Peter Pan by J.M. Barrie (1904)
Peter Pan and Wendy directed by David Lowery (2023)
I was vaguely about this new Peter Pan adaptation but had no intentions of even watching it, until I learned it was directed by David Lowery! He directed The Green Knight, which has become one of my favorite movies, and so I decided to do a book vs movie for Peter Pan!
Despite the popularity of this story, I didn’t really go into the book with high expectations. Partly because I knew there were certain things that just haven’t aged well. In particular Barrie’s portrayal of indigenous people.
And even though that was the case with the Native Americans, the rest of the book I really loved! It was so fun, silly, whimsical, sweet, and really funny! There were so many hilarious details! And so much ridiculousness, like having a dog be a nanny to just name one thing. I also was impressed with the depth given to some of the characters. With a children’s book I expect the characters to be pretty one dimensional, but there was a lot of nuances I thought to Peter, Captain Hook, Wendy, as well as some of the Lost Boys and Mr. and Mrs. Darling.
I would highly recommend this book regardless of your age!
This movie is available only on Disney plus and didn’t even have a theater release! I was surprised by that on one hand, but I guess seeing as this is a story that has been adapted sooo many times I guess Disney didn’t see it being worth the theater release. I really wish it had been in theaters though! Anyway, if you already have a Disney account, I will say it is worth watching. The child actors are pretty good, Jude Law playing Captain Hook was a lot of fun, and Jim Gaffigan as Smee was absolutely spot on.
The first half gives us a good ol’ Neverland adventure with Peter and Wendy rescuing Michael and John from the pirates and we get the ticking crocodile. Then the second half starts to be more unique by telling us Captain Hook’s backstory which leads to another swashbuckling scene in the last bit. We actually do learn a bit about Hook’s past in the book, but it differs from the movie. I liked the music throughout the film, it isn’t a musical, but there are some moments when they sing. It is also a visually beautiful film!
From here on out there will be spoilers for both the book and the movie!
Mr. and Mrs. Darling
Beginning with the start, the movie doesn’t really show us much with the parents or Nanna the dog who takes care of the children. In the book, one of the children had to take medicine but was putting up a fuss and Mr. Darling says that he takes his own medicine without complaining and he would take it to show the son who it’s done but can’t because he lost his. Wendy finds the medicine, but the dad was putting on a show before and now that he has the medicine, he doesn’t want to take it. He then puts it in Nanna’s bowl as a joke.
They aren’t happy with the father for doing this, and because he is upset at how things turned out, Mr. Darling puts Nanna outside and then he and the wife go to a party.
When the kids leave, in the book they are gone for a long while, like weeks and weeks. The parents miss the kids, and the father feels that it is his fault for playing the joke on Nanna and putting her outside. As a way to show his remorse, he stays in the dog kennel and says he won’t leave it until the children return. He had been very concerned with what others thought of him, and to now be transported around in a dog kennel shows how sorry he is. He becomes kind of famous in town though and kids and adults alike enjoy seeing the man in the dog kennel. Mrs. Darling even starts to suspect that the father likes being in the kennel, but he claims it is still his punishment.
The mother keeps the window always open and the beds always ready for when her children return.
None of this is in the movie, and in this movie the kids are only gone for one night in the real world and the parents never even notice they have left.
Wendy and getting to Neverland
Peter visits the Darling house to hear the bedtime stories, and one night when he comes to get his shadow back, he says he and the Lost Boys want to know how Cinderella ends. Wendy says she knows the ending, and Peter asks if she can come to Neverland with him so she can tell them stories. This is kind of how it plays out in the movie as well. Also, in both, Neverland was something they already knew about because it was their make-believe spot.
As everyone knows, with the help of Tinker Bell, Wendy and her two brothers are able to fly to Neverland. In the book it seems to take a while, and they get hungry so Peter will steal food from birds that are flying by and give it to the kids.
In the book, when they arrive in Neverland, Tinker Bell, who doesn’t like Wendy, tells the Lost Boys to shoot her and so they do. She falls to the ground, but Peter removes the arrow and she ends up being okay. While she is passed out, Peter and the boys build a house around her. They also have an underground home, but they don’t want to carry Wendy, so that is why the build the house around her.
In the movie, right when they get to Neverland Captain Hook spots them and starts shooting at them. This causes them to be separated and the brothers are caught by Captain Hook, while Wendy ends up with the Lost Boys and Tiger Lily, and Peter goes in disguise amongst the pirates. They all end up coming to together to save John and Michael, and then head back to the Lost Boys hang out.
