"All Children, Except One, Grow Up"

January 5, 2008

Peter Pan was introduced to the world by Scottish novelist J.M. Barrie in 1904, in a book entitled The Little White Bird. As the story goes, Peter was the same fun-loving, carefree, forever young character that pop culture knows today. But the story of his adventures with the Darling children in Neverland did not become popular until Peter Pan, The Boy Who Wouldn’t Grow Up was staged for the first time on December 27, 1904 at the Duke of York Theatre. Barrie adapted the stage play into a novel which he called Peter and Wendy. It tells the story that has been immortalized countless media interpretations.

In 1924, the first film version of Peter Pan was released by Paramount Pictures then 1953 brought the classic Disney animated version. Among the most popular and well-known versions of Peter Pan is the musical version that hit the stage for the first time in 1954. Peter is traditionally played by a woman on stage, and Mary Martin is the most famous woman to handle the part. She starred in the play that was featured on television and later, on video. One might recall the part of the play where Peter (Martin) literally flies out over the audience during one number. The play has been revived several times, once in 1979 and again during the 1990s. Susan Duncan and Cathy Rigby are also famous for playing The Boy Who Wouldn’t Grow Up.

In 1991, a spin-off movie called Hook was released starring Robin Williams as a grown-up version of Peter Pan, and Julia Roberts as Tinker Bell, and the film remains a favorite today. A live-action feature film re-telling the original stage play came in 2003, and in 2004, Finding Neverland won an Academy Award for the tale of J.M. Barrie’s inspiration for creating Peter Pan.

Upon Barrie’s death, the rights to Peter Pan were bequeathed to the Great Ormond Street Hospital in London. Walt Disney was granted by the hospital the opportunity to make his movie in 1935, and began story development and character designs in the 1940s. However, production was stalled because of World War II, and the film was not released until February 5, 1953.

Peter Pan was the fourteenth animated feature film produced by Walt Disney and was the last one to be released by RKO Radio Pictures, as Disney established Buena Vista Distribution by the end of 1953. In addition to being the last RKO-released animated feature, Peter Pan was also the final film on which the famous group of Disney core animators called the “Nine Old Men” worked together as directing animators.

Before the "Nine Old Men" were able to begin animation, a concept for the story had to be created. This was the responsibility of Mary Blair, the primary concept artist for early Disney animated feature films. In her work for Peter Pan, she created an image of Peter on the island of Neverland, looking out over the water and seeing Captain Hook’s ship, the Jolly Roger.

Disney concept art like this piece was used like a storyboard for animated features. The way the acrylic painting appears is not necessarily how the film turned out; concept art was a rough idea of how the story was envisioned, as one can tell from this artwork, which is quite different from the actual film.

The wide sweeping influence of the character of Peter Pan is evident through many pop culture references. Michael Jackson is a famously huge fan of the character, and even named his Santa Barbara, California property “Neverland Ranch.” At Disney amusement parks, “Peter Pan’s Flight” is a popular ride. You can even eat Peter Pan peanut butter or ride on a Peter Pan bus!

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