reason Peter made it to Neverland (debatable depending on the version) and the only reason he can fly is because of Tinkerbell. Really, if you think about it, Tinkerbell will always be the most important woman to Peter because she is the benefactor/magician holding this entire facade together.
Also, the author would also like to express her lament for not cheating in her own article and finding a way to slip Dark Heart from Care Bears The Movie 2 into this list as an honorary Peter Pan, but we can’t play dirty before we’ve even hit the mud.
Contender #1: Disney’s Peter Pan
Going by the criteria presented, Disney’s titular elf-boy is a total dick. I love this Peter Pan for his over the top ridiculousness, but come on– this guy is a scrappy 1950s “boys will be boys” Tom Sawyer with swords kind of lunatic. Rocking the perfect adolescent boy cracking voice, it feels like this specific Peter brought Wendy to Neverland so that he could bounce out on his Lost Boys duties, beat up pirates when he gets bored, and play grab ass with the mermaids and Tiger Lily.
I always thought this scene with the mermaids kind of summed up a lot with Disney’s Peter Pan– he’s really a cunt. He’s totally getting off on all of the girls’ attention and thinks it’s just awesome that these mermaid bitches are jealous of Wendy.
So, let’s examine using our criteria:
- Cocky, Swagger, Bad Boy, or Dick = Total dick.
- Relationship with Wendy = Total dick.
- Weapons seen using = I remember seeing a sword and a dagger.
- Relationship with Hook = Peter is in full control and it’s a countdown to murder town. Peter will slowly drive Hook insane, cut off his other body parts, and when Hook’s guard is down, he will lure out that crocodile and make a show of the croc tearing Hook apart in front of everyone who loves him. The Hook in this movie is fearful, nervous, and riddled with anxieties at the hand of a literal psychopath.
- You say you cut off a hand. How does this Pan fight? Like a fucking crazy person.
- Relationship with Tiger Lily
Ah, okay– the relationship with Tiger Lily. Another girl in his age range that Peter sucks up attention from. What always bothered me about Disney’s Peter Pan is Tiger Lily’s dancing and her lack of talking. I don’t know, something about her being kidnapped, silent, and then waving the goods around while rubbing her nose on Peter’s never sat quite right with me. It definitely solidifies her role as an object in this film, whereas in many other versions of Peter Pan, Tiger Lily is a speaking character who is tough or one of the guys.
Verdict: A pretty damn solid Peter Pan. Doesn’t get much more murder-sky-elf than this.
Contender #2: Mary Martin’s Peter Pan
I’m not going to lie– I’m really not a fan of this version. There’s a place in pop culture for it and I know that Martin’s performance as Peter Pan is highly revered by many, but to me, this movie is a bait and switch. It’s that version that gets put on for no reason when you as a kid thought that the Disney one was coming. Rainy Day at school? Teacher would wheel out the massive tube TV and VCR AV cart. “Who wants to watch Peter Pan?” she would ask. “Me!” every child would exclaim. A video tape is popped into the machine…and the Mary Martin version would start right up.
I’m not kidding, this always happened. I have a similar story where I went to a friend’s house and her mom asked if we wanted to watch Peter Pan. I said yes, and she jammed this cheese fest right into the VCR. From the flamboyant Captain Hook to the white (and very blonde) Tiger Lily, the only this this version has going for it is that it spurred copy cats like Mr. B Natural and the Ember Island Players version of The Avatar, which is one of my favorite Airbender episodes.
But, it exists– so let us judge The Pan using our criteria.
- Cocky, Swagger, Bad Boy, or Dick = Cocky on a good day. Smug may be more correct. Mary Martin doesn’t even have any smirking lesbian coolness attached to her performance, which breaks my queer heart.
- Relationship with Wendy = Completely unmemorable.
- Weapons seen using = I remember nothing, Jon Snow.
- Relationship with Hook = Basic at best. Like an elf teasing an enchanted tree.
- You say you cut off a hand. How does this Pan fight? = Pfffttt… is death by tap dancing a thing?
- Relationship with Tiger Lily = I mean… you know… I’d watch them kiss.
Verdict: The ‘Ain’t I a Stinker’? of Peter Pans.
Contender #3: Fox’s Peter Pan and The Pirates
This show, which ran of Fox from 1990-1991 was a show I didn’t expect to see on TV but was delightfully surprised by its execution. Of course, being a die-hard fan of Disney’s Peter Pan, there was a lot of new material to get used to in this show. Basically, everything was turned on its head. None of the characters even remotely resembled any Disney characters. Nor did they act like them. This show featured the first speaking Tinkerbell I’d ever seen and did not have an intro episode where Wendy and her brothers meet Peter and go to Neverland for the first time. They’re all just there and it seems like they’ve all been playing this game for quite a while.
What I do like about this version of Peter Pan primarily stems from his outfit. Instead of the leaf-inspired green elf boy get up that seems to be so popular across different versions of Peter Pan, our PPATP protagonist has this really cool brown buccaneer costume happening. He has a dagger strapped to his ankle at all times, human ears, and a cape.
What’s definitely not as appealing about this Pan is that he was built on the Link from DIC’s The Legend of Zelda cartoon. You know, the “Well excuuuuuuuse me, PRINCESS”. version. In the first episode of the series, Peter says something along the lines of “Well excuse me, your highness!”. Peter is voiced by Jason Marsden, who is an extraordinarily talented actor and voice actor, but the way the characters speak is just a product of the times.
Let’s see how Peter Pan stacks up using our criteria!
- Cocky, Swagger, Bad Boy, or Dick = Definitely cocky but harmless. Peter thinks he’s really cool, but is ultimately a good friend and takes care of those around him.
