Self-Esteem and Body Image
Room for Improvement:
Gender Roles – Women
Gender Roles – Men
Self-Esteem and Body Image: 3.5 Stars
Wendy displays a healthy confidence that is both appealing and contagious. She isn’t shy or passive when she finds Peter in the nursery, and maintains this same sense of freedom and belonging all throughout Neverland. She doesn’t let Tinkerbell’s jealously or the mermaids’ cruelty hurt her. In fact, the only time she seems genuinely vulnerable is when she catches Peter Pan flirting with Tiger Lily. Wendy isn’t so infatuated with him that she makes a brash scene or behaves as if her heart is broken, but she is sure to let Peter know why she’s angry as she begins making plans to return home.
Many of the women in Peter Pan, including Tinkerbell and the mermaids, are thin, beautiful, jealous and vain. Wendy and Tiger Lily are the only two that have some spirit and substance to them. While it’s encouraging to see that simple Wendy in her ringlets and nightdress is the engaging heroine of Peter Pan, the film sets up some confusing expectations in terms of female interactions and the importance of feminine beauty.
Character Development: 4 Stars
Wendy may not be much of an action hero, but she is the only one to ever challenge Peter’s leadership and win. Despite Peter’s warnings about growing up, Wendy convinces the Lost Boys to abandon their wild ways and to come home to the security of a mother’s care. She also takes charge of John, Michael and the Lost Boys when they are kidnapped by Captain Hook, calling them out for their cowardly behavior and encouraging them to remain loyal to Peter Pan. Wendy’s bravery is somewhat curtailed by the fact that she is waiting on Peter Pan to rescue them rather than planning her own daring escape, but she still shows far more courage than any of the others. She agrees to walk the plank without tears or hesitation, raising her chin and squaring her shoulders in a final display of dignity before she steps off the edge. By the time that Wendy returns home, she’s learned to appreciate some of the responsibilities of being an adult, and tells her father that she is now ready to grow up.
Love: 3 Stars
Wendy is infatuated with Peter Pan before she ever meets him, charmed more by the idea of him than the elvish boy who’s come to reclaim his shadow. He is demanding of her and dismissive when he feels that she's talking too much, and his ego only gets worse as time goes on. Peter Pan is openly flirtatious with all of the women of Neverland, and only appears to truly care about his many female admirers on two occasions - after Tinkerbell saves him from Hook’s bomb, and when he directs the pirate ship back to London to bring Wendy and the boys home. There’s clearly some heart in the spoiled pixie-child, but it’s difficult to see how Wendy could feel so much for someone as selfish as Peter Pan. It’s easy to be drawn in by his spirit of freedom and enduring childhood, but Neverland doesn’t hold the same promise for girls as it does for boys. And Wendy deserves far better than the passing fancies of a boy who won’t grow up.
Gender Roles - Women: 2.5 Stars
Wendy is the one example of a confident, kind and even heroic young girl in Peter Pan. She’s not only the creative muse that brings the stories of Peter Pan to life, but she is respected by her brothers as the supreme authority on Peter Pan and all his adventures. Wendy does display moments of bravery and leadership, but her role is often limited to standing aside as Peter and the others battle and play with Indians and pirates. She doesn’t seem as frightened by the melees as the other women in the film, but she never directly participates in the action either. In fact, her young brother Michael, who is barely more than a toddler, takes a greater share in the action.
Gender Roles - Men: 2 Stars
Peter Pan himself is something of a disappointment. His character is playful and adventurous, as it should be, but he is also insensitive and conceited. He spends most of his time soaking up the admiration of those around him, but giving little praise or attention in return. Peter is never unsure of himself or afraid, and responds with selfishness and anger when Wendy disagrees with him and even upstages him. He comes across exactly as intended, a young boy who refuses to grow up. And while there’s still something endearing about Peter, he is far too self-centered to serve as a suitable role model for young boys.
Plot: 2 Stars
While the characters and adventures in Peter Pan are colorful and entertaining, there is a stark difference in Wendy’s experience of Neverland, versus that of her two brothers. John and Michael are immediately accepted by the Lost Boys and John is even placed in charge of their first adventure - while Wendy is treated with hostility by both Tinkerbell and the mermaids. When she tries to join in on the tribal dance with the “Indians,” she is told that squaws don’t dance and sent to get firewood. While it’s clear that Wendy loves a good adventure as much as the others, she isn’t given the same freedom to participate. Sadly, Peter Pan is just the sort of story that makes girls wish that they were boys.
Family: 1 Star
The Darling family maintains a peaceful and loving household, but also adheres to some traditional and restrictive gender roles. Wendy’s father, George, is the disciplinarian and the decision-maker, while her mother, Mary, is the caretaker and the nurturer. Mary tries to persuade George to be softer and less rigid with the children, but George dismisses and belittles her concerns rather than taking her perspective into account. Their relationship is certainly caring and affectionate, but if the power differential is any kind of indication, Wendy’s adulthood is not likely to bring her much more independence or power than what she found in Neverland.
Friendship: 0 Stars
Neverland is full of beautiful women, none of whom are particularly brave or likable, and all of them seem to be vying for Peter’s attention. Wendy doesn’t seem to be as susceptible to jealousy as the others (though she has her moment with Tiger Lily). She genuinely wants to befriend the other women, but is never able to do so. She is intrigued by Tinkerbell and even comments on how lovely she is, but the compliment doesn’t stop Tinkerbell from attacking her when she arrives in Neverland. Wendy is similarly giddy at the idea of meeting real mermaids, but soon finds herself set upon by an angry mob of jealous women trying to drown her. While John, Michael and the Lost Boys are adventuring through Indian Territory, Wendy’s own girlhood dreams are being dashed and destroyed.
Tiger Lily is the only exception to the vain and mean-spirited women Wendy encounters in Neverland. She is as loyal and brave as Wendy when captured by Captain Hook, stoically facing a watery death rather than revealing Peter Pan’s secret hideaway. Tiger Lily’s character adds an element of diversity and dimension to the story, but it's more than a little disappointing that she never speaks. It’s possible that she and Wendy might have formed the sort of friendship that Wendy was looking for with the mermaids. But any hope of that is destroyed when Tiger Lily begins rubbing noses with Peter Pan. If there is anything positive to be pulled from all this, it’s that it took a woman of similar courage and mettle, rather than the superficial pixie and mermaids, to finally make Wendy jealous.