I've made no secret of the fact that Peter Pan is one of my favorite Disney movies, for all the flaws inherent in the 1953 film. When the news hit that Reese Witherspoon will be playing Tinker Bell in a live-action Disney movie, however, I discovered that there is, in fact, a way to ensure that I love the Peter Pan mythos even more. Despite the existence of the Disney Fairies film franchise that follows the computer-animated adventures of Tinker Bell and her friends in Pixie Hollow, most Peter Pan adaptations wouldn't dare to phase out the actual shining star of Neverland. When you hear Peter Pan, you think immediately of Peter Pan and Captain Hook as requirements, even if your favorite character is actually Tinker Bell. To borrow a phrase from Beauty and the Beast, it's a tale as old as time.
But Tinker Bell. In stark contrast to her portrayal in the Disney Fairies franchise, the original Tinker Bell of '53 was kind of a huge jerk. She was vain, pausing in her search for Pan's shadow in the Darling nursery to check out her hair and hips in a hand mirror. She was viciously jealous, yanking Wendy's hair to keep her from kissing Pan and then instructing the Lost Boys to shoot Wendy out of the sky before she could safely land in Neverland. She was petty, as evidenced when Captain Hook managed to manipulate her into telling him where Peter Pan's hideout was in exchange for taking Wendy and the Darlings and sailing them away from Neverland when he left. Tinker Bell was no hero, is my point.
And yet, neither was Pan. Peter Pan was more vain than Tinker Bell was — this is the same boy that proudly proclaimed "lots of girls get [jealous] around me" in the sequel film. This was the same boy viciously jealous enough to kick all the Lost Boys out without saying goodbye for the simple crime of wanting a mother and a better home than one beneath a tree. This is the same boy who nearly let Wendy be drowned by mermaids ("They were just playing!"), and who chopped off a grown man's hand and fed it to a crocodile. (Whether or not that was justified still remains to be seen, but they've certainly had a volatile relationship ever since.) And yet, for all his faults, Peter is our hero, and he has been our hero across many adaptations and remakes.
But Tinker Bell — finally, through Witherspoon's project, which she is starring in and producing, it is Tinker Bell's time to shine. (Pun intended.) The thing that is fascinating about Neverland is that, in fact, there are about as many women in the film as there are men, even back in 1953. You had your Pan, your Hook, your Mr. Darling, your John, your Michael, and your Smee, but everyone else? Ladies. Mrs. Darling, Wendy Darling, Tinker Bell, Tiger Lily, and the entire population of mermaids. Ladies. If you add that to the fact that Peter Pan was traditionally portrayed on stage as a lady, the fact that so many remakes choose to focus on the boy and not a badass lady like Tinker Bell truly boggles the mind.
It was Tinker Bell's pixie dust that gave everyone who wasn't Peter the power to fly. It was Tinker Bell that drove as much of the conflict in the film as Captain Hook. It was Tinker Bell who saved Peter from getting blown up when he was too dumb to listen to her warnings about the ticking box. (It was also Tinker Bell's fault the box was there to begin with, but, hey, she admitted that, too.) Tinker Bell was a deeply flawed character, who felt everything that she felt very deeply — which J. M. Barrie explains in the book as being because fairies are so small that they can only feel one emotion at a time, and that emotion encompasses their entire being to the exclusion of all else. To me, that is more fascinating than the adventures of the Boy Who Would Not Grow Up.
So the fact that the live action Disney movie will be following in the footsteps of Maleficent, or, according to Hollywood Reporter, will be "'the story you don’t know,' and will offer a new perspective on the character" is so important. It's a Peter Pan tale that, for once, doesn't focus on trying to find some new angle with which to approach the Peter Pan mythos. It's a Peter Pan tale that gives the focus, the starring role, the attention to the breakout character and leading lady of the Peter Pan mythos. (Sorry, Wendy.) It's a Peter Pan tale that will add a depth and complexity to an anti-hero like Tinker Bell, a complexity that the 1953 film only hinted at, and that the Disney Fairies film eschewed in lieu of giving Tinker Bell a more heroic persona.
Basically, it's the Peter Pan film that we all deserve, and the former Elle Woods will be starring in it. Thank you, Hollywood. You did good.