The original lyrics to "Never Land" before Richard Sherman refined them
This week on Saturday Matinee, we'll have a Special Song Showcase for a song that ultimately was never used in an animated film: "Never Land" from Peter Pan. Beyond Richard Sherman's brief interview about the song - as featured in the "Peter Pan: Platinum Edition" DVD - there remains little information on the song itself. However, in the grand scheme of Peter Pan as a whole, the song is quite important. Had it been used, we would have an entirely different type of film.
We have to go back to Walt Disney's first attempts at bringing Peter Pan to the silver screen. The story was one of Walt's favorites, second to "Snow White." Thus, it made sense when in 1935 Walt told his animators that he wanted Peter Pan to be their second production after Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. Unfortunately, rights issues with the Great Ormond Street Hospital (which holds the Peter Pan copyright, donated by J.M. Barrie) delayed the film's development for four years. By the time development began on Peter Pan, two of Walt's other projects - Pinocchio and Fantasia - were in full production, while Dumbo and Bambi were also much further along. Peter Pan obviously would have to come after these projects, no longer Walt's second film, but still one with every intention of being made. However, development on all future Disney films halted on December 8, 1941, the day after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. The U.S. Army took over the animation studios, and Disney devoted the next four years to cartoon shorts and compilation films that helped the war effort.
David Hall's concept art compared to Mary Blair's.
In 1947, Disney finally revisited development on Peter Pan. Most everything that was done from the first attempt would be scrapped. It's quite apparent when we look at concept art between the two prominent development artists of the time: David Hall (first version) and Mary Blair (second version). Sequences developed in the first version - such as an imaginary dinner - were dropped, while the overall look of the film would be redefined by Mary Blair. Among these casualties was the song "Never Land," which until 2007, barely registered on any Disney historian's radar. To tell you the truth, I had no idea that any songs were developed for the first version of Peter Pan. The song itself was never recorded in full - not even in a demo version - until 2007's "Peter Pan: Platinum Edition" DVD. As Richard Sherman tells viewers, the incomplete lyrics were discovered deep in the Disney archives. Sherman tinkered around with them, added a melody, and recruited Paige O'Hara (voice of Belle in Beauty and the Beast) to sing it.
The end result is a song that definitely feels like it belongs in the late 1930's/early 1940's. Sherman uses minimal instruments - which still ends up creating a full orchestral feel - and the softly-sung words by O'Hara feel reminiscent of "Some Day My Prince Will Come" or "When You Wish Upon a Star." It's soothing to the point of becoming a lullaby, quite fitting for a song that O'Hara described as having a "music box" quality. It would be right at home among Peter Pan's own "The Second Star to the Right" or "Your Mother and Mine," but definitely out of place when paired with the high-energy songs "You Can Fly! You Can Fly! You Can Fly!", "Following the Leader," "What Makes the Red Man Red?", etc.
The pair discuss the newly-discovered (in 2007) song
Sherman doesn't mention where the song would have been used, although it is quite apparent from the lyrics and film clips that "Never Land" would have been where "You Can Fly! You Can Fly! You Can Fly!" currently resides. Fortunately, as wonderful as "Never Land" is, Disney made the right decision in shelving that song (or they forgot about it) in favor of a new approach. "You Can Fly!" is a high-octane piece that celebrates the joy of flying and the adventure the Darling children will have. It would be unfitting for them to fly to Never Land - a place for excitement and never growing up - with such a majestic, if lilting, song like "Never Land." Compare the final lines from "Never Land" with its equivalent in "You Can Fly!"
Then fly sky high around the moon
Through the clouds and you'll be there soon
Then in the mist of the morning light
Where the rainbow ends
Where the world is bright
You'll see there never was another land
Like Never Never Land
"You Can Fly!"
When there's a smile in your heart there's no better time to start
Think of all the joy you'll find when you leave the world behind
And bid your cares goodbye
You can fly, you can fly
You can fly, you can fly
You can flyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyy
"I'm flying, Jack! I mean, Roger! I mean - oh, never mind."
We can hear a greater urgency in "You Can Fly!" than in "Never Land," and the lyrics speak directly to the escapist ideals that the film presents. Everyone grows up, it's a part of life that we can't really escape. But that doesn't mean we have to do so immediately. Before growing up, we might as well embrace our childhood while we can. That's the joy we find, the realization that we have to grow up one day, but can still be a child for a little while longer. "You Can Fly!" fits perfectly with the end of the film, in which George and Mary realize that George's decision was too rash and quick, but it turns out to be Wendy deciding that she is ready to grow up. She's already embraced her childhood, and is ready for the next stage in her life.
On the other side is "Never Land," a song that celebrates the mystical fantasy of childhood going on forever. The sweet lyrics are filled with such magical imagery that the build-up to "Never Land" makes the place seem like an impossibly-perky nirvana: a place where someone could bake a cake with rainbows and smiles, and everyone would eat and be happy (five bonus points to the first to identify the reference). Perhaps it's in the presentation of the song, with that the slow melodic build-up to "You'll see there never was another land / Like Never Never Land." Because, as evident by the finished film, there never was (and likely never will be) another land like the early Never Never Land.
Currently trapped in the Disney Vault near you
The lost song "Never Land" is only available on 2007's "Platinum Edition" DVD for Peter Pan, which was the latest home video release, and as of this writing, has been in the proverbial "Disney Vault" for a few years. Previous releases - on VHS & Laserdisc in 1990 and 1998, and DVD in 1999 and 2002 - are also out of print. Disney's current Diamond Edition schedule doesn't have an official slot yet for a Blu-Ray release of Peter, although I can't imagine Disney letting the film's 60th Anniversary go unnoticed next year. Then again, the studio is sometimes inaccurate in regards to anniversary years - 2008 saw 49-year old Sleeping Beauty released as "50th Anniversary Edition" DVD/Blu-Ray, and 2009 gave 69-year-old Pinocchio a "70th Anniversary Edition" DVD/Blu-Ray - so we may see the "60th Anniversary Diamond Edition" in 2014.