Feminisney: “Peter Pan” and “Alice in Wonderland”

Of shoes and ships and sealing wax, of puberty and things.

Puberty allegories AND really awful racism all in one movie! Read on to find out which one!

New to this series? Figure out what’s going on here!

Trying to get back into the saddle of this monstrous task I have given myself, I started noticing I’ve been trying to group the non-princess films into things that make sense (since taking these one at a time would take me approximately forever). Y’know, talking animals, boring music/culture films… etc. So I’ll be skipping around on the strict chronology after these.

For those who aren’t aware, this category is British kids undergoing puberty. You’ll see what I mean.

Peter Pan

Probably the most fun-looking kidnapping in film?

This story is fairly well-known. In my opinion, one of the best versions is Hook because Dustin Hoffman is absolute dynamite as Captain Hook. But, basically, British kids, Wendy and her brothers Michael and John, don’t want to grow up. Peter Pan, chasing his shadow, bumps into them and says, “Come with me where you don’t have to grow up and also adults are evil!” And they go. Then they decide to come back because they like their family, I guess.

But there is much more to it than a simple, and frankly disturbing, story about a mass kidnapper.

Number of named characters with speaking lines: Ten. Nana the Nurse Dog and Tinkerbell don’t actually have any lines. Mr. Starkey rounds us out at ten as one of the random pirates who manages to get named.
Number of named female characters with speaking lines: Three: Mrs. Mary Darling, Wendy Darling, and Tiger Lily
Does the film pass the Bechdel Test? Yes it does! Wendy and her mom talk about things.
Number of named non-white characters:
Tiger Lily makes one — the first animated one in this series other than the questionable Stromboli from Pinocchio.
Number of named non-white female characters:
1
Number of openly non-heterosexual characters:
0
Number of openly transsexual characters:
0
Is there a heterosexual romance?
Wendy, Tinkerbell, Tiger Lily, and the mermaids all show strong affections toward Peter.
True Love’s Kiss?
No.
Number of female mentors or rulers?
Besides the mother, 0.
Number of named female characters wearing “men’s clothes” (pants instead of dresses):
0 (With 0 men wearing “women’s clothes”.)
Main character male or female?
Despite the title, Wendy, female, is the main character.
Number of named female characters saved from peril by male characters:
2 — Wendy and Tiger Lily (Maybe Tinkerbell at the end?)
Number of times named female characters saved from peril by male characters:
Excluding Tink, 3 times. At least.
Number of named male characters saved from peril by female characters: 1 — Peter.
Number of times named male characters saved from peril by female characters:
Just the once.
Number of named female characters breaking gender stereotypes with their actions (performing “masculine” feats):
0
Number of named male characters breaking gender stereotypes with their actions (performing “feminine” feats):
0

So, first: This movie is 100% about puberty. Wendy in particular is being told she is too old to be staying in the room with the boys, she’s too old to be nursed by Nana, she has to grow up. How strange that that night, the choice to never grow up is granted. The kids all go to a new land where no aging occurs. Where being an adult is bad. And where the villainous Captain Hook is played by: Mr. George Darling.

Seriously. In this cartoon, they’re both voiced by Hans Conried. In the 2003 live-action version, they’re both played by Jason Isaacs. And the only thing Hook (the adult) fears is the sound of a clock. The inexorable march of time towards (crocodile) death. It’s… kinda heavy-handed symbolism.

Anyway, this film is basically the fear of puberty. The fear of aging. Of change. A desire to keep it all the same. Which literally blows up in their faces. Sounds like a sweet little tale… but then the racism and sexism abound.

*cringe*

While this movie actually beats out a lot of the previous films for passing Bechdel, having people of color (the Native Americans, or “Indians”), a lead female, etc… it gets really bad with the racism AND sexism. Maybe not Dumbo bad, but boy. The two examples of racism are a blink-and-you-miss picture of a map showing Cannibal Cave, represented by a black man with extremely oversized red lips, and the really obviously racist portrayal of the Native Americans (seen as savages, over-exaggerated broken English, overacted actions that border on attempting humor, etc.). It’s lampooned slightly when the older, sophisticated Darling brother John (he wears a top hat and glasses, so he’s proper), while hunting the Indians, states, “The Indian is cunning, but not intelligent.” Y’know, right before being surrounded and captured. Take that, British colonialism! Still, the Indian song is just awkward.

