'Peter Pan' is another story that Disney had long wanted to put to the screen (original treatments were being written before WWII). It's the classic tale of the mythical wonder boy Peter Pan, who escorts three English children to Neverland, a place where kids never grow up and adventure is abound. There they encounter fellow lost childrens, mermaids, politically incorrect injuns, and a gaggle of pirates, headed by the nefarious Captain Hook, who's got a bone to pick with Pan ever since he fed his hand to a blood-thirsty croc.
Now 'Pan' is somewhat similar to 'Alice in Wonderland,' in that a lot of the audience intrigue is from the splendorous scenery and colorful characters of this new environment. Neverland is lusciously painted and designed, as Disney continues to move forward in its artistry. Your main characters are a little less interesting; they serve their purposes, I suppose, but the main children and lost boys are mighty bland, both in personality and design. Peter gets a pass for being a spaz, and his utter resistance of aging, but when the kids get the bulk of the screen time, I sat back waiting for Hook or Tinkerbell to reappear.
There is somewhat of a story here, with Hook seeking out Peter's hideout for a final showdown, but a lot of the film is just going from set piece to set piece, from the surprisingly sultry mermaids to the... somewhat indelicately handled Indians. They talk and "woo-woo" like your normal Indian caricature, then sing a song of questionable content, inferring that their skin is red due to their unflappable attraction (read: hornyness) toward the ladies. But PC or not, the scenes are still a lot of fun to watch, as are most every scene where Pan interacts with the locals, which usually means screwing around with them. In some ways he sort of acts like an anti-hero. He's clearly good intentioned, but there's something somewhat questionable about him; you can chalk his lack of understanding that taking three children away from their parents forever as either being uncaring, or just out of cluelessness that this is even a problem.
With the main cast being somewhat dull, the side characters make this movie, and we've got some great ones here. I was surprised how much I liked Tinkerbell, who could have easily been made into a little irritant, but she's treated as an actual character here. She manages to convey emotions perfectly without making a sound, and is one of the most fantastically animated characters I've seen so far. Her strange infatuation with Peter and burning jealousy of Wendy raises further questions about her, questions that thankfully are left up to the audience. Then of course you've got Captain Hook, one of the finest Disney villains, alternatively hilarious and dangerous (he KILLS one of his men in his FIRST SCENE). Voiced brilliantly by Hans Conried, Hook is a dastardly character, a constant schemer, and a character you can almost relate to on some level. Wouldn't you be pissed if some punk kid cut off your hand? I know I would. His bumbling first mate Smee is great too (Bill Thompson, who was previously the White Rabbit), with a truly distinctive voice and design. One of the truly genius moments between them is their reactions, particularly Hook's, to the approaching crocodile. With reactions timed to the ticking of the croc's literally internal clock, Hook looks positively terrified. He doesn't have to say one word, and you know that he's been absolutely traumatized by the events of the past. He's sympathetic in that sense, I believe; Hook may be one of Disney's first fully fleshed out characters.
As great as Hook may be, I have to say my absolute favorite moments in the film occur at the very beginning, with the movie's unsung hero: the father Mr. Darling. Also voiced by Conried (what a MIND SCREW!), his eight or so minutes of screen time at the beginning and end is unbelievable. Conried gave Hook a pretty outlandishly angry voice, but with Mr. Darling, he went all out; it's proof positive that strong voice acting can truly make the character. Despite his scoffing and punishing his children, Darling never crosses over to a bad guy, for most of his words and actions come out of his flustered condition of trying to get out of the house for a fancy dress party. Honestly, he may be my favorite Disney character now: he's THAT great. Trust me on this.
Verdict? The movie may have its problems, and its share of slow scenes (ANYTHING with just the children), but it's a truly fun and gorgeous looking movie. Regarding the overall premise itself though, I wish it had gone a little further into some of the themes only briefly brought up. The whole idea of arrested development in Neverland, and Peter's fighting Wendy over the merits of growing up could have made the film a bit more interesting, and their character dynamics a bit stronger if delved into more. But no matter, if those scenes were sacrificed in favor of racist caricatures and more Hook antics, I can live with that.