“I Won’t Grow Up”: On ‘Peter Pan Live’ And the Value of Possessive Nostalgia

By  · Published on December 5th, 2014

“I Won’t Grow Up”: On ‘Peter Pan Live’ And the Value of Possessive Nostalgia


As a young child, I loved a strange range of movies, from Pretty Woman to Dirty Dancing, Fern Gully to The Little Mermaid, The Thornbirds to Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. My wide, mixed up taste was bred from relatively lax familial observations of my watching habits (most of my consumption happened in front of our living room television, a room placed squarely in the middle of our long house, with occasional trips to the single screen theater in our small Vermont town, so I wasn’t really hiding anything). My parents didn’t seem to care too much about what I watched – although I do have a strong memory of going to see Summer of Sam with my parents as a teen, which included my aghast mother asking me at least ten times if I wanted to leave – and I didn’t really abuse the freedom. I just liked things. It’s probably why I still love rom-coms and musicals and overwrought dramas and, yes, Last Crusade (the best Indy, at least in my mind).

It’s also why I love Peter Pan. More specifically, it’s why I love the Mary Martin-starring stage version of Peter Pan (incidentally, one that aired on NBC in 1960), and probably why I’ve consistently rejected other versions of the story (Hook may hold a nostalgic place in the hearts of the rest of my generation, but I never took to it). As a kid, I had a VHS copy of the Martin Peter Pan (essentially a teleplay, like last night’s NBC showing of Peter Pan Live), one that I watched so much that I eventually broke the tape. By the time it broke, I had my own television in my room, albeit a small one, and I remember sitting directly in front of it to watch Martin crow, fly, and zip around the screen. I just loved it. It enchanted me.

The news that NBC was launching a new live version of Peter Pan wasn’t a surprise to anyone, especially after the success of their mostly dismal take on The Sound of Music (another childhood favorite, though I have little memory of watching anything past the first half of the film, so the inclusion of evil Nazis still strikes me a bit of a shock even when I see the feature now), but it did strike me in a particularly personal way. People who love culture, people who feel strong connections to certain movies or shows or songs, often take direct offense to new versions of old favorites. It’s easy to bristle and balk at Hollywood’s current love for rebooting and rehashing and reimagining – even if it doesn’t necessarily stop us from seeing the finished product – but I’ve rarely felt such an acute pain as I did when I realized that the Peter I loved was about to be usurped (on national television! again!) by a flashy new production.

The weird thing is, of course, that even new versions of things we’ve always loved do nothing to invalidate the exact thing we love. They don’t. Terminator: Genisys doesn’t erase The Terminator, even if that’s what the new film is actually about. That first movie still exists. You can watch it whenever you want. The Star Wars prequels didn’t eradicate Star Wars. That Crystal Skull business didn’t make Last Crusade disappear. Everything you love is still here.

Which doesn’t explain why it still hurts.

When I was in my early teens, my then-best friend was obsessed with Sailor Moon. I’ve never been much of an animation fan, beyond the Disney standards, so it was one of the few obsessions we didn’t share (and you know how much teen girls love sharing obsessions). When my friend and her family set off on a long vacation, she tasked me with recording new episodes of the show on my VCR (yes, this was back during the Grand Reign of VCRs). Woefully unable to set a VCR to record, I just did it manually. In the process, I watched a bit of the show. I liked it. When my friend returned after about two weeks away, I had become a fan. I thought she would be pleased – a new thing to like together! – and was shocked by her reaction.

She was not pleased.

My friend exhibited possessiveness for Sailor Moon that hasn’t abated in the interim years – I mean this in a larger sense, I don’t think she’s still obsessed with the show – and is the kind of thing we often see when a new take on an old thing is announced. I’ve certainly been annoyed by such retreads before, but nothing upset me as much as the Peter Pan Live news. My nostalgia had grown possessive. My possessiveness was rooted in nostalgia. I didn’t want Peter Pan Live to exist because, in Peter parlance, I didn’t want to grow up.

NBC’s take on the show was more than adequate – Allison Williams was lovely and her version of “When I Went Home” was genuinely heartbreaking, Christopher Walken appeared to have a very good time playing himself, and most of the low-energy numbers were jazzed up by obvious pluck and goodwill – and I didn’t hate it. Yes, I huffed and puffed a few times and whatever was going on with Tinkerbell was wacky and some of the plot points that didn’t really stick in my kid-brain made adult feminist me nearly fall off the couch (Wendy, good God, Wendy), but it was mostly enjoyable.

Still, within the first ten minutes, I wished for Mary Martin. I wished hard enough that, if Peter Pan’s belief that thinking happy thoughts can make one fly, I would have lifted right off my ass and out the window. I just wanted to watch my Peter Pan. I didn’t have any ill will for what was playing out before me, but I was so desperate for Martin that it actually felt as if my nostalgia – my possessive, maddened nostalgia – could leap (fly?) out of my body and change the channel. But the channel didn’t need to be changed; after all, I couldn’t flip stations enough to find Martin’s Peter Pan on another channel, it just wasn’t there.

But even though it wasn’t there, it’s still there. I can watch it right now (you can, too!), quieting my possessive nostalgia and remembering that the things you love never really leave you – even when you grow up.