ANIMATION ANECDOTES
May 6, 2022 posted by Jim Korkis

The Series Disney Doesn’t Want You To See – Fox’s “Peter Pan and the Pirates”

Suspended Animation #370

Fox’s Peter Pan and the Pirates aired for sixty-five episodes on Fox Kids syndicated offering from September 8, 1990 to December 2, 1991 and continued to be rerun into 1998.

On July 10,1990 Fox Broadcasting made a presentation to approximately two hundred and twenty five television critics from across the country about their upcoming Fall season line-up and they were particularly proud of this animated series.

Disney took immediate legal action to stop the series with the claim that it infringed on the classic Disney animated feature. It lost its legal bid because Fox was able to show that the show was significantly different from Disney in terms of characterization, tone and character design.

Peter (voiced by James Marsden) wore a ragged brown outift with a short cape and kept his knife in his right boot, not his waist band. Tinker Bell (Debi Derryberry) was a red head who wore a cap and spoke actual words. Captain Hook (voiced by Tim Curry) wore a white powdered wig, was clean shaven and his hook was on his right hand not the left hand as in the Disney version.

Wendy (Christina Lange) wearing a pink dress has short black hair and her brother John wears a brown derby rather than a black stovepipe hat. The Lost Boy Twins are non-identical and biracial. That was just the beginning of the many differences that helped Fox win the legal case.

There was no “origin” epsidoes or explanation of how the Darling children got to Neverland nor was their any concluding episode about the fate of the Lost Boys and Neverland.

In addition, the James Barrie novel had fallen into public domain and Fox argued that the new animated program was directly “inspired” by the novel and not the animated feature.

However, Fox struggled to produce the episodes. When the series debuted in September only a handful of episodes were ready, resulting in multiple immediate reruns. Margaret Loesch because of her extensive experience at Marvel Productions, Hanna-Barbera and more was brought in to be president of Fox Children’s Network and get things on track.

She took most of the Peter Pan animation work away from the Los Angeles based Project X Studios and sent it to ten other animation studios in Korea, Taiwan, China, Japan, Canada, the Phillippines and the Soviet Untion. Two of the prominent studios were Dai Won Animation and TMS Entertainment. Project X was left to concentrate on adding music, special effects and other details.

Loesch claimed that every epsiode featured at least 18,000 to 19,000 individual drawings. She stated, “It’s a very expensive production. The figure twenty million dollars has been bandied around, but believe me, when we finish we will have spent more than twenty million. We’ve had production problems and that’s no secret but I’m happy with the end product.”

Buzz Potamkin was Executive Producer for the series and Supervising (sometimes credited as “Creative Producer”) Producer was Takashi Msunaga. Supervising Story Editor was Peter Lawrence. Character design was by Sandra Bhardwas, Darrel Bowen and Andrew Ice. Key Background Design was by famed comic book artist Alex Nino.

In the pre-release publicity kit, Hook was described as “a serious villain, not a buffoon or figure of fun. The man lives for only one reason, to destroy Peter Pan. His obsession allows no compromise and no concern for anything or anyone who might get in the way. A fear of the crocodile who wants to devour what remained of him, and a violent temper are Hook’s only weaknesses.

“He is, by his own admission, a stickler for good form. Educated at a fine English school, Hook seems at first glance a man of refinement and taste – but the façade belies the heart of evil revenge that forms his center.”

Hook was voiced by actor Tim Curry who won a Daytime Emmy Award for his portrayal of the character. “I tend to play people who are larger than life,” he laughed. Hook has an almost obssesive affection for his late mother’s portrait and her memory. He also has a dead older brother Jasper known as Captain Patch (Hook took out his eye during a dispute) who seems to have outdone Hook in malicious villainy.

Hook’s crew, that included a bumbling Mr. Smee who now talks in an Irish accent, is described as “touchy, quarrelsome and vain, each is his own man and there is only a hairsbreadth distance between being shipmates and enemies.”

The series spent as much time on the pirates as it did on Peter and his adventures giving them detailed back stories that influenced their actions. Billy Jukes was now the same age as the Lost Boys and was noted for his many inventions.

Peter according to the Fox version “has the attention span of a three year old. His true allegiance is to himself and he is skeptical of attachments. For Peter all time is playtime and only ‘now’ is important. He cannot resist a game, even if it means putting his life in peril. Peter never plans ahead or considers the consequences of his actions.”

Tinker Bell “would love to get rid of Wendy, but does not actively pursue it. To keep Peter’s affection, Tink would cheerfully do almost anything. She feels that her association with him gives her a special status. She is as fierce as she is small but she isn’t all fight. Tink can also be charming and delightful to be around, although her encyclopedic knowledge of Neverland’s dangers sometimes makes her a foreteller of gloom and doom.”