- Relationship with Wendy = Surprisingly platonic. There is zero sexual tension between these two or any semblance of anything romantic.
- Weapons seen using = A dagger
- Relationship with Hook = Playful from what I recall. The stakes are very low and because the show has an ‘obstacle of the day’ format, Hook isn’t always really Peter’s problem.
- You say you cut off a hand. How does this Pan fight? = He’s a bad boy with a heart of gold. The dagger adds some mystery and there were definitely some episodes where Peter and Hook were going at it again, but it’s like watching a guy fight his uncle who drank too much at the family dinner (again) and starts yelling about politics. But in Tim Curry’s voice. Which made it awesome.
- Relationship with Tiger Lily = Refreshingly regular. I remember watching the show and there was nothing about Peter’s relationship with Tiger Lily that suggested she was anything other than one of the kids. She spoke, came in and out of storylines, and wasn’t a writhing victim. I approve.
Verdict: 3/5 cut off fingers and 4/5 lost boys. This Pan fits right in and he is perfectly good.
Contender #4: Young Peter Pan in Hook
An appearance so quick, and yet so impactful, all of us remember drooling over this tall, mysterious murderous elf boy in Hook. How the casting director managed to find someone who embodied Peter Pan and still looked nothing like a young Robin Williams is a perfect storm of enigmas but you know what– I’m okay with it.
- Cocky, Swagger, Bad Boy, or Dick = Cocky
- Relationship with Wendy = She looked into it when he flew through her window.
- Weapons seen using = None and he cried when he couldn’t catch his shadow.
- Relationship with Hook = I don’t think that Hook liked him too much.
- You say you cut off a hand. How does this Pan fight? = He flies, he fights, he crows.
- Relationship with Tiger Lily = N/A, there is no Tiger Lily present in this film.
Verdict: Most certainly a week old maggot burger with everything on it and flies on the side in the making.
Contender #5: Grown Up Peter Pan in Hook
I went back and forth on whether or not grown up sequel Peter Pan was eligible for this list, but man– I love and miss Robin Williams so much that he’s invited to any party I’m writing. And since young Peter Pan from Hook didn’t really do anything Pannish on screen, I thought to myself, “Hey, you know what? He is the Pan! He held a sword and saved his kids– let’s rock!” We all know that Hook is one of the greatest movies of the 90s. It certainly changed my life in many, many ways.
I also got to thinking about the way Captain Hook responds to grown up Peter Pan/Banning throughout the film. It says a lot about their dynamic, a relationship of cat and mouse filled with violence and snark. Smashing tights again Peter, indeed.
And come on, if you didn’t scream with joy and pump your fist in the air for this scene:
Now, onto our Peter Pan criteria:
- Cocky, Swagger, Bad Boy, or Dick = He’s kind of a dick to his family through the movie, but then turns playful when he remembers. So we will go with stressed out dick.
- Relationship with Wendy = Wendy is basically his mom in this movie.
- Weapons seen using = That badass golden sword.
- Relationship with Hook = I think Hook is ready to swipe right and raise your son with you, Peter.
- You say you cut off a hand. How does this Pan fight? = Slowly, but he knows how to use the sky to his advantage. Definitely not a ruthless Peter Pan.
- Relationship with Tiger Lily = NA, there is no Tiger Lily in this movie.
Verdict: I like the part where he makes out with the mermaids and kisses Tinkerbell. That was cool.
Contender #6: Peter Pan 2003
There’s something bittersweet for me, writing about this film. I actually saw this movie at the end of high school, right when I was about to grow up, and it really hit a feel. While Jeremy Sumpter was a couple of years younger than me, I couldn’t help but notice the charisma and swagger in his performance. It was as though he was built on the Hayden Christensen engine. (They also seemed to have gone to the same school of acting).
Peter Pan 2003 has overt sexual tones (not inappropriate, don’t freak out) and the movie is clearly a coming of age adventure for Wendy. There’s this intense sadness at the end when she leaves Peter behind in Neverland and goes home to grow up. This is a version of Peter Pan where you feel bad for him and wonder if he ever questions his choice to never grow up. You must see a lot of people cycle through– it takes a thick skin to be immortal.
Another thing this movie does very well is introduce a sexy Captain Hook. It’s very easy to hate Hook when he’s snarling, old, throwing tantrums, or decrepit. But when he is mysterious, attractive, dangerous, intriguing, and a character foil for Peter Pan, it blurs the lines and makes the gray area a little bigger. I very much thought it was something that this movie did very well compared to other versions of Peter Pan.
Jeremy Sumpter, in his performance, is simultaneously boyish and edging into adolescence. He knows how to get the attention he wants from Wendy, both positively and negatively.
So, how Peter Panny is Peter Pan 2003?
- Cocky, Swagger, Bad Boy, or Dick = So. Much. Swagger. Like I said, I was in high school and I noticed!
- Relationship with Wendy = Romantic as fuck. There was nothing platonic happening there, no games, no misery. That was the first buddings of love and attraction.
- Weapons seen using = Swords and Tiger Lily had a dagger!
- Relationship with Hook = Character foils to the max. Hook is a dark and dangerous man both characters know that they could easily become the other.
- You say you cut off a hand. How does this Pan fight? He thinks casual violence is funny.
- Relationship with Tiger Lily – Nothing romantic– Tiger Lily is actually sprung on John. Go nerd boy, go. She’s also tough and spunky and a freakin’ warrior babe!
Verdict: Jeremy Sumpter will always be my personal favorite Peter Pan. I just love this movie.
So! You’ve read the entire article. You’ve read all of the “facts” (IE: rambling) presented. You have the information! Who will be crowned the Supreme Ultimate Pan after today’s battle?!
Rufio. Definitely Rufio.
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