I recently watched Pan on a plane and it sparked my curiosity as it didn’t seem to track with the Peter Pan story that I was familiar with. So, I did some research and after finding out that the story is 117 years old, there have been movies, musicals, and a TV mini-series that all tell slightly different stories, my curiosity wanted to understand the real story.
The Peter Pan Story (in Chronological Story Order)
Peter Pan was first created by J.M. Barrie, a Scottish playwright and novelist. He first appeared in a novel called “The Little White Bird” that Barrie had written in 1902. Peter Pan was described as having escaped from his nursery when he was just a week old and being taught to fly by birds and fairies.
Two years later, Barrie wrote the play “Peter Pan, or The Boy Who Wouldn’t Grow Up.” Late, in 1911, Barrie wrote the novel “Peter and Wendy,” which expanded on the play’s plot. Since then, Peter Pan has appeared in countless works; some adapt Barrie’s ideas, while others expand on them. There’s even at least one movie about Barrie himself.
Finding Neverland (2004)
“Finding Neverland” is a movie about the events and people that inspired Barrie to create Peter Pan. It is based on Allan Knee’s play, “The Man Who Was Peter Pan” (1998). “Finding Neverland” later inspired a musical of the same name that debuted in 2012.
As per the movie, Barrie (Johnny Depp) met the widow Sylvia Llewelyn Davies (Kate Winslet), who had four sons, George, Jack, Peter, and Michael. Barrie and Davies developed a close platonic relationship, and he often acted as a surrogate father and playmate to the boys. Their playful ways inspired him to write a play about boys who didn’t want to grow up.
“Neverland” is a television miniseries that is a prequel to the Peter Pan story. Set in London in 1906, it portrays James ‘Jimmy’ Hook (Rhys Ifans) as the Fagin-like leader of a group of child thieves called the Lost Boys. Peter Pan (Charlie Rowe) is one of the members. This version of Peter Pan is significantly older than the original, as Rowe was in his teens when the miniseries premiered. He certainly did not go to Neverland as an infant.
During a robbery gone very wrong, the gang minus Peter are swept off to another dimension by a magic orb. Peter uses the orb to try track his friends down. Meanwhile, Hook and the others are captured by pirates led by Captain Elizabeth Bonny (Anna Friel). Hook claims to be a captain himself and agrees to help Bonny reach a forest inhabited by fairy-like tree spirits in order to steal their magic powder that enables a person to fly. Peter, meanwhile, has found both one of the Lost Boys and a tribe of Indians who guard the forest. The chief’s daughter is called Princess Aaya, rather than “Tiger Lily” as in Barrie’s works.
The rest of the miniseries depicts Peter and his friends freeing the Lost Boys and the subsequent conflict with the pirates. Tinker Bell turns out to be one of the tree spirits. “Neverland” also introduces Dr. Richard Fludd, the Elizabethan alchemist who had created the orb and become the first known person to travel to Neverland, a planet where time stands still.
Neverland: Never Grow Up, Never Grow Old (2003)
The live-action movie “Neverland: Never Grow Up, Never Grow Old” sets the Peter Pan story in the real world during the present day. Rather than being an island or world, Neverland is an amusement park. The characters are similarly altered: Peter Pan is an androgynous teenager, Captain Hook is gay, Tiger Lily is a transvestite, and the Lost Boys smoke marijuana. Wendy Darling is black, and she and her brothers are all adopted.
Walt Disney’s Peter Pan (1953)
“Walt Disney’s Peter Pan” is probably the best-known version of the story. Most children have seen this movie at least once, and some of the characters, like Captain Hook and Tinkerbell, can be seen at the various theme parks. The story is based on that of “Peter Pan, or The Boy Who Wouldn’t Grow Up.” One big difference between the play and the movie is that Peter Pan himself may or may not be human. He is drawn with elf-like pointed ears. Peter is also eternally twelve years old simply because he doesn’t want to grow any older.
The original script did portray Peter as explicitly human, for it included a variation of Barrie’s idea of Peter Pan escaping from his nursery. The film’s script originally stated that Peter Pan had been kidnapped by fairies as a baby. He eventually escaped and tried to return home – only to find another baby in his old crib. Believing that he’d been forgotten and discarded, he returned to Neverland. Walt Disney himself disliked the idea, and the origin story was quickly scuttled.
