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It’s hard to think of a person in the United States who hasn’t grown up experiencing the timeless classic of Walt Disney’s Peter Pan. The animated film based on J.M. Barrie’s masterpiece is celebrating it’s 65th anniversary, and I had the extreme honor of speaking with Disney Legend Kathryn Beaumont who provided the voice of Wendy. What many folks may not know is that in addition to Wendy, Kathryn Beaumont played Alice from Disney’s Alice in Wonderland as well. I hope you enjoy learning a few things about her experience making the movie, and be sure to pick up a copy of the 65th Anniversary Edition of Peter Pan for Walt Disney Signature Collection on Blu-ray, DVD, and digital on June 5th, 2018!
GeekDad: “Peter Pan is such a timeless story, and has been told and retold in numerous productions. What do you think it is about Disney’s version that makes it special?”
Kathryn Beaumont: “Well because Disney was iconic and that particular genre of the animated feature was very special to all the audiences of that era, so that was a very special thing. The story of Peter Pan is just timeless, and depicts this wonderful character and wonderful adventure that’s great for children.”
GD: “Speaking of adventure, you started out on a Disney adventure as a young girl. I know it was probably really exciting to be cast in a Disney production, much less two, but even at that time did you have any inclination as to what kind of lasting legacy you’d be a part of?”
KB: “Oh, I didn’t have any thought at all. I mean, it was just so exciting to be a part of something that was Disney because I admired Disney so much as a very young child seeing his earlier movies. Then when we came to America and I had this opportunity to test for the voice for Alice [editor’s note: Alice, from Alice in Wonderland]. Then that came about and of course it evolved into Peter Pan and the wonderful experiences that I had were just very memorable to me all through the years.”
GD: “How old were you when you were cast as Wendy?”
KB: “I guess I was about twelve at that time. [Before Disney] I was at MGM then and I was there for four years I think and Disney was looking for an Alice and I read for the part. Then they asked me to come back a couple of times, then they chose me so they had to then buy out the contract of MGM. I think my option was coming up, so then it was fairly smooth to get the changeover to Disney so that I could then do the work for him for the role. So it was Alice and then because it takes quite a long time to do these films, that was probably two years or so. So by the time they finished with that I was already adolescent and they were going to do Peter Pan and here was Wendy who was on the cusp of that so they figured ‘Oh, this is perfect! She’s got the English accent and she’s the right age. Let’s just go right ahead and do that,’ so I ended up doing both of those roles at that time.”
GD: “I was watching the special features on the new anniversary release Blu-ray, and you mention how unique it was being a child in the sort of ‘adult world’ of the studio and one of the specific experiences I thought was interesting that I wasn’t aware of. Most voice actors these days just read their part into a microphone, but you had the distinction of acting out your role in a physical space for the animators. Could you talk a little bit about that process?”
KB: “In those days that was what happened. We would go in to do the recording and that all was done first. Then it was followed by live action and you would go into the actual studio…1 or 2, I think it was the large one. There was basically very little scenery. You had to imagine most of everything, but it was for the actions that the animators were interested in so that when we did our scenes such as when Wendy meets Peter Pan and he’s lost his shadow and she’s putting his shadow back together again. Those scenes were also filmed as well as recorded so that it gave inspiration to the artists. They could see the movements of everything and that helped them to animate in a more realistic fashion, so I had double exposure which was wonderful. I loved every minute of doing the recordings and doing the actions afterwards, and in between, of course I still had to have my education so I had a teacher who was working with me every day. The process was a long one and some days I didn’t work, but I still had the school so they set up a room in one of the office buildings and that room was used for my learning and everyday I had my three hours of my schoolwork and then the four hours of work when I was working what we called ‘under the bright lights,’ meaning working for the industry. So there were many full days because when I was doing the voice work they would bring me back and forth to do my lines and in between I did my schooling with my teacher Dorothy Mullin. So it was a busy time.”
GD: “I recently re-watched Peter Pan with my daughters this past weekend, and I had forgotten some of the scenes that were obviously a product of the time. Have you re-watched the movie recently and How would you address those scenes with a modern audience?”
KB: “Well, I really can’t speak to that because, to be honest with you, I have not seen it that recently to make any comment on it. The story itself is a timeless story, so I don’t think there’s…I think there’s an acceptance of things that were of that time and that’s what it’s depicting, so I don’t think there’s an issue that I can think of.”
GD: “I’ve never been a voice actor, but I always imagine being a voice actor sort of being like a superhero with a secret identity. You get to walk the world for the most part without knowing this unique history you have. Do you have a favorite experience where someone discovered you voiced such an iconic character as Wendy?”
KB: “Well, I think basically people would sort of recognize and confront me about it. Then I can remember one day one of my little students. [Editor’s note: Ms. Beaumont followed her time at Disney with a long career as an elementary school teacher.] Usually in the lower grades they like to hover around and help at the end of the day. This was a little boy and I thought ‘Wait a minute he’s hovering here.’ They don’t usually…it’s usually the girls that hover around saying, ‘Can I help you?’ So he’s standing there (I’m thinking) ‘Is there something you forgot to get? Can I help you? Did you want to help?’ Finally he just looked at me and said ‘Well, I just wanted to know…Were you Wendy in Peter Pan?’ He had just seen the film. Of course I had to tell him. He was so befuddled at that point he didn’t know what to say, so he just ran away. He ran out of the door an left. Oh…I’m sorry, that wasn’t with Peter Pan, that was with Alice. And the interesting thing was that it was kind of close to Easter time and just before our break he gave me a little Easter gift and it was a little furry Easter rabbit. I thought ‘Ok, that is really very special.’ So I still have that little furry rabbit.”
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