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Walt Disney’s Peter Pan

by Leigh Addison

Summary

This Disney version of J.M. Barrie’s classic fairytale addresses questions of justice, the fear of growing up, and how to navigate the world’s possibilities.

Wendy, John, and Michael Darling are siblings from London who are invited to visit an island where they can stay children forever: Neverland. Peter Pan teaches the Darlings how to fly as they head toward the second star to the right, where they encounter mermaids, pirates, and more. One pirate in particular, Captain Hook, wants to kill Peter Pan and kidnaps the Darlings and their friends. In the end, Peter Pan and Captain Hook fight and Peter is able to save the Darlings and get them back home to London.

Read aloud video by JL Educational Activities

Guidelines for Philosophical Discussion

Disney’s fairytale “Peter Pan” explores a magical island called Neverland, where no one ever has to grow up. A magical boy from this island, Peter Pan, flies three children from London, England to this magical place to show them how much fun staying young forever could be. The Darling children find themselves enchanted by the beauty of the mermaids, the danger of the pirates, and the overall charm of Neverland and Peter Pan. They encounter many problems on this island, though, such as being kidnapped by the pirates and forced to walk the plank. These problems and other questionable situations present opportunities for philosophical discussion. The book raises the issues of bravery, fear of growing up, justice, and possibility.

One way children learn about bravery is via heroes in stories. Children learn to recognize situations in which they might be scared and evaluate whether it is time to be brave and face their fears or to take a step back. Through discussing the book, students can evaluate what it means to be brave in scary situations, put themselves in the shoes of those making brave decisions, and consider what they might have done in similar situations. They can talk about whether they would have walked the plank like Wendy did and whether they would have come back to Captain Hook’s pirate ship to save all of their friends like Peter did.

Some children want nothing more than to be an adult, but others are not so sure. Peter Pan is known as the boy who would never grow up. Some believe this trait comes from Peter’s fear of growing up, as he sees childhood as much more fun than adulthood. The fear of growing up is a great philosophical theme to discuss with children so they can assess their own fears when it comes to adulthood. Perhaps they can’t wait to grow up, but they also might have some fears about it themselves. Children will have the opportunity to identify what exactly is so scary about growing up, and what they may gain or lose in the process. They can also consider what it means to be a grown up and whether adulthood comes from age or experiences.

Justice is another concept Peter Pan raises. The question set offers an opportunity to reflect on meanness and whether if someone is mean to you it is okay to be mean in return. The question set explores the perspective of the villain. Most children will root for Peter Pan in his battles against the terrible Captain Hook, but Captain Hook seeks justice for Peter cutting off his hand. Children can discuss whether Captain Hook deserves. This will allow children explore the conflict between Peter Pan and Captain Hook from another perspective, and perhaps encourage children to consider the perspective of their peers when they interact.

Peter Pan also raises the philosophical theme of possibility. The question set encourages children to explore the difference between real life and fantasy. They can talk about the different imaginative aspects of the story of Peter Pan such as the mermaids, pirates, and flying, as well as how to tell what is possible in real life and what is not. It also allows children to discuss the possible existence of things that they have never seen in real life.

Questions for Philosophical Discussion

Bravery

  1. What does it mean to be brave?
  2. Wendy walks the plank instead of joining Captain Hook’s crew. Was that brave? Would you have done that? Why or why not?
  3. Do you consider yourself a brave person? Why or why not?
  4. Do you always need to be brave? Is it ever okay not to be brave? If so, when is it okay not to be brave?
  5. What does being brave look like? Does it look like anything at all?
  6. Does not showing courage mean you do not have it?

Fear of Growing Up

  1. Would you rather be an adult or a kid? Why?
  2. Are there parts of being an adult that you’re afraid of? If so, what are they? Why are they scary?
  3. Are there things you can’t do anymore when you become an adult? If so, what are they? Why can’t you do those things anymore?
  4. Why do you think Peter Pan was afraid of growing up?
  5. Does everyone have to grow up at some point?
  6. What makes someone a grown up? Is it an age? An attitude? A lifestyle?
  7. What does it mean to be “young at heart”? Is it good to be “young at heart”? Why or why not?
  8. Are there parts of being a kid that are scary? If so, what are they?

Justice

  1. We know that Peter Pan cut off Captain Hook’s hand. Is it right that Captain Hook wants revenge?
  2. If someone stole something of yours, would you want to get back at them? Would that be right?
  3. Was it right for Captain Hook to want to hurt Peter Pan?
  4. Was it right for Captain Hook to kidnap Tinkerbell to get back at Peter Pan?
  5. How should Captain Hook respond to Peter Pan and why?
  6. Is it okay to be mean to someone who is mean to you? If sometimes, then when and why? If never, then why not?
  7. What makes Captain Hook a villain?
  8. If roles were reversed and Captain Hook had cut off Peter Pan’s hand, would you root for Peter Pan as he sought revenge?

Possibility

  1. Could the Peter Pan story be real? Why or why not?
  2. Is Peter Pan real? Could he be? Could Peter Pan be real? Why or why not?
  3. Is Neverland real? Could it be? Could Neverland be real? Why or why not?
  4. Are mermaids real? Could they be? Could mermaids be real? Why or why not?
  5. Is it possible to fly like Peter Pan with the help of pixie dust? Why or why not?
  6. Just because you have never seen something in real life, does that mean it is imaginary? What makes something real?
  7. Think about something that is imaginary. What makes that thing imaginary?
  8. How do you use your imagination? Is it good to use your imagination? Why or why not?
Download & Print Email Book Module Back to All Books
Back to All Books Illustrated book cover for Peter Pan featuring a cartoon illustration of a young boy with a green shirt and tights flying in front of a group of young children dressed in Edwardian clothes. They are flying in front of Big Ben in London. Download & Print Email Book Module

About the Prindle Institute

As one of the largest collegiate ethics institutes in the country, the Prindle Institute for Ethics’ uniquely robust national outreach mission serves DePauw students, faculty and staff; academics and scholars throughout the United States and in the international community; life-long learners; and the Greencastle community in a variety of ways. In 2019, the Prindle Institute partrnered with Thomas Wartenberg and became the digital home of his Teaching Children Philosophy discussion guides.

Further Resources

Some of the books on this site may contain characterizations or illustrations that are culturally insensitive or inaccurate. We encourage educators to visit the Association for Library Service to Children’s resource guide for talking to children about issues of race and culture in literature. They also have a guide for navigating tough conversations.  PBS Kids’ set of resources for talking to young children about race and racism might also be useful for educators.

Philosophy often deals with big questions like the existence of a higher power or death. Find tips for leading a philosophical discussion on our resources page.

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