In the book, Peter says he has brought Wendy so she can be a mother to them, which is what she does. Some people don’t like this aspect of the book, because that is Wendy’s sole purpose in the boys’ eyes is to be a mother. I wasn’t bothered by it though. When you are a kid, I think it is common for girls to play pretend and to pretend be a mom. One detail I really liked was how she makes sure they take medicine every night and it is something she takes very seriously. We learn though that the medicine is just water which she pretends is medicine. I also thought it was sweet how the boys miss their mothers, aside from Peter. In some ways, by being upset that Wendy is in Neverland “just to be their mother” almost makes it seem like being a mother isn’t an important thing and to “just be a mother” is not a big deal and a role that is vital in life. Obviously I know there is more to being a female than being a mom, I myself am not a mom and I don’t like when people talk as if being a mom is the ultimate thing you can do as a woman. But in the scope of this story, since kids leaving their mothers is a huge part of this story, it makes sense that to them the role of a female is to be a mother. When you are really young, the most important female in your life is your mother so it makes sense that is what the Lost Boys associate Wendy with. And Wendy being a young girl who admires and loves her mother, it makes sense that she would take to mothering.
In the movie, at one point one of them says they want Wendy to be their mother to which she says she isn’t old enough, plus she doesn’t even know if she wants to be a mother. She does sing them a lullaby though which sparks something in Captain Hook reminding him of his own mother.
In the movie, we learn that Captain Hook was the first Lost Boy and his name was James. However, he started to miss him mom and that annoyed Peter and so he kicked James out of Neverland. James tried to find his way back to his mom but got lost and was saved by Smee and other pirates. The pirates raised him and eventually he became their captain. When he returned to Neverland, now a grown up, he and Peter were at odds and Peter cut off his hand in a fight and fed it to a crocodile.
When Captain Hook hears Wendy sing, he is reminded of his mom and while he has all of the kid’s taken prisoner after thinking he killed Peter, he tells them his origin story.
In the last battle of the movie, Peter (who is “brought back to life” by Tiger Lily), Peter puts his sword down and apologizes to Hook for being a bad friend. Hook then falls, even though Peter tries to save him. He tells Hook to think happy thoughts and Tinker Bell can help him fly and save him but sadly, Hook says he can’t think of anything happy. In the end though we see he and Smee are still alive.
In the book, Captain Hook actually likes having a hook for a hand. What he doesn’t like, is that by Peter feeding his hand to the crocodile, it causes the croc to have a liking for Hook and it has followed him ever since, wanting to eat the rest of him. He always knows when the croc is near though because it makes a ticking sound because it also swallowed a watch.
We also learn that Hook (whose first name is James in the book as well), went to public school and it instilled in him the desire for good form, which means he likes to comply with social conventions. “…but as those who read between the lines must already have guessed, he had been at a famous public school; and its traditions still clung to him like garments…he retained the passion for good form.” Near the end he is feeling bothered, and realizes he is sad because children don’t like him. He is also envious of Smee who the children do like, even though Smee doesn’t realize it. He thinks Smee shows good form and that is why the kids like him and aren’t scared of him. I want to read the passage describing Smee though because it is pretty funny while showing how enduring Smee is, “There was little sound, and none agreeable save the whir of the ship’s sewing machine at which Smee sat, ever industrious and obliging, the essence of the commonplace, pathetic Smee. I know not why he was so infinitely pathetic, unless it were because he was so pathetically unaware of it; but even strong men had to turn hastily from looking at him, and more than once on summer evenings he had touched the fount of Hook’s tears and made it flow. Of this, as of almost everything else, Smee was quite unconscious.”
In the book, they threaten to kill Wendy, but say that if she agrees to be the mother to the pirates she can live. Showing that the pirates, like the Lost Boys, miss their mothers.
In the end of the book, Hook dies when he is pushed overboard by Peter, but is actually kind of a beautiful moment in the book. It reads, “Misguided man though he was, we may be glad, without sympathising with him, that in the end he was true to the traditions of his race. The other boys were flying around him now, flouting, scornful; and he staggered about the deck striking up at them impotently, his mind was no longer with them; it was slouching in the playing fields of long ago, or being sent up for good, or watching the wall-game from a famous wall. And his shoes were right, and his waistcoat was right, and his tie was right, and his socks were right. James Hook, thou not wholly unheroic figure, farewell. For we have come to his last moment. Seeing Peter slowly advancing upon him through the air with dagger poised, he sprang upon the bulwarks to cast himself into the sea. He did not know that the crocodile was waiting for him; for we purposely stopped the clock that this knowledge might be spared him…[after Peter kicks him, he] went content to the crocodile. Thus perished James Hook.”
