Nana and the Lost Boys

by Jim Korkis, contributing writer
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MousePlanet readers seemed to enjoy a recent column I did on Disney's animated classic feature film Peter Pan (1953). I enjoyed writing it because the film and the characters are among my favorite interpretation of Barrie's famous story.

While we all love Peter Pan and Tinker Bell, the story of Peter Pan is filled with too many interesting characters, and they are only seen for short glimpses so that the story can progress.

"Peter Pan is a complicated story, really," observed Disney Legend and one of the fabled Nine Old Men Frank Thomas. "It seems so simple and direct. But who are all those characters: Nana in the nursery, the mermaids, the Indians, the Lost Boys and the pirates? There were lots of wonderful things you could do with those characters, but then before you knew it, there was too much of Nana. You had to try to keep things in proportion. I always would have liked more pirates, myself. But then, what would you have to give up? The mermaids? The Indians?"

So, for this column, I am taking a closer look at Nana and the Lost Boys. Much thought and effort were put into these characters who spend much of their time in the background or off-screen.

Nana

In an early story treatment for the film, it states: "The Darlings' nursemaid is a Newfoundland dog named Nana. She is every bit as efficient as a human nursemaid and diligently goes about her duties turning down the beds and laying out the children's night clothes. She then picks up Michael, the youngest, and carries him to his bath in spite of loud objections."

In the original James Barrie book, the Darling family was considered poor so the children's "nurse was a prim Newfoundland dog, called Nana, who had belonged to no one in particular until the Darlings engaged her."

The name "Nana" was derived from the term "nanny." In the 19th and early 20th century, a nanny was also often referred to as a "nursemaid" and was in charge of the suite of rooms called the nursery and the young children who inhabited them.

Most people think of nannies as older women, like either ditzy aunts or stern spinsters. Some nannies were just lower class young women with little schooling desperate for any job and appreciative of the perks of working in a household.


The animated version of the film was the first time Nana had been portrayed as an actual dog, rather than an actor in a furry costume.

Over the decades, the dedicated Nana has actually been portrayed by a variety of different canine breeds in the various theatrical and movie productions: Newfoundland, St. Bernard, and Old English Sheepdog to name the most common.

Noble Nana was first inspired by Barrie's own pet St. Bernard, Porthos, who he owned when he first created the stories of the boy who wouldn't grow up for the Davies' family children.

By the time the famous play premiered on the London stage, Porthos had unfortunately passed away and Barrie had a Newfoundland dog named Luath. For that original theatrical production, the actor playing Nana studied Luath and duplicated his movements. The costumers took a sample of Luath's fur to use as a guide for making the final costume.

However, the Disney storymen felt that Barrie's original St. Bernard was the ideal choice for the animated feature because of its brave and nurturing reputation associated with many alpine rescues. After all, Nana needed to be fierce enough to snatch Peter's shadow while protecting the children, as well as gentle enough to care for the boisterous young boys who were always causing mischief recreating the stories of Neverland.

The popular animated film was the very first time darling Nana was portrayed as a real dog rather than an actor in a furry costume.

In the Disney animated feature, well-groomed Nana has the typical reddish brown and white coloring (with chest and feet lighter in color) and a dense but smooth to the touch coat of fur typical of that breed. Her most distinctive feature is her soulful blue eyes that mirror exuberant happiness and resigned sorrow with equal ease beneath her frilly white maid's cap kept firmly in place by a slight light blue ribbon tied in a prim feminine bow beneath her chin.

"The nursemaid, being a dog, kept her opinions to herself and viewed the whole affair with a certain tolerance," intones the narrator at the beginning of the film.

Graceful Nana steps gingerly over a fallen pillow on the floor, despite balancing a silver tray dangerously overloaded with a sickeningly green tonic bottle and three spoons and glasses delicately on top of her head, demonstrating her dancer-like agility despite her massive bulk. She is an expert at multitasking and demonstrates that skill frequently in the opening of the film.

She is an uncomplaining companion who constantly cleans up the various messes the Darling children create from remaking beds to restacking wooden toy blocks, where she casually shows her often underappreciated intelligence by making sure the blocks are in alphabetical order.

In the Darling's immaculate nursery is Nana's charming doghouse, a delicately sculpted and snug wooden home with her name carved simply over the doorway where a colorful woven rectangular rug lies invitingly in front. Neatly hung shingles over a scalloped roof and a fragile decorated ceramic blue dog bowl complete Nana's comfortable haven in this Edwardian house. Just like its owner, Nana's private place is prim and proper and feminine.

While in the finished animated feature, the loving dog remains faithfully at home, unjustly tied to a tall tree outside the stately house, an earlier story treatment had her journey to Neverland, as well, where she would occasionally chase the mischievous Tinker Bell and anyone else she thought threatened her young charges. Yet another version suggested telling the entire story through a voice over narration of wise Nana as she accompanied the excited children to Neverland.

The forceful Mr. Darling is sometimes jealous of the genuine affection and attention patient Nana receives from the rest of the family and is genuinely concerned about her attitude when he lectures her: "It's nothing personal. It's just you're not really a nurse at all. You're a dog. And the children aren't puppies. They're people!"

Nana's huge paws are as versatile as human hands and she uses them to not only cover her eyes in disbelief as the children soar in the night sky but to wave plaintively goodbye as they abandon her for a dangerous adventure.

When talkative Wendy asks: "How did Nana get it [Peter's shadow] in the first place? She really isn't vicious, you know. She's a wonderful nurse!" The puzzled boy can only blurt out that "she jumped at me the other night at the window" revealing how fast Nana can move to protect the Darlings from a perceived threat since the fleet-footed Peter is extremely difficult to catch by anyone.

