Skip to main content

I'M A CODFISH!

Peter Pan
(1953)

(SPOILERS) I’m all for slaying Disney sacred mice if they have it coming. The animated classics aren’t impervious to criticism, and the more earnest they are, the closer they tend to skirt the territory of the dangerously starchy, bland even. It’s very easy to be left looking elsewhere for vibrancy – to the sidekicks or the villains – as the lead characters fail to cut it in the longevity stakes. With Peter Pan, I think the problem is perhaps a slightly different one, that the piecemeal narrative doesn’t really lend itself to a traditional movie structure, even in as relatively slim-line form as this.


There isn’t much momentum or internal tension to the tale, which means it gets along on incidental pleasures for the most part (that Peter’s shadow makes it in here, a better concept than it is enacted, shows how lacking it is in dynamism). Watching Clyde Geronimi, Wilfred Jackson, Hamilton Luske and Jack Kinney’s take following the PJ Hogan Peter Pan, both of which hit many of the same marks, it’s even more evident that, without a strong driving force, the tale too easily splutters in fits and starts. Which probably works like gangbusters on stage, where audience interaction is everything, but here you’re left with longueurs.


Not untypically, this Peter really isn’t terribly interesting, notable mainly for his ever-youthful perkiness and a vaguely feral look (with Vulcan ears and highly becoming buck teeth), which may be why Michael Jackson, who wasn’t terribly interesting either, cosmetic inclinations aside, liked him so much. The inability to grow up isn’t really underlined as a failing, so there isn’t much to motivate Peter beyond his being unswervingly cocky and his feud with Hook. He’s more defined by, and projected upon, by others; Wendy and Tinkerbell are besotted with him, Hook needs his foe.


Also veering towards the bland are the songs, even the best known, “He can fly”. Wendy is impossibly cut-glass, although not so much that Tinkerbell evokes sympathy in her quest to put an end to the interloper for Peter’s affections. The fairy, a spiteful little wench, is perhaps not modelled after Monroe, but it’s easy to understand the rumour, as the animators definitely fixated on her arse; there’s a smattering of mildly risqué moments in the mix, such as topless mermaids of indeterminate age, Smee shaving a bird’s butt, and children smoking.


Michael is the typical Disney moppet (see also the baby elephant in The Jungle Book) and the Lost Boys for some reason wear animal suit pyjamas. The decision not to have them return to the real world at the end of this version further underlines the inconsequence (and therefore the absence of sadness) of Peter swearing off growing up. While Wendy recognises the need to move on (and isn’t hopelessly smitten with Peter), there’s no real push back in terms of his choice.


And, while the Native American “Indians” interlude is undoubtedly not the kind of thing you’d want to be putting in your Disney movie today, its bigger crime is that it’s incredibly dull, the kind of passage where, if you go and make a cup of tea, you’ll only improve your perception of the picture.


What really work, and lift the picture considerably, are the larger-than-life elements. Hans Conried provides marvellous stylings as both George Darling and Captain Hook, the different visual approaches to the characters allowing him a subtler variation on the tradition of the same actor playing both parts. As the former, he offers the classic double-taking disbeliever in fantasy, despite happily going along with appointing a dog as the children’s nanny.


Of which, if Barrie hadn’t included such a character, Disney would have been compelled to invent her. Her waving goodbye as George drags her down the stairs is delightful, as is George’s reluctant, sort-of apology (“And sooner or later, Nana, people have to grow up”). There’s excellent comic timing from the assorted animators too, such as in the sequence where George finds chalk all over his shirt front.


Hook is deliriously good fun, unrepentantly caddish in a manner that would later make Shere Khan so perfect. “Scurvy brat” is the perfect insult from an adult intolerant of infants, and equipped with a generally superior tone (“Ah, yes, jealous females can be tricked into anything”), and the offer of a free tattoo to anyone who will sign up to his crew, Hook is peerless. Smee’s a bit too much of an eighth dwarf to be really winning, but like nana, the crocodile is an ideal complement to Hook, nursing infectious joie de vivre over its mission.


For all that the picture inoculates itself against the darker or more resonant elements of the Barrie play (the kids’ worried parents aren’t even aware that they are gone), it also institutes improvements all its own on occasion. The framing device is marvellously, potently cyclical, as we are told at the opening “All this has happened before, and it will happen again”, and at the end we hear George, witnessing Peter’s cloud ship, say he saw it before, “a long time ago, when I was very young”.


