I’ll be the first to tell you: I was never what you’d call a big fan of Peter Pan. In my eyes, Peter was, and still is, kind of a punk. No regard for authority, egotistical, no ambition beyond staying a kid, laughing at Wendy Darling as the mermaids in the lagoon teased, and for all intents, tried to drown her. Sometimes, you can’t help but wish Captain Hook would teach him at least a little lesson.
Nonetheless, over the years, I’ve softened my stance and warmed to the boy who never grew up. In fact, I’ll even say Peter related stories and characters within the Disney realm have become some of my favorites. Most of this I owe to a few things:
My wife, who has always loved the movie and counts it among her favorites. I doubt I would have watched it much without her to watch it with, and I’m grateful for that.
My daughter, whose love of Peter and Never Land is unmatched. My wife and I often joke that Peter was and is her “first love.” She still is enamored with Peter, his Lost Boys, and of course, the Darling children. In fact, we even commissioned a piece from a friend that showcases her love of Peter.
And, of course, Disneyland. How can you ride Peter Pan’s Flight without wishing your boat would get stuck over the fiber optic beauty of Never Land and just stay there? The fact that guests wait in 45 minute lines for a three minute ride is a true testament to how well this ride works as well as to the place it holds in people’s hearts.
But there’s a bigger reason that the older I get, the tales of Peter have become so meaningful to me.
Is this because of the fact that Peter never grew up and I’m longing for my childhood? Is it the dangerous beauty of Never Land? The enticing adventure that awaits (the Pirates on the Jolly Roger seem much more fun to battle than the corporate ones faced in daily life!)?
Maybe it’s a combination of all three..plus a little more. You see, although Peter never grew up, I don’t think that is necessarily a good thing. Wendy realized it. John and Michael did, too. In other stories, the Lost Boys came to see this as well.
Yet, when growing up, you run the risk of becoming a pirate. George Darling was well on his way. There’s a reason throughout the history of stage and cinema that He and Hook are portrayed by the same actor. The difference being, there was redemption for Mr. Darling.
It came in the form of remembering Peter Pan.
As the years go by and I get older, it’s not the actual growing up that concerns me (as it did Peter). It’s the thought of losing touch with the memories of childhood (as with George). If I were to completely let go of those memories; If I forget what it’s like to pretend, to tell stories, to have an adventure just for the sake of adventure… I’m a pirate. It’s important to take on the responsibilities of an adult. But without the memories and feelings of childlike innocence and wonder, we grow self centered, annoyed, sometimes despising the beauty of wonder. And that, more than anything else, is why with each passing year I embrace the story of Peter Pan more and more.
At the end of Peter Pan: Return to Never Land, there is a scene that gets to me every time. If you haven’t seen it and don’t wish to be spoiled, don’t watch. But if you have seen it, or don’t think you will, watch with me. This little exchange between Peter and the now grown Wendy puts it all into perspective for me.
I think that now, I mostly relate to Wendy, who was ready to grow up. Although time may take its toll, I will always remember the magic of childhood, and cherish it in adulthood as well. Perhaps that explains my love of Disney, and my childlike amazement I still get whenever I set foot in a theme park or see the company logo flash at the beginning of a movie.
It’s because there’s part of me that never grew up and is still living in Never Land… and I embrace it wholeheartedly.