Also there is a funny part in the book when the Lost Boys and Wendy were on their way home but Peter had stayed behind. Hook creeps into their house and sees Peter sleeping and in that moment thinks how he can’t hurt a sweet, sleeping child. The book reads, “Thus defenceless Hook found him…Did no feeling of compassion disturb his sombre breast? The man was not wholly evil; he loved flowers (I have been told) and sweet music (he was himself no mean performer on the harpsichord); and, let it be frankly admitted, the idyllic nature of the scene stirred him profoundly. Mastered by his better self he would have returned reluctantly up the tree, but for one thing. What stayed him was Peter’s impertinent appearance as he slept. The open mouth, the drooping arm, the arched knee: they were such a personification of cockiness as, taken together, will never again, one may hope, be presented to eyes so sensitive to their offensiveness. They steeled Hook’s heart.”
Peter’s cockiness is something we are often reminded of, and as seen there, that is the main reason Hook dislikes him so much.
Peter’s cockiness is also present in the movie. When they escape Hook the first time, Peter claims he doesn’t need anyone’s help and that he knows he will always be able to defeat Hook. Wendy points out that the only reason he flies is thanks to Tinker Bell, and his success with Hook are also in thanks to the help of the Lost Boys, as well as Tiger Lily. As the movie goes on though, Peter accepts the help of others and seems to realize he can’t do it on his own.
In the book, after Wendy returns home, years later Peter returns and when Wendy asks him about Hook or Tinker Bell, he doesn’t remember them or anything that happened. He says once he has killed someone, or they die, he forgets about them and his memory of time differs from Wendy. We are also told how he doesn’t listen to what others are saying because he is busy thinking of himself, and how he loves to hear stories about himself being told.
Another way the movie shows this is the fact that Peter doesn’t actually know what Tinker Bell is saying, and he doesn’t care because he is so caught up about himself. Near the end, Wendy can finally understand Tinker Bell herself which I thought was a sweet moment.
In both, in the end the Lost Boys stay with the Darlings and in the book, we hear about how they adjust to life and grow up. In both, Wendy tries to get Peter to stay as well and to see that growing up can also be an adventure. However, Peter doesn’t want to have the burden of adulthood and the responsibilities that come with it, and in both he leaves. As said though, he does come back in the book but eventually Wendy grows up and so he instead takes her daughter Jane with him to Neverland, and then Jane’s daughter, and so one. Wendy and the others grow and change, but Peter is left living the same life which doesn’t change and he himself doesn’t even remember his own adventures. Peter’s life seems kind of sadness compared the more fulfilling life they others get by growing up.
I did want to mention though, one of Barrie’s inspirations for Peter Pan was that when he was a boy his brother died young. His mother was very upset, and Barrie would dress in his brothers’ clothes to try and comfort her. His mother would often say how the son who passed would now forever be a boy due to dying young.
Oh, another detail about Peter in the book I wanted to touch on was how he would play make-believe but how to Peter, pretending was no less real than reality. When Wendy was shot, he asks one of the Lost Boys to be a doctor and the boy, realizing how serious Peter takes pretending, gets pretty stressed out and he pretends to care for her. When the pretending is over, the boy is visibly relieved.
Book vs Movie
I skipped over a number of plot details in the book and movie. In the book we learn of various adventures they have during their time in Neverland, the bigger moments being when Peter saves Tiger Lily from the pirates, and then when the pirates get the Lost Boys and Wendy when they were on their way home but Peter shows up and helps save them. In the movie there is more to the plot as well, like for example we find out that long ago, the house Wendy lives in had been Peter’s when he was a boy and that is why he kept returning to it.
But to get to which I liked better; I would definitely say the book. I loved Tiger Lily in the movie and she was such a great improvement, and all of the kids who were part of the Lost Boys were so cute and fun. I also like the Wendy has a good friendship with Tinker Bell and Tiger Lily. Another downside with the book, was that all of the female’s in Neverland were pretty rude and caddy towards Wendy. Tinker Bell, the mermaids (which aren’t in the movie really), and Tiger Lily doesn’t really talk to Wendy. Nonetheless, I just love the writing style of the book and again, it was so silly and ridiculous but also beautiful at times, while at other times being genuinely funny. I want to go back and watch the cartoon because based on what I remember, I think it stays pretty true to the book. The other adaptations we have had through the decades I haven’t watched and unless someone comments recommending one in particular, I don’t think I will watch any of them.