CS Interview: Kathryn Beaumont, Voice of Wendy in Peter Pan
With this week’s release of the 65th Anniversary Edition Blu-ray of the Walt Disney Classic Peter Pan, ComingSoon.net took the opportunity to talk to certified Disney Legend Kathryn Beaumont. The English-born actress voiced both Wendy Darling in 1953’s Peter Pan and the eponymous Alice in 1951’s Alice in Wonderland. She continued to voice both Alice and Wendy in Kingdom Hearts video games, and although she retired as the characters in 2005 she continues to lend her voice to other roles in the games. We spoke to both Beaumont as well as Disney Historian Mindy Johnson to discuss the legacy of the film.
ComingSoon.net: Walt Disney personally casted you as Alice after seeing you in another film. What do you recall about your first meeting with Walt Disney?
Kathryn Beaumont: Well, I think I was asked to get to know him, and my mother and I went up to his office. I knocked on the door, and Walt Disney himself opened it up and said, “Oh, Kathryn, come on in. Sit down with us.” And then he ushered me over to this couch where two or three other people were sitting, and we just got to know each other for a little while. I just felt very suddenly okay. That was my first time to get to know him personally. That was very exciting because, obviously, he was a person who was such an icon and known all over, and all these wonderful films that I had seen when I was still in England, that I admired Walt Disney and all of his wonderful films. So, to me, this was just like meeting a huge star. So, it was very exciting.
CS: Can just tell us your first experience that you recall when you first saw the film?
Beaumont: I’d seen lots of pieces and parts because, as the film was being made, then there would be voice work, then that was followed by live action, and the artist would sometimes let me come up during my recess time and watch the proceedings from that. So, I was watching myself doing these live action scenes which was inspiration for the artist. So, I was seeing parts of the film, anyway, all the way through. Eventually, the film was being put together, and then I would see parts of it animated, parts of it still live action, parts of it half drawn in black and white, so, I was watching this process happening while I was working, which was just lovely, because I was learning all the basics about how an animated film is completed.
CS: And what was your reaction after seeing it after it premiered in 1953?
Beaumont: Seeing it all together was a wonderful ending of it because I was seeing the film as the public was going to see it. I had seen all sorts of bits and parts, and that’s exciting, but then there’s the finished product, and that was wow! That was just an amazing experience, yes.
CS: And Mindy, what was your experience like?
Mindy Johnson: Well, I was a young girl and I think it was a big part of sparking my imagination, particularly a particular pixie who stirs up a little bit of trouble. I could identify with her. I grew up with brothers, so I could also identify with the Lost Boys scenario, and it just was a magical story that was perfectly timed for any child.
CS: Kathryn, what would you say was the main difference in your vocal characterization for both Alice and Wendy? Was there any kind of subtle differences that viewers should notice and pick up?
Beaumont: Well, at the time, I don’t think it was really thought of so much. It took quite a while to make “Alice in Wonderland,” and I was still a child and very much a child’s voice. As the time was going along, my voice was maturing as I was, so, there was a change with that. And then, just the character herself, when I was reading the script, it was a different character, so, I lent something different to that character, and that’s how Wendy came alive.
CS: I had the pleasure of riding “Peter Pan’s Flight” again last year at Disney World, and it’s still amazing. What was your reaction or what are your thoughts about Peter Pan having its own ride and its own attraction in the parks, and that it’s still operational, and it’s still timeless for not only this generation but generations past?
Johnson: The “Peter Pan’s Flight to Neverland” is one of the original rides open at Disneyland, so it speaks to just the success of the film and the magic of the film at the time, which came out in ’53 and the park opened in ’55. And with that, audiences could go off to Neverland, literally, you’re off on that ship with Peter. So, it was part of instilling that magic into the park and making that transition from the silver screen, where audiences could fly right along with Peter to Neverland. And, so, that was a big paradigm shift for theme parks and people attending the parks. Now, in later years, Kathy, you did some audio. You went and re-recorded some of that.
Beaumont: Oh my gosh, I had forgotten about that. Yes, they wanted me to lend my voice to a particular line that Wendy was saying during the ride.
Johnson: Yeah, it was you’re standing in line and fastening your belts, so, in that way, it still was another measure, another step to bridge the film and the park experience, and how magic that we have Kathy to do that.
CS: There’s been so many film iterations of Peter Pans throughout the years. Directors like Steven Spielberg has recreated it in the form of “Hook,” and then the more recent “Pan” with Hugh Jackman, but why, in your own opinion, do you think the Disney version has endured the strongest in the public’s collective imagination?
Beaumont: Well, I think it was Disney himself. I think people have respected Disney throughout the years and know his total talent of story writing and animation, and it hasn’t been duplicated since. So, it’s just very, very special.
Johnson: Yeah, I think there’s a timeless quality. Walt really worked to infuse that and to respect that. It was certainly there in the play, in James Barrie’s work. He understood the time honored traditions of it. There were a few things that he did recognize that he could do within animation, for example, the characters could actually fly in animation, as opposed to having to be on wires in the stage production, and Nana could be a real dog, and you could have a embodied Pixie for Peter’s fairy friend, but he recognized the timelessness of it and respected that, and really worked to cultivate it as much as possible. And I think, to Kathy’s point as well, it has the Walt Disney quality to it. So, that’s time honored as well.
CS: Kathryn, you performed our own live action reference footage for the animators. How intensive was that and were there many takes involved? Can recall how the set was like in terms of the props and all that?
Beaumont: For animation, they just wanted my movements. So, there wasn’t much in terms of set decoration, hardly anything, in fact, just enough for a reference that I could therefore use as part of a prop. Otherwise, the stage was pretty well bare. They would do the scene, and I would do the motions that were needed for that, and it was really a marvelous experience. You had to use your imagination a lot about who you were speaking with, and where they were, and the nonexistent people that were in the scene originally.
CS: What do you appreciate most about doing Disney voice roles from back in the ’50s to recent days. We recently heard that you voiced “Kingdom Hearts,” so, you’ve had a very long career with Disney, and how does that make you feel?
Beaumont: Oh, it makes me feel excited that I’m still able to participate in anything that’s Disney. He was such a wonderful, creative person and created wonderful, wonderful stories. So, the very fact that anytime I had an opportunity to work for Disney, I was very happy.
(Photo Credit: Getty Images)