Also, smoking in a Disney film. This scene’s just full of awkward.

The sexism is a bit more pervasive. Perhaps you can chalk lines of Peter’s, like “Girls talk too much,” up to him being a kid. But Tinkerbell, with no lines, is basically nothing but a walking stereotype of the jealous female. While she does get to save Peter from blowing up toward the end, she has no character except to hate on Wendy for Peter’s interest in her. Same goes for the mermaids. In fact, she makes a deal with Captain Hook, the bad guy, to get Wendy out of the way. (Plus, she does the “I look fat” dance, which just adds vanity and self-obsession to the stereotype, which is no good.) Add in the line Hook has, “A jealous female can be tricked into anything,” and this one just completely washes out any good feminist moments it may have had.

Fun Notes:

Peter is seriously creepy as hell. The original plans for him were frightening. No wonder he’s a villain in Once Upon a Time. Also, how in the heck is cutting off someone’s hand a “childish prank”? Just… wow.

And Hook is great. Watch it if you haven’t.

I love Dustin Hoffman and miss Bob Hoskins (and Robin Williams) so much.

Alice in Wonderland

And having seen this picture, you’ve seen the entire film.

The story here is… there is no story. I actually give Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland some credit. He attempted to create meaning for this bizarre trip. Because that’s pretty much what this is. Alice falls down the rabbit hole, chases a rabbit, tries to get out of said rabbit hole, and it was all a dream. Probably.

That or LSD. Which is my bet.

Number of named characters with speaking lines: For this one, I’m including descriptive names (Doorknob, White Rabbit, Carpenter) because it’s hard to tell what’s a name in this world. So we’re at 20!
Number of named female characters with speaking lines: 3: Alice, the Queen of Hearts, and Mother Oyster. Alice’s sister is never named.
Does the film pass the Bechdel Test? Yes. Ish. The Queen and Alice do some talking.
Number of named non-white characters:
0 (most of the characters aren’t human)
Number of named non-white female characters:
0
Number of openly non-heterosexual characters:
0
Number of openly transsexual characters:
0
Is there a heterosexual romance?
Other than the King and Queen of Hearts maybe? No time for that on these drugs.
True Love’s Kiss?
No.
Number of female mentors or rulers?
Queen of Hearts.
Number of named female characters wearing “men’s clothes” (pants instead of dresses):
0 (With 0 men wearing “women’s clothes”.)
Main character male or female?
Alice is female.
Number of named female characters saved from peril by male characters:
0
Number of times named female characters saved from peril by male characters:
0
Number of named male characters saved from peril by female characters: 0
Number of times named male characters saved from peril by female characters:
0
Number of named female characters breaking gender stereotypes with their actions (performing “masculine” feats):
0
Number of named male characters breaking gender stereotypes with their actions (performing “feminine” feats):
0

Seriously, there’s not really a plot to this movie. It’s largely just a trippy adventure. And it’s still totally 100% about puberty. Adolescent girl undergoing a series of strange feelings, dark mysterious path to the future… there’s probably something about the White Rabbit being childhood and other less savory stuff, but the point is, puberty is scary for kids.

Okay, it’s probably not about anything really, but watch it for yourself and decide. It’s basically a series of loosely connected WTF moments. Nothing particularly strikingly feminist about it, other than perhaps Alice getting through everything basically by herself (even if she ultimately breaks down crying, but who could blame her).

Me trying to make sense of this film.

There is an awkward moment where the female flowers are given obvious female markers, like makeup and curves to suggest buxom chests. Meanwhile, Alice and the Queen (with exception of lipstick appearing twice) appear to lack all those markers. So that’s nice, I guess.

Fun Notes:

I’ve never read the book, but the popularity of this story always confused me. Nothing is really happening! For me, the best thing to come out of this besides the word chortle (book, not movie) was the scene from Dogma talking about the Walrus and the Carpenter being an indictment on organized religion.

But, seriously, I like this interpretation of the poem.

As always, let me know your thoughts, opinions, hate mails, etc. I swear I will finish this series eventually. And that I’ll write some other stuff in between. Can’t always be about Disney with the Oscars looming.

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