Wendy is “a bit overly talkative and wildly imaginative. She is an orderly child and is the most sensitive of the group to the surrounding wonders of Neverland. Wendy is a full and capable participant in adventures, never staying home to the laundry or darn socks. If she doesn’t go along on an adventure, it’s because she has other areas of interest to explore. Deep down she wishes Peter would pay more attention to her.”

Of course, Neverland is also populated by Native Americans who are handled more respectfully than in the Disney feature with Cree Summer voicing Tiger Lily as well as mermaids who are vain. The crocodile had no comedic elements and lives in a cave shaped like a crocodile’s head. Its ticking clock is magical and controls the time of day in Neverland.

Fox Video released four episodes on VHS. Merchandise included some action figures, plush dolls, a few books and more. Most notable was the notorious Nintendo game.

Peter Pan and the Pirates: The Revenge of Captain Hook is a video game for the NES developed by studio Equilibrium. It has the distinction of being the first game THQ ever published and is universally reviled as poorly designed and poor game play.

The game recycles three of its eight levels with only a change in color palette to hide the fact. Peter must use his dagger to kill pirates in order to get to the final level confrontation with Captain Hook. Peter must collect pixie dust to fly and treasure chests to restore his health.

The National Coaltion on Television Violence, an Illinois based grroup head by Dr. Thomas Radecki announced that the series was one of the most violent of the syndicated animated television shows and had almost three times more violence than a typical prime time show.

Ironically, because of its attempts to stop the series from being produced, with its purchase of Fox, Disney now owns the rights to this animated series – which has not been seen since its original release.

21 Comments

  • I was 22 yo when this series was originally released.
    I was a nut fan of this series. In my proud opinion, it was a good show with intermittently wonky animation.

  • There’s a parallel situation with “The Wizard of Oz”, in that the original books are now in the public domain, but the more familiar MGM motion picture is not. As I understand it, anybody is free to adapt the story into any medium they wish, provided that they avoid any element that is present in the film but not in the books. So, no ruby slippers, no yellow brick road, no “over the rainbow,” no “there’s no place like home,” etc. Under this logic, I supposed Disney could have made the case that any representation of Tinker Bell in human form, rather than as a shaft of light, constituted trademark infringement. But I think that’s quite a stretch.

    Possibly a bigger concern for Disney is that the debut of the Fox series coincided with the release of the Disney film on VHS and Laser Disc in 1990. They might have felt that families would be less likely to buy or hire the videotape when there was a syndicated Peter Pan cartoon on TV that they could watch for free. I can’t say I agree. I remember seeing the “Peter Pan and the Pirates” opening and dismissing it out of hand. But a Disney Afternoon show with the Peter Pan characters — yeah, I definitely would have watched that.

    • Didn’t a silent black and white film version of Peter Pan, written by Barrie himself, show Tinker Bell as a real woman, using special effects to make her look small? There’s your precedent for a real woman rather than a shaft of light. Disney couldn’t claim they were the first. Besides, fairies have always been portrayed in art as human-like, so you can infer that Tinker Bell was a woman, and the shaft of light was only a stage construct. Anyhow, I know you were mostly joking, but just wanted to make these points.

      • The silent movie from 1924 was purchased by Disney who owned it for many years and some of the things in the film later appeared in the animated feature. Barrie had written a screenplay but Paramount never used it, choosing to do a pretty literal version of the play. Virginia Browne was a live action Tinker Bell. Walt invited both the director and the star Betty Bronson to the premiere of his movie and at least in public they said they loved the film.

    • Didn’t it also come out around the same time as Spielberg’s Hook?

    • I was hired to create and story edit an Oz series for CBS Saturday morning. One reason I was selected was because I was very familiar with the approximately 13 Oz books that were in the public domain. And I was well aware of the MGM version – – and was prepared to make sure none of the MGM elements were involved in the CBS version.

      I wrote the presentation and was working on the Bible when Judy Price, vice president of children’s programming was contacted by Disney. Disney was planning to do their own OZ feature and did not want to CBS to do an Oz cartoon series. When Judy Price explained that we were doing the public domain books Disney countered and said if you go ahead with an Oz series we will never offer CBS any Disney cartoon series goring forward. CBS had no choice but to capitulate.

  • Loved loved this series as a kid. Have always wanted to see it again or even own it. But now with Conglomo-Disney having their fangs in the old Fox library, like everything else, I assume this one is as good as deleted, never to be seen again.

