Peter Pan, 70 Years Later: Why the Disney Film Remains So Iconic

Peter Pan 1953
Peter Pan 1953

Peter Pan is one of Disney’s most celebrated films — not just by the general public, but by the company itself. Tinkerbell is included in the Disney DVD title card, The Princess and the Frog features a significant reference to the “second star to the right,” and the Chip N’ Dale: Rescue Rangers film even has Peter himself as a prominent character.

The 1953 movie is such an integral part of Disney’s branding. It’s a little strange, if you think about it, because not only are there countless adaptations and reimaginings of the J.M. Barrie work, the Disney movie isn’t even all that faithful to the source material.

You don’t need to be a rocket scientist to understand why Disney decided to adapt the J.M. Barrie play-turned-novel. The story of a young boy who flies, never grows up, and lives in a magical world filled with pirates and mermaids seems so perfect for a Disney movie, it makes us wonder why the company didn’t adapt the work sooner.

While the adaptation may be too “Disneyfied” for some — and aspects of the film are far from politically correct by today’s standards — the animated film has impressively stood the test of time, still feeling just as whimsical and magical 70 years after its release.

Let’s start with the titular character: Peter Pan. Disney’s Peter is a delight and it’s easy to see why the character has remained iconic for so long. The Neverland boy is bursting with personality in every single scene he’s in. He’s a playful and snarky prankster whose arrogance gets the better of him, but he’s also charming, likable, and exuberant, so much so that the movie doesn’t truly start being great until he appears.

There have been many on-screen Peter Pans throughout the years, but Bobby Driscoll’s Peter Pan remains the best one. The actor brings so much life to his vocal performance that when Disney released a sequel 49 years later, Blayne Weaver as the new voice of Peter Pan just couldn’t recapture the magic.

However, it’s a testament to the iconic nature of the film itself that a sequel released 49 years later was a box office success, even if the sequel isn’t nearly as well-remembered as the original.

Luckily for the film, its title character isn’t the only interesting character it’s got — this is easily one of Disney’s biggest ensembles of iconic characters in an animated film. Wendy and her brothers, Tinker Bell, Smee, Captain Hook, the Lost Boys, and even Nana the Dog — nearly every single character is a joy to spend time with.

Many of these characters are just as iconic as the title character himself, as Tinker Bell even has an entire film series of her own. Just like Peter Pan, the Disney version of these characters are what most people immediately think of when their names get mentioned.

This is also a really gorgeous film. Even 70 years later, the movie is absolute eye candy — it may even be more artistically appealing now than when it was released. Where most animated films nowadays use 3D animation and try to look as realistic as possible, Peter Pan reminds us of how beautiful and magically unique 2D animation can be in comparison to 3D or stop-motion animation.

So many scenes are absolutely breathtaking to watch simply because of how beautiful they are to look at. The scenes of Peter, Wendy, John, and Michael flying around London as they make their way to Neverland are particular standouts — even before going to Neverland, the movie makes London at night time look like such a magical place.

When it comes to Disney magic, Peter Pan is one of their films that has it in abundance. A live-action version is set to release this year on Disney+, but if there’s anything the past 70 years have taught us, it’s that the animated film is unlikely to lessen in relevance because of it. Disney’s Peter Pan is a true treasure, and just like the boy himself, it never seems to grow old.

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