NBC’s Peter Pan Live was certainly filmed live, but whether there was any spark of life to it is debatable. Critics were hoping the production would be one big hate-watch snarkfest in the tradition of last year’s The Sound of Music Live!, and but while NBC’s Peter had its issues, the show wasn’t substantial enough to evoke such strong opinions as much as a general sense of confusion. To borrow a line from the Baker’s Wife from Into the Woods–whose film trailer during the commercial break might have been the high point of the evening for me–what. was. that?
All the actors were perfectly acceptable in their roles, nothing Broadway level (expect, perhaps, Kelli O’Hara as Mrs. Darling; sorry Christian Borle, even though you were amazing as Black ‘Stache in parallel Peter Pan universe), but also nothing to mean-tweet about. Even Christopher Walken, who Christopher Walken-ed his way through every song, dance, and line reading of the three hour broadcast. But when the standouts are Mrs. Darling, Nana the dog, and a creepily psychedelic turquoise man in a crocodile suit, what more is there to say?
Well, we could talk about the generally confusing production, both the source material (which I’d just read recently) and the director’s vision for it. The enduring popularity of J.M. Barrie’s original still baffles me, and I’m not sure why it enchanted audiences in the 1950s as a musical. Was it the flying? Or the fact that it lined up nicely with the gender norms of the time?
For modern day viewers, though, it was just plain weird watching one woman defy gender norms by cross dressing while subjecting another woman to pocket-making and other archaic gender rules. Weirder still to a modern audience is that Wendy–who was written a hundred years ago, mind you–seemed to genuinely enjoy her dual role of mothering and cat-fighting with Tiger Lily. (Was the Victorian era that boring?)
Unlike the upcoming 2015 Peter Pan prequel, Pan, NBC purposely hired Alanna Saunders, an actor of Cherokee Nation descent, in the part of Tiger Lily. But the source material–J.M. Barrie’s original concept of a Red Indian princess–is still a white man’s romanticized idea of the noble savage. Is it better to take that damning stereotype and make it as authentic as possible (ie. have more accurately portrayed Indians call Peter “the Great White Father,” as they do in Barrie’s book) or to just cast the character as the fictional mess it is? I can’t decide.
And while NBC went through great pains as to hire a Native-American consultant and rewrite the stereotype-ridden Ugg-A-Wug song, as many people have already pointed out, does casting many different peoples of color as J.M. Barrie’s Red Indians make the portrayal any less racist? Or is it just spreading the racism around? And what about replacing Ugg-A-Wug nonsense words with an updated “OWA’HE?” A quick Google search confirmed that “owa’he” means “come here” in the Wyandott language, and I can’t vouch for the authenticity of Ugg-A-Wug’s earthy tribal melody, but if the melody’s stereotyped, can swapping out a fake word for a real word really be called an improvement?
And why are the lost boys so old? Peter’s supposed to “thin them out” once in a while because no one is allowed to grow up!
Why does the Neverland set look like it was reassembled from the Tim Burton Willy Wonka set?