I cannot tell you the number of times I have seen an adaptation of Peter Pan. I know as a young girl I watched my VHS tapes of Mary Martin in the 1960 musical adaptation over and over again. Just last night I watched the 2011 Sy-Fy/BBC miniseries Neverland.
Why do we love Peter Pan so much? Why has a successful play first staged in 1904 held such a grip on our collective imaginations for more than 100 years? We love Peter so much there is even a film about his creator, J.M. Barrie, the man who scripted Peter’s adventures in Neverland and then turned them into a beloved novel in 1911.
The secret to its longevity is in the very first line of the novel. “All children, except one, grow up.” The story of the boy who can’t grow up speaks to the child in all of us. For children, the existence of Peter and Neverland seems like a truth. As Tony Diterlizzi says in his introduction to the Puffin Classics edition, “…you will know exactly all the wondrous things that J.M. Barrie writes about. That’s because almost all children know how to fly, know that fairies are real, and know that Peter will rescue them when they need rescuing.” For adults and not-quite children, the book can evoke powerful memories of blissful, stress-free days of childhood adventures.
As noted above, adaptations, re-imaginings, and new origin stories are abundant. Neverland appears to be the most recent film adaptation. Currently streaming on Netflix, I didn’t adore this version of Peter. He was a little too angst-y, and I missed the cheeky, brash Peter from the novel. For a better live-action Peter, I recommend the Disney-and-Barrie-Estate authorized 2003 live-action version, starring Jeremy Sumpter. Peter, on the verge of puberty, is not quite sure what to do with his feelings (angst!) but still has the laugh and swagger that the part requires. And Jason Isaac’s Hook is sublime.
As I mentioned above, I’m a huge fan of the Mary Martin version of the musical. In our library, we can barely keep Dave Barry’s Peter and the Starcatchers on our shelves, and critics seemed to like the stage adaptation of Barry’s novel so much that it’s being turned into (you guessed it!) a movie. And no article of Pan-related works would be complete without mentioning the classic Disney adaptation, featuring Tinkerbell. As the star of the Disney Fairies series she is currently just as famous as her flying, never-aging friend.
Of course, the list above barely scratches the surface of Peter and Neverland-related works. I think it’s safe to say that the boy who can’t grow up will be with us for generations to come.