The Problem with Peter Pan

It’s been a long, long time since I watched the Disney version of ‘Peter Pan’. As a child, I didn’t enjoy it. There was something not quite right about it.

Now that I’m an adult, I can examine the problems of abandonment, racism, gender stereotypes, absent fathers and the strange strange idea of never wanting (or being able?) to grow up. As a child, I couldn’t articulate these feelings well, but I still remember being so so uncomfortable.

And therein lies the point of today’s post. Often, I hear people say about a children’s film or book, ‘oh, those adult themes will go right over a child’s head!’ But what happens when it doesn’t? What happens when you have a child who does overthink things, who does notice the adult inferences, and who cannot make sense of them and who then ends up feeling unsafe?

There are, of course, some adult inferences which are perfectly harmless. A sly reference to the politics of the day, perhaps, or to the world as we used to know it (think Shrek’s parody of traditional fairytales as an example). Such ‘in-jokes’, even if a child sees them and an adult explains them, is not going to cause an issue.

But the big, big adult themes – such as parental abandonment, sexual jealousy and death – are these really to be served up to our children as light entertainment? Is it not time to realise that (some of?) our children, even if they cannot verbalize it, are taking all these themes in? Themes which, if not dressed up as a cartoon, would be deemed far too adult for a child’s eyes.

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