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Disney ditches cranky captain, opts to go with happy Hook

Disney ditches cranky captain, opts to go with happy Hook

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I'm sure you all know Captain Hook, the villain of "Peter Pan."


Copyright Disney Enterprises, Inc.

Walt Disney Studios actually began developing an animated version of Sir J.M. Barrie's much beloved play back in the mid-1930s. Though it would take Walt's animators nearly 20 years before they finally found a way to successfully translate this whimsical tale to the big screen.

Mind you, one of the biggest problems with making a feature length cartoon version of "Peter Pan" was figuring out what to do with Capt. Hook. Should this character be comical? Menancing? Fey? A fop? A fiend? Disney's animators tried dozens of approaches. But -- eventually -- thanks to Frank Thomas' abilities as a lead animator as well as Hans Conried's inspired vocal performance as Hook ...


Copyright Disney Enterprises, Inc.

... the character finally came together for this 1953 release. Quickly making Capt. Hook one of Walt Disney Studio's more memorable screen villains.

And -- of course -- given how popular Disney's movie version of "Peter Pan" was ... It only stood to reason that -- when Disneyland opened in July of 1955 -- that theme park would have a "Peter Pan" -themed attraction. Where the guests could see the villainous pirate battling with the boy who'd never grow up ...


Photo by Jeff Lange

... As well as seeing Hook menaced by that crocodile.


Photo by Jeff Lange

Now where this gets interesting is that -- when Walt Disney Productions started producing walk-around characters for the theme parks -- the company's first inclination was to go with an angry looking Capt. Hook.


Photo by Jeff Lange

And this was the version of the character that appeared at Disneyland and Walt Disney World for over 30 years. But then -- in the late 1990s -- market research actually showed that Disney's younger theme park guests were very frightened of this version of Capt. Hook. That his large jaw and perpertual scowl really put people off. Which is why around 2000 the company retired the original version of the captain's head. Opting to go with a kinder, gentler version of the blood-thirsty pirate.



Photo by Jeff Lange


This is the version of Capt. Hook that you'll find in the Disney theme parks these days. One that has a much smaller jaw, one that's always smiling. Survey results show that kids find this version of the captain not nearly as intimidating, much more approachable.

Mind you, the angry, menacing version of Capt. Hook still makes an occassional appearance in the theme parks. Here, you can see an enormous inflatable version of the captain being used as a decoration during "Mickey's Not-So-Scary Halloween Party." You'll find this Hook draped (appropriately enough) over the entrance to the "Pirates of the Caribbean" ride at WDW's Magic Kingdom.


Photo by Jeff Lange

But -- in these politically correct times -- you'll find that, given its druthers, Disney prefers to go with a happy Hook ... er ... I can't believe that I actually went for that joke.

Anyway ... These days, the Walt Disney Company doesn't really like the menacing, scary version of the pirate captain. The corporation much prefers the more polite, helpful incarnation of James Hook. I mean, take -- for example -- what Disney Feature Animation did back in the late 1990s. When the animators who were working on "Treasure Planet" were trying to decide whether or not they could successfully marry 2D animation & CG. So that Long John Silver could be portrayed as a cyborg (I.E. A creature who was half man & half machine).

Who did the animators turn to for their "proof of concept" test? The elegant Capt. Hook. Using some of Frank Thomas' original drawings for the character, they crafted a mechanical arm for the pirate ...


Copyright Disney Enterprises, Inc.



... And it was this test footage that convinced Disney executives that John Musker & Ron Clements' vision for Long John Silver would actually work.

Anywho ... That's the story of how the Disney theme parks went from having a really angry Captain Hook to having a much-more-pleasant pirate. Come back on Wednesday, and I'll spill a few secrets about a certain sea witch

Jeff Lange is the staff photographer / archivist here at JHM. He recently released his very first DVD, "Jeff Lange's Trick or Treat." Which offers full coverage of last year's "Mickey's Not-so-Scary Halloween Party" at WDW's Magic Kingdom. If you'd like to learn more about this entertaining recording, we suggest that you follow this link.

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  • Thanks for this! I never had seen the photo of Conried as Hook. Always fun and interesting to discover the stories behind the characters like this.

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