The real-life voice actor that portrays the evil Peter Pan has an eerily similar biography to that of the character.
There has been quite a bit of criticism around Disney’s new movie Chip ‘N Dale: Rescue Rangers, which was released on Disney Plus this week, mostly because of its depiction of Peter Pan.
Pete or Sweet Pete as he’s known is a major villain in Chip ‘N Dale’s movie. They say that Peter Pan was dropped from movie roles after he reached adolescence, which led to his descent into criminality. This toon smuggler uses other cartoons to make counterfeit movies by re-editing their artwork and coercing them into acting roles.
Pete’s history bears an uncanny resemblance to that of Peter Pan’s original voice actor, Bobby Driscoll.
In the late 1940s and early 1950s, Boddy Driscoll was a well-known child actor. As a matter of fact, he was the first Disney performer to sign a long-term deal. He appeared in a number of well-known films, including Song of the South, Melody Time, and Treasure Island.
When he was 16, he was cast as Peter Pan in the Disney classic. The character would be based on his facial expressions and body movements. At the Walt Disney Christmas Show, he even performed the role of Peter Pan live on stage.
When Driscoll made the transition from adolescent to young adult, things went south fast. Disney terminated his contract with him just a few weeks after the premiere of Peter Pan in 1953.
“When Howard Hughes bought RKO [the firm that controlled Disney at the time], he, in fact, became the owner of the Disney studio,” Hollywood biographer Marc Eliot told Entertainment Weekly in an interview. In charge of the money, Bobby Driscoll was his archenemy. He despised the young stars of the film industry. He regarded them as precocious, fictitious, and obnoxious all at the same time. Driscoll wasn’t welcome at Disney any more.”
“The way I understand it, it was a fairly nasty rejection,” actor Billy Gray, who became friends with Driscoll, recalled. When he drove up to the studio’s entrance, he was told that he was no longer employed by them and was turned away. The message he sent was that he was no longer required at the company. ”
Driscoll’s situation worsened. In public school, he was frequently tormented because of his performing career. A drug addiction led him into prison and eventually to his death at the age of 31. Before his death, he appeared in only a few minor film and television appearances.
When his mother, who hadn’t seen her son in years, put an ad in a New York newspaper looking for information on his location, his body was discovered and identified a year later in 1969.
His death would go unreported for even longer. The public learned about Driscoll’s death four years later, in 1972, when Disney re-released Song of the South and reporters dug into the case. As he was buried in a mass grave with other unidentified dead, there was no appropriate funeral for him. While making millions of dollars from items featuring Bobby Driscoll’s image or voice, Disney has kept an extremely tight lid on what happened to him after then.
Given this, a significant number of netizens have expressed their displeasure with the portrayal of Sweet Pete, whose backstory is eerily similar to that of actor Chris Driscoll, as being disrespectful if not downright insulting.
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Many have defended this portrayal, claiming that it was only a coincidence and that the cast was unaware. Driscoll’s story occurred decades ago, and the image of Peter Pan, the youngster who never grew up, growing up to become a washed-out adult, has long been a running joke about the character in pop culture.
Others speculate that the writers were parodying and drawing attention to the tragedy by utilizing Sweet Pete. If this is the case, I personally believe it is ineffective. Sweet Pete is a fairly one-note villain who does nothing to elicit sympathy or serve as deeper commentary.
That again, I must admit that I only learned about Bobby Driscoll because of the controversy surrounding Peter Pan in Chip ‘N Dale, so I think the film did help raise awareness of his plight.
It’s possible that it was a coincidence, in my opinion. If it was done on purpose, though, it was undoubtedly in poor taste for the firm that had given him so much trouble to produce a film with a character that exists primarily to make a joke about his life.