Monday, September 15, 2008

Fox's Boy Who Never Grew Up

Fox’s Peter Pan & the Pirates

For a long time this had been my favorite adaptation of Barrie’s tragic boy hero. Sure, it has some differences in character appearance from his tale, but I looked the other way because everything else had been so right. And at the time, my only “options” were Disney’s and Mary Martin’s. The silent movie hadn’t been readily available. I have a theory as to why the discrepancies existed. I believe they wanted to differentiate from Disney’s. And much of it has to do with…color. For instance, Captain Hook has black hair (in Barrie’s and Disney’s.) Disney shows him in red. Wendy is in blue. Tinker Bell is in green. And Peter Pan himself also wears something green. According to Barrie he is “clad in skeleton leaves and the juices that ooze out of trees.” Now note the difference: Fox’s Hook has white hair and he is wearing dark blue. Wendy wears pink. So does Tink. And the eternal boy? In brown. It seems like they wanted a complete contrast to make it their own. For the most part, those are the changes. Otherwise, they took Barrie’s text seriously. They even list the title correctly in the opening sequence: A new and independent series inspired by J.M. Barrie’s original novel “Peter and Wendy”

Like the Japanese series Peter Pan no Bōken that predated it (which I had no knowledge of then) Fox’s animated television series is based on this part of Peter and Wendy: Adventures, of course, as we shall see, were of daily occurrence... To describe them all would require a book as large as an English-Latin, Latin-English Dictionary, and the most we can do is to give one as a specimen of an average hour on the island. A simple, yet rich with potential idea for a TV show. How wonderful to be able to experience more Peter Pan adventures without straying from the story. I enjoyed this series. Quite a bit. As I said, it provided the best Peter Pan I’d ever seen.

Unlike no Bōken, however, there is no semblance of a story arc to this show. It's simply a series of separate adventures. It's not a Finite Cartoon.

The deliciously wicked Tim Curry lent his voice to bring Captain James Hook to life. He had a particular way of saying “boy” that tickled me. It conveyed the pirate’s grumbling and annoyance with Pan quite well. He won an Emmy for his performance.

And I’m happy to say that Peter Pan is portrayed just right, too. Cute, cocky and unconcerned half the time. Plus a lot of “pointless” mid-air hovering around. I described this in my post about no Bōken. (Here you will find a Peter who stands on a ship’s mast and appear to fall only to quickly zip-curve around behind you. A Pan who sits crosslegged in midair. A Peter who jumps down and falls fast, then slow, then throws out his arms and legs and darts off another way. ) As I said in that post, no Bōken does it better, actually. But when I’d been watching Fox’s it had been the first time I’d been exposed to the idea, so it delighted me greatly.

What I admired most about Fox’s effort is their ability to create new characters and places which seemed quite Barrie-like indeed. The place name that springs to mind is Small Monday Island. As I recall, it’s sort of a fair for fairies and gnomes and the like. Small Monday Island…what on earth does it mean? Not that I actually want to know. It has the Barriesque quality of sounding logical and for-certain yet being born of gibberish and ambiguity. The character who springs to mind is…well, it’s a tie. Either Uloch the troll or King Kyros, Lord of Ice. Uloch feels incidental…as if he’d always been there and you just never noticed. And Kyros’ irritation with Peter boy added to the idea he is often an unwelcome troublemaker. “Stop this pitiful nonsense, Pan!” I remember being very happy that he just called him Pan. There is also a new Indian character worth mentioning. A boy named Hard-to-Hit.

There are few bizarre additions, such as the episodes with the Girl in the Moon and a brother, Captain Patch, for Hook. But they are not offensive to Barrie’s work, just a bit more jarring than the rest of their creations.

They also oddly portrayed the Twins. In their version, one is tall and the other is short. One is dark skinned and the other fair skinned. But they’re inseparable and seem to have one mind. They will finish each other’s sentences. Barrie explains that Peter never quite knew what twins were. So, perhaps…just maybe…Peter’s lack of knowledge resulted in him believing their situation to be Twins. That’s my answer for it. Again, I found myself willing to let the oddity slide amid all the rest of the accuracy.

In the final two-episode, Ages of Pan, Fox practically crossed a line. Peter Pan captures Hook and has a large device that will shoot spears at him. In an effort to save his life, Hook makes a speech with complete serenity and control of thought. He does not plead for his life to be spared. Rather he tells Pan that he may be killed - for he has had a full life. He has been a youth, an adolescent, a young man and an adult. Unlike Pan. Something Peter can never do. Not to be told he can’t do something, Peter Pan lets him go. He begins a new game - growing up. But it’s no game. For true and make-believe can be the same for Pan. He starts to age. Okay, now, see, that’s just not right…but they made it compelling… believable. Instead of simply making him a disgruntled lawyer with parenting issues, they showed his agonies and grief at forgetting his fun as a child. At odds with the strangeness and the yearning to know his identity. The Neverland dies around him. And considering that one of Barrie’s own fascinations had been what on earth the old age of Peter Pan would be…Fox gave us their spin on it. At the end of the episode he is an old man, with a long white beard. It takes the love and words (and single tear) of Tinker Bell (who is barely existing herself) to restore him. A bit hokey, perhaps. But when held up as a parallel to Peter Pan asking that Tink’s life be saved, it’s a touching moment. Don’t worry. Peter returns to his normal self. As with everything, Fox handled it the situation with great care.

Despite the risks it took and the small changes it made, Fox’s Peter Pan & the Pirates never seemed to leave the world of Barrie. His mocking logic and child-like playfulness always flew along, like wind keeping the stories aloft.

Sure, some episodes are leagues better than others. But that’s always the case.

The series lasted for 65 shows.
It premiered on September 8, 1990. The last air date: December 2, 1991

The picture is the first I had seen of the show.

The Silent Boy Who Never Grew Up
Japan's Boy Who Never Grew Up
P.J. Hogan's Boy Who Never Grew Up
Disney's Boy Who Never Grew Up


Danielle Mari said...

You say "hokey" like it's a bad thing! I love hokey!

Shuichi Kuriatnyk said...

I like what you wrote about the show.,you judged it well. :) that version is by far my fave on Peter Pan!.