Peter Pan is the fourteenth animated feature in the Disney animated features
canon. It was produced by Walt Disney Productions and was originally released to theaters on February 5, 1953 by RKO Radio Pictures. This would be the final Disney animated feature released through RKO, as Walt Disney established his own distribution company, Buena Vista Distribution, by the end of 1953.
The film's story is based on the play and novel Peter Pan by J. M. Barrie. Disney had been trying to buy the rights to the play since 1935. He finally received them four years later, after he arranged with the Great Ormond Street Hospital in London (to whom Barrie had bequeathed the rights to the play). His studio started the story development and character designs in the early-1940s, and intended Peter Pan as a follow-up to Bambi, but World War II forced the project to be put on hold. Just like Pinocchio before it, the original pre-war character designs for Peter Pan were very different from the final product. The original version actually had Nana go to Neverland with Pan and the Darling children. Also, the original version was a little darker. It was not until after the war that actual production of the film commenced.
Until this movie, the role of Peter Pan had always been played by a young woman. Instead, Walt Disney chose to portray him as a 12-year-old boy. Disney explained the age by saying, "He is 12 years old forever simply because he refuses to grow up beyond that comfortable age." There are numerous other differences, including the revision of Tinker Bell's "death" (whereas in the original play she gets knocked out by a poison, in the animated film she gets knocked out by a bomb), which can be attributed to Disney's history of artistic license and reshaping of content to be more suitable for younger audiences. The animated film not only marked the first time in which Pan was played by a male, it was also the first time in which Tinker Bell, Nana and the Crocodile (named Tick-Tock the Croc in comics published later on) were all shown as believably as Barrie had originally intended (on stage, Tinker Bell was shown as not much more than a mere spot of light, Nana was played by an actual actor, and the Crocodile was represented by offstage ticking; here, Tinker Bell was represented as an actual sprite, Nana was a real dog, and the Crocodile was a real crocodile who had ingested an alarm clock).
Tinker Bell (who wears a slim, green dress, slippers, and yellow panties) owes her shapely form to the Pin-up girls of the war. Margaret Kerry was Tinker Bell's live-action reference model, contrary to rumors that it was Marilyn Monroe. Margaret Kerry posed on a soundstage, while animator Marc Davis drew Tinker Bell. Kerry was also the voice of the red-haired mermaid in the film.
Like Margaret, Bobby Driscoll was the live-action reference for Peter Pan's character, primarily in close-up scenes. Peter's graceful flying and action reference shots were provided by dancer Roland Dupree.
Kathryn Beaumont, the voice for Wendy, also performed the live action references. In an interview, she said she had to hold out her arms and pretend to fly for all the scenes requiring it.
One of the few stage traditions that Disney did retain for the animated film was to have Captain Hook and Mr. Darling be played by the same actor. In this case, Hans Conried not only voiced both characters, he was the live-action reference for them as well. Also, in the original play, Hook lost his right hand, but the Disney artists felt that would limit his actions too much, and so relocated the hook to his left hand.
The film was re-issued to theaters in 1958, 1969, 1976, 1982, and 1989, and on VHS in 1990 (as a Walt Disney Classics release) and 1998 (as a Masterpiece Collection release). A Limited Issue DVD was released in 1999, and a special edition DVD came out in 2002. A Platinum Edition DVD of the film was released in March 2007.