It’s easy to see why the Disney picture is the best-loved big screen Peter Pan, for all that it isn’t quite an unalloyed masterpiece (Disney was reportedly discontent with it, because he didn’t think Peter was likable enough, which is finding fault in the wrong areas if ever there was). There are certain elements that naturally lend themselves to animation over the live arena, and the more cartoonish those are, the better the four directors deliver. But in all versions I’ve seen, the essential conundrum yet to be solved, and it’s by no means confined to Barrie, is how to make the protagonists – and their goals – as engaging as the villains.



Agree? Disagree? Mildly or vehemently? Let me know in the comments below.

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

What ho, Brinkley. So, do you think we’re going to get along, what?

Jeeves and Wooster 2.4: Jeeves in the Country  (aka Chuffy)
The plundering of Thank You, Jeeves elicits two more of the series’ best episodes, the first of which finds Bertie retiring to the country with a new valet, the insolent, incompetent and inebriate Brinkley (a wonderfully sour, sullen performance from Fred Evans, who would receive an encore in the final season), owing to Jeeves being forced to resign over his master’s refusal to give up the trumpet (“not an instrument for a gentleman”; in the book, it’s a banjulele).

Chuffnall Hall is the setting (filmed at Wrotham Park in Hertfordshire), although the best of the action takes place around Bertie’s digs in Chuffnall Regis (Clovelly, Devon), which old pal Reginald “Chuffy” Chuffnell (Marmaduke Lord Chuffnell) has obligingly rented him, much to the grievance of the villagers, who have to endure his trumpeting disrupting the beatific beach (it’s a lovely spot, one of the most evocative in the series).

Jeeves is snapped up into the e…

She writes Twilight fan fiction.

Vampire Academy (2014)
My willingness to give writer Daniel Waters some slack on the grounds of early glories sometimes pays off (Sex and Death 101) and sometimes, as with this messy and indistinct Young Adult adaptation, it doesn’t. If Vampire Academy plods along as a less than innovative smart-mouthed Buffy rip-off that might be because, if you added vampires to Heathers, you would probably get something not so far from the world of Joss Whedon. Unfortunately inspiration is a low ebb throughout, not helped any by tepid direction from Daniel’s sometimes-reliable brother Mark and a couple of hopelessly plankish leads who do their best to dampen down any wit that occasionally attempts to surface.

I can only presume there’s a never-ending pile of Young Adult fiction poised for big screen failure, all of it comprising multi-novel storylines just begging for a moment in the Sun. Every time an adaptation crashes and burns (and the odds are that they will) another one rises, hydra-like, hoping…

Exit bear, pursued by an actor.

Paddington 2 (2017)
(SPOILERS) Paddington 2 is every bit as upbeat and well-meaning as its predecessor. It also has more money thrown at it, a much better villain (an infinitely better villain) and, in terms of plotting, is more developed, offering greater variety and a more satisfying structure. Additionally, crucially, it succeeds in offering continued emotional heft and heart to the Peruvian bear’s further adventures. It isn’t, however, quite as funny.

Even suggesting such a thing sounds curmudgeonly, given the universal applause greeting the movie, but I say that having revisited the original a couple of days prior and found myself enjoying it even more than on first viewing. Writer-director Paul King and co-writer Simon Farnaby introduce a highly impressive array of set-ups with huge potential to milk their absurdity to comic ends, but don’t so much squander as frequently leave them undertapped.

Paddington’s succession of odd jobs don’t quite escalate as uproariously as they migh…

That be what we call scringe stone, sir.

Doctor Who The Ribos Operation (1978)
Season 16 is my favourite season, so I’m inevitably of the view that it gets a bad rap (or a just plain neglected one), is underrated and generally unappreciated. Of its six stories, though, The Ribos Operation is probably the one, on balance, that receives the most accolades (on some days, it’s The Pirate Planet; many moons ago, back when DWAS was actually a thing of some relevance, The Stones of Blood won their season poll; there are also those who, rightly, extol the virtues of The Androids of Tara). I’m fully behind that, although truthfully, I don’t think there’s an awful lot between the first four stories. Why, I even have great affection for the finale. It’s only “KROLL! KROLL! KROLL! KROLL!” that comes up a bit short, which no doubt makes me a no good dryfoot, but there you are. If that Robert Holmes script is on the threadbare side, through little fault of his own, The Ribos Operation is contrastingly one of his very best, a hugely satisfyi…

Angry man is unsecure.

