Kelly Buettner reminds us of what its like to be on the crux of childhood and adulthood, and why Peter Pan and his quest to never grow up is important to see at 14 . . . and at 24.

Peter Pan poster

Ten years ago, I had just turned 14. This was the year that I had just started high school, I was hanging out with a new group of friends, and let’s just say that I was not exactly excited to be a “teenager.”

And then there was this movie.

I had always been the kid that liked going through classic child entertainment, especially animated. While everyone else was learning about the Ninja Turtles and the Pokemons, I was rewatching classic Donald Duck cartoons for the millionth time and knew Fantasiabackwards and forwards. So while other kids of my generation might not have been familiar with the 1953 animated film, I was intimately so, and was a little bit skeptical of what this film would bring. I distinctly remember the ads being absolutely everywhere and the Coldplay song the film’s trailer used, “Clocks,” was being played every hour, on the hour, as well as a few smatterings in between.

And then, there was this movie.

You know in the Warner Brothers Little Red Riding Hood cartoon, where red is actually a cabaret singer and the wolf is a creepy womanizer? You know that sound when his tongue would roll out of his mouth and he would slap the table? There would be a boing, an aOOOOGah, and other such general noises to inform us that, yes, this wolf does in fact want a piece of this woman’s cherry pie?

Yeah, that happened to me. It’s like there was some kind of creepy and probably very inappropriate hormone that was being secreted through the vents of my theater. Every person has a moment or two of sexual awakening, and this was it for me. It was like a boiling bucket of water was dumped on my head, I felt hot and cold at the same time, and I physically could not speak. Walking out of that theater held the same experience for me as walking through a world of whimsy that I had actually not really felt in my childhood.

You see, in terms of childhoods, while mine wasn’t by any stretch of the imagination the worst, it truly was not the best. Up until age eight, everything was actually ok, pretty much normal in terms of growing up, but then by January of the following year, both of my grandfathers, one grandmother, and my father were all dead. The fluffy blanket of an unbroken home was ripped unceremoniously from my clenched fists. For the next ten years of my life, it was like every interaction was tempered with the absolute knowledge that everyone I have ever known or ever loved was going to die someday.

So, kind of tough to dream about daisies and starlight after something like that.

And then, by god, there was this movie.

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This movie was so immersive, so colorful, and most of all, so sure of itself in its wonder and majesty that I was absolutely floored, completely taken in by the unabashed joy and sweetness that held this movie aloft. Kids movies of today are so awash in an acid bath of irony and fourth wall-breaking that this movie could never have been made in the current climate. This movie was made just a couple of years after the 9/11 attacks, and there just hadn’t been a time of collective suffering like that in a very long time. There, on all of our televisions was the absolute, unmitigated proof that we are fallible, and not only that, we are mortal. We needed Peter Pan to remind us that wonder and childishness were not necessarily things to be gotten rid of or ignored, but things to be celebrated and reveled in.

And so, by god, there was this movie.

The movie itself is truly a testament to the marvel and wonder of modern filmmaking. The cinematography alone is both childlike in nature, and yet older then time itself with its brilliant use of color. There is this sense that everything in the world is tied in with Peter’s emotions. (In Neverland, it quite literally is, but in the real world it is more emphasized in the usage of screen tint.) The flying-to-Neverland scene is absolutely breathtaking in the film, and it is an absolute travesty that it was not used in any kind of immersive 3D ride deal, although Universal was so swamped by Shrek (ba-doom-tish) that there’s no way something this beautiful and subtle would have warranted more than a passing nod.

The story, you know. Peter flies into Wendy, John, and Michael’s room late at night and tells of this place called Neverland. They fly there, have adventures, defeat Hook, and then go home. The difference in this film is in its framing. In previous movies, the emphasis was always more on Peter. Wendy and her brothers were much more representative of the audience and how we would feel being thrust into such a strange and different world. In this one, however, the frame is set quite squarely on Wendy, even though so much is affected by Peter. There’s more story built at home, of the expectations placed on men and women in Victorian and Edwardian society. This gives the incentive for the children to leave their home and join Peter, or at least for Wendy, the gang leader, to persuade her brothers to join her.

All throughout the film, there is much more of an emphasis on emotions and on relationships than really on action. Every action scene is preceded and followed by some kind of exploration of emotion. *Spoilers* At the climax of the film, a kiss is ultimately what saves the day. There really is a lot of push towards romance, and my 14-year-old self (as well as, let’s be honest, my 24-year-old self) can most definitely get on board with that. This is the girliest Peter Pan movie ever made, and I absolutely went ga ga over it. I mean, I literally would not close my window for days afterwards just in case Peter wanted to come on through and take me away.

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This movie, like every movie, is not without its faults. There is the strange way that the scriptwriter seemed to place women on a pedestal, at the same time as he highlighted their worst attributes (worst attributes being performed by Tinkerbell, played by French actress Ludivine Sagnier to perfection). Girls in this story are constantly being reminded of their worth and their power, while “girly” is used as a negative and an insult. Problematic also is the usage of Tiger Lily. I have a feeling that the filmmaker didn’t really know what to do with Tiger Lily in this movie, and so she kind of comes and goes with no real impact on the film. Her feminine wiles are used to help John become stronger to help them all escape Hook’s clutches, but other than that she was pretty useless. If I were really going to use Native Americans in this film (which, thank god, at least the girl playing Tiger Lily was) then I think I would have involved her more in the Lost Boys storyline, or at least found more of a usage for her tribe. I am also thanking god that they went nowhere near the 1953 version’s usage of Native Americans (let’s just say that Disney has more than just Song of the South to be ashamed of).

But truly, the thing that is most worrisome about Peter Pan is the stalking aspect. In this post-Twilight world, we can all pretty much agree that the absolute creepiest thing that any boy can do when he really likes a girl is to watch her sleep. And damned if that isn’t the exact first thing that Peter does. There is so much creepy stalker to the beginning of his appearance that you really don’t know if you’re going to like him or not. I mean, he’s not just watching her from the window, he is hovering over her. Literally. But, to the movie’s credit, I really don’t know how you could have done Peter Pan without the scene in which he loses his shadow, and I mean, come on. It’s a teensy tiny little eeeeny weeeeensie bit hot.

As I sometimes say in my reviews, films are an integral part of my life. Every important milestone I have passed has been, in some small way, related to movies. They have saved me (as well as my sanity) more times than I can possibly count. They help me to frame the worst and best moments with the right music, the right words, the right feelings. Peter Pansaved me in more ways then I care to think about at a time in which I was going through more darkness and more joy then I had ever experienced before. The night I came home from that film, I searched the sky, thinking happy thoughts and counting the stars. Third star on the left, and straight on ‘til morning.

And then, thank god, there was this movie.

Notes

One of the best lines of the film: “Wit is very fashionable at the moment.”

This really is a movie that seemed to be geared toward girls. Most of the major male roles are played by Hottie McHottersons.

This movie: Pink. So much goddamn pink.

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