    • Well, I’d suggested trying to ask Disney+ about requesting it under their “Give Feedback” page, but so far, it only works if people ask for it enough. Otherwise, we would’ve gotten that or Eeks or even more of thier own theatrical shorts by now.

      Matter of fact, it’s seems to have been months since they added “new” old library content. They’re more fixated on new exclusive stuff or things that just aired a few months ago right now.

  • This was a favorite when I was a kid. This Captain Hook used to reminded me of George Washington! The last time I can recall this series being broadcast in the United States were reruns on the former Fox Family Channel around 1998. Also, I always wondered what became of Christina Lange, the voice of Wendy. She was also the voice of Raggedy Ann on the CBS series “The Adventures of Raggedy Ann & Andy”, and Velma on “A Pup Named Scooby Doo”. She had a number of lead roles in voice over work and there isn’t much about her after the Peter Pan series.

  • The series received two single disc DVD releases in the UK after Disney purchased Fox Family World Wide, and it aired in rotation on Jetix Play and other Jetix branded international networks into the 2010s. So Disney hasn’t ignored it, the property only mainly got exposure in Europe.

  • Intersting show. Wasn’t this rerun in the early 2000’s during Fox Kids Jedix block?

  • There have been a number of Peter Pan-related posts here lately. Is there a new book on the subject in the offing, Jim?

    • Paul since you always comment on every post you deserve a little extra. Yes, at the moment I am finishing up the manuscript for OFF TO NEVER LAND: 70 Years of Disney’s Peter Pan to come out this fall in time for the 70th anniversary in 2023.

      Over the years, I got to interview many people involved in the animated feature but the book will cover the silent movie and how it inspired the Disney feature, Peter Pan in the Disney parks, in comics and more including the live action remake due this year on Disney+ and Walt’s own words from several different sources about why he made Peter Pan and what he was trying to accomplish.

      I rarely reveal a book I am working on until it is published because it always takes longer than you think and the closer you get to the end the longer it takes.

      I’ve run some of the information here in columns to help refine it for the book and to see if I find any additional information as well as other Peter Pan information that I found but won’t appear in the book like this column because it is not Disney.

      • That’s great, Jim. I really enjoyed your book on “Song of the South”, and I’m sure this one will be well worth the wait. Be sure to include the recipe for the Tinker Bell cocktail!

      • Ooh…can’t wait!

  • Jason Marsden voiced Peter, not James. Common mistake. Jason himself jokes about it.

  • An irony: Disney found itself on the other side of the game when it produced “The Great and Powerful Oz”, joining the wave of Oz projects capitalizing on the success of “Wicked” as a book and musical. “Great and Powerful Oz”also flirts throughout with the MGM version, positioning itself as a plausible prequel to that movie. Compare to “Return to Oz”, which embraced the period and illustrations of the original books and ignored the MGM look completely.

  • Oh, I find it hard to believe that Disney would find this Peter Pan any threat to theirs. Let alone Captain Hook.

  • Actually, Disney has owned the rights to this show (as well as most of the Fox Kids library) since their acquisition of Saban Entertainment in 2001.

  • Was probably my favorite show as a kid – so much so that I dressed as Peter Pan for pirate day at school in Kindergarten (the costume designer was like “Isn’t Peter Pan green?” till we showed her otherwise)

    In Aus, 4 VHS tapes were released (I had 3 of them, had rented the 4th) – I don’t recall it airing here on TV though outside of cable television (I think the jap anime series, which coincidently has a brown peter pan, did air on free-to-air children’s breakfast tv, but I was so young I don’t exactly remember). You will find the series in its entirety on both YT and Dailymotion (people dubbed the eng braoadcast audio to much better quality dvd footage)

    Something that I always found odd as a kid is when Hook captures Peter, he never (not once) confiscates Peter’s dagger – there has been many a time when Hook grabs Peter by the boot with ample opportunity to seize it, not to mention there are literally scenes of Peter in foot shackles and his dagger is still in his right boot’s scabbard (and depending on the episode, Hook’s inattentiveness to this only aides in Peter’s escaping). For all the bragging Hook does about ‘being educated with the sons of cabinet ministers’ and his notoriety as a devious pirate captain, you’d think his IQ would be high enough to think to himself “Since you’re my prisoner, you won’t be needing this toothpick anymore boy!” (though to be fair, Disney did this too when Peter is captured in their film – not counting the final sword fight scene)

  • This Peter Pan, along with the 1989 World Masterpiece Theater anime, are the best adaptations of the original story. Prove me wrong.

    Oh, and of course a DVD (or SD video on Blu-Ray) is needed.

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