"The relationship between dogs and their people is as old as civilization. The Disney artists not only knew what they were thinking, they found a thousand ways to put pencil to paper and tell us. They were always real dogs, and I think they only made us love our real dogs more," said Roy E. Disney who at the time was vice-chairman emeritus of the Walt Disney Company.

As the final tableau at the window reveals, delightful Nana is truly very much an important member of the happy Darling family and is clearly loved by them as much as she loves them in return.

The Lost Boys

The Lost Boys are young boys who, as babies, fell out of their carriages or wandered away from inattentive nannies. Having gone unclaimed for seven days, they were whisked off to Neverland, where they live and share many incredible adventures with the legendary Peter Pan who they respectfully look up to as their unquestioned leader.

There are no "lost girls," because, as chauvinistic Peter declares, girls are too clever to be lost and stay lost in this manner. All the Lost Boys in Neverland are younger than 12, because supposedly nothing of great importance happens in a boys' life after that age.

In most versions of the story, including the original book and play by Sir James Barrie, the Lost Boys are named Tootles, Slightly, Nibs, Curly, and the Twins, and those are the names used as well in the early animated film treatments done by the Disney Studios. In fact, these names were also used in the Disney animated sequel, Return to Neverland (2002).

However, for the animated feature Peter Pan (1953), the Disney storymen discovered when they read Barrie's book more closely that the fearless Lost Boys were forbidden by vain Peter Pan to look like him, so instead they wore the skins of animals from the island as if they were footie pajamas, a popular sleepwear for young children.

The six adventurous boys were renamed Skunk, Foxy, Rabbit, Cubby, and the Raccoon Twins, after the furs they had chosen to wear, and because they had forgotten their real names from their previous lives.

Tiny Skunk is the youngest, and so small and shy that he never speaks at all in the film just like the timid animal he represents. As eager and courageous as the others when it came to games and exploring, bashful Skunk still tries to blend in with the group rather than stand alone.

The tall and wiry Foxy is as clever as a red fox, and is especially proud of creating a unique weapon, a homemade wooden slingshot rifle that shoots jagged rocks at a target. The tousled-haired Foxy dubbed this intimidating device the "skull buster." Although Foxy cannot remember having a mother, his sharp mind clearly recalls once having a white rat in his previous life.

Frisky Rabbit has huge feet and two large buck teeth protruding from his mouth so that he physically resembles his fast-footed counterpart, and moves just as quickly and easily through the underbrush of Neverland's forest to escape capture by larger, more powerful foes.

The rotund Cubby, with a deep voice that constantly cracks as he approaches puberty, is named after a baby bear cub and is the most physically powerful of the diverse group. His strength allows him to easily overpower the smaller and younger boys, including hoisting both of the Raccoon Twins high in the air by their feet as they played in their underground rooms. His favorite weapon of choice is a huge club that only he is strong enough to wield effectively.

The small Raccoon Twins are never given individual names because confused Peter himself claims he can't tell them apart, so they shouldn't be able to either. The brown-haired urchins are mirror images of each other, and even repeat each others' sentences in a voice that sounds exactly the same. However, even their sibling similarities do not prevent them from sometimes fighting among themselves.

Tony Butala, Robert Ellis, Johnny McGovern, Jeffrey Silver and Stuffy Singer provided the original voices for these rough and tumble orphans.

The Lost Boys' forbidding secret lair is every young boy's dream hideout and can only be accessed through multiple hidden entrances on gnarled Hangman's Tree to an underground cave-like maze of stairs, ladders, roots, and assorted memorabilia from their past adventures. Only the older Peter is allowed to have his own private room, while the boisterous Lost Boys make due with a variety of hammocks, straw nests, and other makeshift furniture.

The intrepid Lost Boys are always ready for a new battle with a massive homemade arsenal of deadly weapons that includes frightening stone axes, slingshots, bows and arrows, wooden sticks and clubs, and an assortment of other ingenious creations that litter the walls of their subterranean home.

Although energetic, resilient and agile, these fearless ragamuffins are more eager than thoughtful. Having never attended school, they are easily fooled by Tinker Bell into trying to shoot down Wendy on her arrival and despite their supposed cleverness, also readily fall victim to both the Indians and the pirates. At one point, even a disappointed Peter Pan admonishes them as "blockheads."

However, they have developed a native intelligence that allows them to navigate smoothly through the island's many perils, and even understand the tinkling language of Peter's jealous pixie friend. Certainly Peter could not wish for a more loyal band of compatriots to join him on his many exploits.

Like all youngsters, the Lost Boys have a great love of playing games, including a perpetual one where the Neverland tribe hunts and captures them or they defeat their crafty adversaries instead by turning the tables.

One early story treatment began with Peter making peace with the Indians, and the Lost Boys being so crestfallen because there will be nothing as much fun left to do that Peter promises to find them a mother to tell them stories.

Unlike the original story, the Lost Boys do not return to London and join the Darling family to grow up with a mother, but are only tempted to do so and quickly change their minds after the thrilling battle with Captain Hook's villainous crew on the pirate ship.

Too many breathtaking adventures remain for Peter's ragtag companions to enjoy on the magical island of Neverland to ever consider forsaking those exhilarating joys for an ordinary grown up life.

Taking this look at Nana and the Lost Boys shows the richness of the background of these characters that helped make the fantasy world so real and appealing. Maybe one day I will take a closer look at the mermaids and pirates (I've already taken a look at the Neverland Tribe for MousePlanet), and still feel that Tiger Lily, who is an actual Indian princess, should be part of the Disney Princess franchise.