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Peter Pan in Popular Culture

Peter Pan in popular culture

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Since his first appearance in The Little White Bird (1904), Peter Pan has captured the hearts and minds of children the world over in dozens of live-action and animated films, stage plays, fiction and non-fiction literary works, comic books, television cartoons and shows, and music.

Ever since author J.M. Barrie gave his copyright to the Great Ormand Street Hospital (GOSH) on his death in 1929, debates have raged over the popular character between GOSH and varying national copyright rules, though such debates will come to an end when all national copyright protections end in 2023.

Despite the conflicts, Peter Pan, Wendy Darling, Tinker Belle, the Lost Boys, Tiger Lily and Captain Hook and a litany of side characters have appeared in a wide variety of stage, literary and cinematic projects, including Walt Disney’s Peter Pan in 1953, Hook in 1991 starring Robin Williams and Dustin Hoffman, Universal’s Peter Pan in 2003 and even an upcoming live-action adaptation by Disney called Peter Pan & Wendy starring Jude Law and Emily Blunt due this year.

For a complete breakdown of the Pan’s appearance in media, visit Neverpedia or Wikipedia’s List of works based on Peter Pan. For now, here are highlights of appearances by the Pan and his entourage in popular culture.

Stage

Starting in J.M. Barrie’s original 1904 stage play, which debuted on at the Duke of York’s Theatre in London, has been seen on stages from Broadway to Chicago and back to Kensington Gardens, itself. Story treatments have varied widely, ranging from musical childhood fantasy stories to complex explorations of relational dysfunctions. In addition to its cinematic forays, Disney has released versions of the play specifically for school and children’s theater productions.

Animation

Next came the world’s most well-known version of the story in Walt Disney’s Peter Pan (1951). This version aligns well to the original tale with a few minor and more family-friendly differences. This version has been criticized for its use of racial disparagement regarding the island natives, leading to Disney to remove it from its streaming service, Disney+ in 2021. However, this hasn’t prevented Disney from selling the film via other venues. Personally, I own the two-disc platinum edition, which features improved color and sound.

While I might recommend just buying the movie, you can stream for free in chunks (to avoid copyright violation) on YouTube.

Walt Disney’s Peter Pan (1952)

I would be remiss to omit a cartoon I watched while a child called Fox’s Peter Pan & the Pirates featuring none other than Tim Curry as Captain Hook. It only ran for two seasons.

Fox’s Peter Pan & the Pirates (1990-1991)

His popularity revived during ABC’s Once Upon a Time series when both Peter Pan, Wendy, Tinker Belle and James Hook appeared throughout the series.

A new live-action adaptation starting Jude Law and Emily Blunt, called Disney’s Peter Pan & Wendy, is due out this year.

Disney’s Peter Pan & Wendy (2022)

Last to mention is Tinker Belle’s popularity in her series of 3D animated cartoons by Disney. I won’t post a video to it.

Live-Action Cinema

Though most people today might not have lived to see it, Peter Pan’s first appearance on-screen was in an authorized 1924 silent-film adaptation of the stage production. As was common through the early days of Pan productions, Peter was played by a girl, though the characters of Captain Hook and George Darling were portrayed by two separate actors.

Peter Pan & Wendy (1924)

Though not a Pan story, the 1987 film Lost Boys explores a group of vampires terrorizing a Southern California town, starring Corey Haim and Keifer Sutherland.

Lost Boys (1987)

He appeared again Hook (1991) starring Robin Williams, Dustin Hoffman and Dante Basco, where Peter is a middle-aged corporate raider who has forgotten his origins as the Pan and settled down to a life in America. This version of the story captured my heart when I first saw it in 1994 and was a key inspiration for the Legend of the Pan fantasy series. I don’t know how many times I’ve watched this movie — I mean, it’s got Robin Williams in it. C’mon.

Hook (1991)

In 2004, Finding Neverland starring Johnny Depp and Kate Winslet explored the story behind the development of Peter Pan and J.M. Barrie’s entrance to the complicated lives of the Davies family.

Peter Pan returned in ABC’s Once Upon a Time series where he, Wendy, Tinker Belle and James Hook appeared throughout the series.

A new live-action adaptation starting Jude Law and Emily Blunt, called Disney’s Peter Pan & Wendy, is due out this year.

Disney’s Peter Pan & Wendy (2022)

Literary Fiction

Though J.M. Barrie first introduced Peter Pan to the world in three total novels (one of which is merely an extrication from another), the world has explored Peter Pan in a variety of authorized and unauthorized books. We will ignore the numerous picture books or Disney revisioning of its own animated movie for these highlights.

In 2006, Peter Pan in Scarlet was the first and only sequel authorized by the Great Ormand Street Hospital (then-owner of the Peter Pan copyright) from the original Peter and Wendy novel.

Gerald Brom’s graphic novel The Child Thief in 2009 was a severe departure from the typical retelling of Peter Pan that explored a much darker theme similar in style to Gregory Maguire’s Oz series (well known for the inspiration for the Tony award-winning Broadway production Wicked).

In 2010, Ridley Pearson and humorist Dave Barry released a five-novel Starcatchers series with a few anthology books. I read this version and absolutely loved their unique take on the story.

Literary NonFiction

In 1983, Dr. Dan Kiley published The Peter Pan Syndrome: Men Who Have Never Grown Up. In it, he discusses men who have struggled with handling responsibility by embracing eternal childhood, and presents a method toward approaching emotional maturity.

Music

Though popular across other forms of media, Peter Pan and other characters appears far less often in music. Recent standout appearances in recent years include Skillex’s Bangarang, which is a direct reference to a term originating in the movie Hook. This interesting video sets Captain Hook as an ice cream truck driver who fights lost boys from stealing his frozen wares.

Skrillex, Bangarang

Also, Ruth B’s Lost Boy is a direct homage to the desire to flee to Neverland.

Ruth B, Lost Boy

Peter Pan in the future

As popular as Peter Pan has proven in the nearly 120 years since his first appearance and the ramp up in Pan-related content in the past 20 years, alone, it’s reasonable to guess he will continue to be explored and retold in the many years to come. Capturing our imagination, many readers and viewers share Peter’s desire not to grow up or face the harsh realities of the adult world, while also embracing Wendy’s story of a girl who can do nothing but become a lady and mother.

The fantastic setting, exciting adventure, relatable themes and rich universe allow creator after creator to develop their own take on the infamous story, and as storytelling improves and tools such as CG in film improve every day, the desire to bring Peter Pan to life won’t die anytime soon.

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