While earlier versions of the story have the Lost Boys returning to the real world and eventually growing up, “Walt Disney’s Peter Pan” portrays them as deciding to remain in Neverland with Peter. They are thus still children when Jane meets them in “Return to Neverland” decades later.
Peter Pan (2003)
“Peter Pan” is a live-action movie based on the play. It introduces a new character, Aunt Millicent (Lynn Redgrave), who believes that Wendy should spend less time in the nursery with her younger brothers and more time learning to be a young woman. In the 1953 movie, it had been Mr. Darling himself who wanted to separate Wendy from her younger brothers. Both characters had objected to Wendy’s telling stories about Peter Pan to the boys.
“Peter Pan” follows a tradition established in the play: Both Mr. Darling and Captain Hook are played by the same actor (Jason Issacs). Captain Hook not only commands the “Jolly Roger,” he also at least has access to the abandoned Black Castle.
Disney’s Return to Neverland (2002)
“Disney’s Return to Neverland” is an animated film that’s a sequel to “Disney’s Peter Pan.” It is at least inspired by the epilogue that Barrie had written for his play in 1908. It was called “When Wendy Grew Up. An Afterthought” and depicted Wendy as having a daughter named Jane who travels to Neverland with Peter.
“Return to Neverland” is set in London during the Blitz of World War II. Captain Hook, whose ship has now been enchanted to have flight capabilities, mistakes Jane for Wendy and kidnaps her. Peter Pan rescues her and evades Captain Hook’s trap. Unlike her mother, Jane is a hard-headed realist who has trouble adapting to Neverland. She even makes Tinkerbell ill by declaring that she doesn’t believe in fairies. She also has no interest in playing “mother” to the Lost Boys.
“Hook,” which was made by Steven Spielberg, is also a sequel to the original Peter Pan story. It depicts a Peter Pan who had decided to leave Neverland and thus grew up. He is now known as “Peter Banning” (Robin Williams) and is on the cusp of middle age. He has also forgotten his old life as Peter Pan.
Captain Hook (Dustin Hoffman), however, has not forgotten, and he kidnaps Peter’s children. Tinkerbell (Julia Roberts) brings Peter to Neverland to fight Captain Hook – only to discover that Peter has forgotten his old skills along with his identity. She then convinces the skeptical Lost Boys to help Peter regain his abilities and fighting prowess. Peter eventually does so and rescues his children, who he then takes home.
“Pan” is a live-action movie that, like the miniseries “Neverland,” is a prequel to Barrie’s story. Aside from that similarity, it is quite different. For example, while “Neverland” is set a little after the turn of the century, most of “Pan” takes place during World War II. On the other hand, both movies portray Peter and the Lost Boys as orphans under the care of a malicious guardian.
Peter’s mother had abandoned him on the steps of an orphanage run by the cruel Mother Barnabas (Kathy Burke). Mother Barnabas hoards food, and Peter (Levi Miller) and Nibs (Lewis MacDougal) decide to steal some for themselves and the other orphans. During the theft, they find a letter for Peter from his mother promising that they will meet again.
Mother Barnabas arranges to have pirates kidnap the orphans. While Nibs escapes, Peter and the others are taken aboard a flying pirate ship commanded by Blackbeard (Hugh Jackman), who forces his captives to mine for Pixum or crystallized fairy dust. Blackbeard wants it because of its magical properties, which include its power to stop aging. During his captivity, Peter meets James Hook (Garrett Hedlund), who is also a miner. This is thus the only adaptation that portrays Peter and Hook as friends and allies.
Peter, Hook, and Smee, an old friend of Hook’s, escape the mine and steal an enchanted flying ship. They encounter Tiger Lily and her tribe who had known Peter’s mother, Mary. It turns out that she was a native of Neverland who had captured the heart of the Fairy Prince, a powerful warrior also known as “Pan.” Blackbeard was also in love with Mary, and the resulting love triangle ended in disaster. Mary hid her son at the orphanage in the hopes he would grow up in safety. Peter is thus half-fairy, and he, Hook, and Tiger Lily decide to seek help from his father’s people against the pirates.
One battle later, the movie ends with Peter returning to London to recruit Nibs and the other orphans as his Lost Boys and Hook and Tiger Lily becoming a couple. Hook also becomes the captain of the “Jolly Roger,” but remains Peter’s friend. Since “Pan” bombed, both critically and financially, any sequel depicting him turning against Pan probably won’t get made.