Kathryn Beaumont & Mindy Johnson Interview: Peter Pan

Kathryn Beaumont is an English actress, voice actress, singer and school teacher. She is most known for her voiceover work with Disney, providing the voices for Alice in Alice in Wonderland and Wendy in Peter Pan. She was named a Disney Legend in 1998 and had continued to do the voices of both characters until retiring in 2005. Mindy Johnson is an award-winning author and historian, becoming most known for her debut book, Tinkerbell: An Evolution. She is also a known contributor for The Walt Disney Family Archives. As part of the film’s 65th anniversary, Peter Pan was re-released on Digital HD on May 29, 2018 and will be released on Blu-ray June 5, 2018.

Screen Rant got a chance to talk with Kathryn Beaumont and Mindy Johnson on Press Day, where we asked how invested Walt Disney was in the filming of Peter Pan, what it was like to alternate between recording audio and recording live action references for the animators, and who really helped influence the design of Tinkerbell.

SR: Now Peter Pan is a classic and, as soon as I started watching the movie again and you hear the songs, you get transported back to your childhood. But something that really fascinated me, which I didn’t know was not only did you provide the voice, but you acted it out for the animators. Is that correct?

Kathryn Beaumont: Yes. I had that opportunity to do that. Yes. I went in to do the recordings and then afterwards they were saying they wanted me to go onto the stage and then perform the movements for these various different scenes. And that was to help the animators to see how the body was moving and to make the character look more realistic, so we had the two sessions. We had the recording session and then a little while later we did the live action session.

SR: That’s amazing. Now I also saw that when there would be either a dispute or a way that something needed to be done that Walt would come down and they were like, “Well, don’t bother him. He might have been busy,” but he was totally immersed into doing this. Is that correct?

Mindy Johnson: Yep. Very much so. Even beyond coming to the set. At night he would go around the halls and make sure, keeping the eye on the artwork, seeing how things were progressing. But yeah, Kathy, I think you probably have a few moments that you might recall where Walt came around.

Kathryn Beaumont: Oh yes! And I was amazed at how he is the head of the studio and I remember they were having a discussion about one of the scenes. I don’t remember which one it was. It was one of the live action, in the live action, and the directors were sort of vying about, “Well, how do we want to do it this way? Should we do it that way? Oh, I’ll just call Walt and ask him to come down and see what he thinks.” [laughs] So, they called Walt and he was done in a few minutes.

SR: Wow.

Kathryn Beaumont: Yes. Yes. Yes. “Okay. What’s the matter, boys? What do you want?” And so, it was discussed and we tested it out and he said, “Well, you know what? You were doing it the right way the first time.” So, that was the way it was.

Peter Pan Flying Tinkerbell Wendy Disney

SR: Oh, wow. That is really interesting to me. Now, working with Walt so directly, was there anything that you picked up from him? Because obviously he was a visionary. A futurist even. Was there anything that you picked up just from being around him?

Kathryn Beaumont: The fact that he was hands-on. I think that was the big thing. As a child what I was looking like at and realizing that this person was so, so talented and because I admired him so much because of all of the things I had seen, you know, before I had the opportunity to play Alice and then play Wendy in Peter Pan. And it was just a lovely experience to get to know him personally. And the fact that he was so hands-on. You know, I expected him to be the head of a studio. You probably wouldn’t see him very often, if hardly at all, because it was all directors and everybody else. It wasn’t. If there was a question, he would run down to help answer the question: “Well, okay, boys. Let me hear it and I’ll give you what I think.” But it was very much a team effort and I realized that this was a team working together. That was the important thing that I took from that experience.

SR: Absolutely. Now something that I realized watching this back, which you don’t pick up on as a kid, is how sassy Tinkerbell and how ahead of her time she is, right? She’s a feminist. She’s not like anything that had come before her. So, can you talk to me a little bit about Tinkerbell?

Mindy Johnson: Sure. This was a very challenging character. She had been, if you recall from the stage production, just a flash of light and nothing more. Cantankerous even as that. But Walt realized if he was going to transform this story for animation, which it was perfectly suited for. Suddenly, you didn't need to have strings for flying and you could have a real dog instead of a person in a costume. Oops. I didn’t mean to give anything away.

SR: [laughs]

Mindy Johnson:  But the character of Tinkerbell presented a pretty unique problem because, in fact, she had not been embodied. And everyone’s imagination has a different interpretation as to just exactly a little fairy might be. So, while pursuing this story and exploring what was possible, it was about a fifteen year evolution to this character. Walt started as early as the mid-1930s in production and exploring the possibilities. He put a woman by the name of Dorothy Ann Blank on the task of looking at this story and seeing what was possible and it was Dorothy, they were exploring with dialogue and different looks and changing her costumes for Tinkerbell. But it was Dorothy who said, “You know, I think we’re missing, I think we have an opportunity here to play within this world of imagination and give her simply the voice of bells.” So, at the earliest explorations, the very first Tinkerbell that we see, she looks awfully like the Blue Fairy, kind of like a small, tiny, little pin-sized Blue Fairy because Walt was in production on Pinocchio and he liked where they were going for that particular fairy. So, they started there. As time went on, hairstyles change. Clothing styles changed. We had the war. World War II comes along. The film has to be shelved, bringing it back, building the studio back up to be able to tell the story in the way it deserved to be told. Are the artists there? How do we get this shape? Do we have the talent for it? So, it took time and Walt wasn’t about to pursue anything if it wasn’t going to be absolutely right. And, in fact, that’s why it took that long.

Marc Davis, one of the great nine old men of Walt Disney’s animation, was given the task of defining this character. And what’s interesting is he took all of these early explorations and took elements of that and took it to the Ink & Paint Department. There was a young girl there by the name of Ginni Mack, who was a wonderful artist and inker and had an extensive career with the animation department at Disney, and she was a little blonde who wore her hair in a bun and had little bangs to the side. And so, they asked her one day if she would pose for a pixie. So, a couple of times she went out with the artists and Marc Davis and the directors and they would have her look certain ways and thus began the beginning. That was Ginni Mac, who was the original model for Tinkerbell as the suggested movements and ideas and that form, that final form of her, was also then something that Kathy got involved with.

Disney Peter Pan Tinkerbell Fairy

Kathryn Beaumont: [laughs] Yes. Yes. Yeah. Because Tinkerbell embodied the youth and the adult and they needed, they tried to find the right mix. So, they did have me do a scene because I was there already working with the other characters that I was doing. Just to see how it would play out, you know? So, it was just that. Nothing ever developed from it…

Mindy Johnson: Well…

Kathryn Beaumont: But I did do a couple of scenes as Tinkerbell.

Mindy Johnson: There were elements in there. Because you have her as, Marc Davis had designed her as this complex blend as a little girl from the waist up and a woman from the waist down.

Kathryn Beaumont: Right. Right.

Mindy Johnson: So, there were a number of models: Ginny Mac, Kathy, Helene Stanley…

Kathryn Beaumont: Helene Stanley.

Mindy Johnson: Who had been doing quite a bit for Cinderella and live action reference on Sleeping Beauty and other things later. And Margaret Kerry and a couple of other ladies who had been brought in as well because they were exploring this complex blend, so it’s a pretty fascinating side of the story.

Kathryn Beaumont: Yes.

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