Hulk (2003)
(SPOILERS) I’m not a Hulk apologist. I unreservedly consider it one of the superior superhero adaptations, admittedly more for the visual acumen Ang Lee brings to the material than James Schamus, Michael France and John Turman’s screenplay. But even then, if the movie gets bogged down in unnecessarily overwrought father-son origins and dynamic, overlaid on a perfectly good and straightforward core story (one might suggest it was change for the sake of change), once those alterations are in place, much of the follow through, and the paralleling of wayward parents and upright children, or vice versa, translates effectively to the screen, even if the realisation of the big green fella is somewhat variable.

I do… very competitive ice dancing.

Justice League (2017)
(SPOILERS) Superheroes, and superhero movies, trade in hyperbole, so it shouldn’t be surprising that DC’s two releases this year have been responded to in like, only each at opposite ends of the spectrum. Wonder Woman was insanely over-praised in the rush to fete a female superhero finally leading a movie, crushing all nuanced criticism in its wake. Justice League, meanwhile, has been lambasted on the basis that it’s more of the same as Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, only worse – to the extent there have been calls for a Zach Snyder Director’s Cut, which is quite an extent, as extents go – as it’s guilty of being an unholy clash of styles, grimdark Zach scowling in one corner and quip-happy Joss pirouetting in the other. And yes, the movie is consequently a mess, but it’s a relatively painless mess, with the sense to get in and get out again before the viewer has enough time to assess the full extent of the damage.

‘Cos I’m the gringo who always delivers.

American Made (2017)
(SPOILERS) This is definitely more the sort of thing Tom Cruise should be doing, a movie that relies both on his boyish™ charm and at least has pretensions of ever so slightly pushing the envelope of standard multiplex fare, rather than desperately attaching himself to an impersonal franchise (The Mummy) or flailingly attempting to kick start one (Jack Reacher: Never Go Back); remember when Cruise wouldn’t even go near sequels (for about 20 years, The Color of Money aside, and then only the one series)? American Made is still victim to the tendency of his movies to feel superstar-fitted rather than remaining as punchy as they might be on paper (Made’s never quite as satirically sharp as it wants to be), but it at least doesn’t lead its audience by the nose.

Rejoice! The broken are the more evolved. Rejoice.

Split (2016)
(SPOILERS) M Night Shyamalan went from the toast of twist-based filmmaking to a one-trick pony to the object of abject ridicule in the space of only a couple of pictures: quite a feat. Along the way, I’ve managed to miss several of his pictures, including his last, The Visit, regarded as something of a re-locating of his footing in the low budget horror arena. Split continues that genre readjustment, another Blumhouse production, one that also manages to bridge the gap with the fare that made him famous. But it’s a thematically uneasy film, marrying shlock and serious subject matter in ways that don’t always quite gel.

Shyamalan has seized on a horror staple – nubile teenage girls in peril, prey to a psychotic antagonist – and, no doubt with the best intentions, attempted to warp it. But, in so doing, he has dragged in themes and threads from other, more meritable fare, with the consequence that, in the end, the conflicting positions rather subvert his attempts at subversion…

Sometimes when you take people away, they don't come back.

The Ward (2010)
(SPOILERS) I’d felt no particular compunction to rush out and see The Ward (or rent it), partly down to the underwhelming reviews, but mostly because John Carpenter’s last few films had been so disappointing, and I doubted a decade away from the big screen would rejuvenate someone who’d rather play computer games than call the shots. Perhaps inevitably then, now I have finally given it a look, it’s a case of low expectations being at least surpassed. The Ward isn’t very good, but it isn’t outright bad either.

While it seems obvious in retrospect, I failed to guess the twist before it was revealed, probably because I was still expecting a supernatural element to be realised, it being a Carpenter movie. But then, this doesn’t feel very much like a Carpenter movie. It doesn’t have a Carpenter score (Mark Killian) or screenplay (Michael and Shawn Rasmussen) and it doesn’t have Gary B Kibbe as lenser (Yaron Orbach). I suspect the latter explains why it’s a much more professi…

You diabolical mastermind, you.

The Avengers Season 4 Ranked – Worst to Best
Season Four is generally held up as the pinnacle of The Avengers, and it certainly maintains the greatest level of consistency in the run. Nevertheless, as I noted a few reviews back, one viewer’s classic is another’s ho-hum with this show, perhaps because it doesn’t elicit the same kind of exhaustive fandom to establish any level of consensus as some series. There follows my Worst to Best ranking of the season, told mostly in pictures. The index for full episode reviews can be found here.