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Barrie vs. Disney: The Captain Hook Chronicle

Barrie vs. Disney: The Captain Hook Chronicle

All characters on ABC (and thus Disney)’s Once Upon a Time are drawn from well-known fairytales and classic books.  These stories have become familiar to large audiences over the years, thanks to Disney’s animated movies.  One such story is that of Peter Pan, which was both a successful stage play and a popular book before it was made into a Disney movie.  Though the film did a good job of retaining many elements of the original story, parts of the Peter Pan story have been incorporated into Once Upon a Time, interpreted in a much different way in order to fit in with the through-line of the show.

Captain Hook has been an interesting character over the years, interpreted in two different ways based on the particular medium.  In the early versions by Barrie, Hook is a stereotypical villain, created as a foil to the hero of the story.  In the stage play and book his physical description is more closely aligned with his appearance in OUAT than in the animated Disney version.  These particular differences are interesting because they change the way in which children experience a character that is supposed to be a “bad guy.”  Though the more indepth differences are between the play, book, and movie versions and the version of Hook in OUAT, he provides an interesting set of interpretations of the same character, shown through his motivational drives and backstories.

Motivational drive and truthful behavior were not always key to successful theatre.  Many characters in plays written before the advent of Realism were archetypes or highly exaggerated images.  This leads to the major difference between the Hook of Barrie’s play and the Hook of Disney’s Once Upon a Time.  Each is motivated by a different set of character traits and events to attain goals based on the events in both regenerations of Hook.

Both Hooks are driven by revenge, the most significant and recognizable character point.  While the Hook of the play is cold-hearted and wants to get back at those that wronged him in his quest for wealth, the Hook of the show is driven by more human instincts.  His loved one was killed and his hand was cut off by a man – a force that can be tangibly reckoned with, making the show’s Hook a much more truthful character.  This is a very disparate plot for Hook, as in the play and film he lost his hand by a real giant crocodile.  By placing realistic, visceral obstacles in OUAT’s Hook’s path to achieving his goal, he becomes a much more interesting, faceted character.  The Hook of the play is very flat, a villainous character that is cold-blooded and cowardly by turns, an instructive example of the type of person not to become.

Once Upon a Time takes a lot of liberties as far as plots and backstories go, and Hook is an interesting adaptation of the character from the original.  In order to successfully connect the fairytales together, the characters’ stories were adjusted to be a part of Rumplestiltskin’s story.

By tying Hook to Rumplestiltskin’s wife, he has a human motivation for wanting to kill the “Crocodile.”  This specific alteration to his backstory gives Hook a very different personality: he has the capacity to love in OUAT, as opposed to the most-likely-sociopath play version.

And not only do we see a multi-faceted character, we also see a good amount of character development in Hook.  He flip-flops for a bit and has some sassy and sexy interactions with Emma, but by the end of season 2 he has some serious development, moving from his narrow focus on revenge to a more big-picture outlook, working for the greater good rather than his own personal desires.

Pirates have definitely developed over the course of entertainment.  By giving them more dimension with greater desires and greater motivations than just those relating to wealth, we see how pirates are a lifestyle that can be used to explore storylines and expand the world of the piece.

Christina Casano is a TV & Film Writer at Girls in Capes and studies Theatre and Mass Communication at Miami University in Ohio. She is the resident expert on Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

Christina Casano
Christina is a TV & Film writer at Girls in Capes with a focus on TV shows. Spanning cult favorites and current series, her favorites include Buffy: the Vampire Slayer and Once Upon a Time. Christina is a recent graduate of Miami University and is now based in Chicago.
Christina Casano
Written by Christina Casano

Christina is a TV & Film writer at Girls in Capes with a focus on TV shows. Spanning cult favorites and current series, her favorites include Buffy: the Vampire Slayer and Once Upon a Time. Christina is a recent graduate of Miami University and is now based in Chicago.

  • Hannah

    I’m not sure if you’re familiar with Peter and the Starcatcher(s), a children’s novel-turned-stage show for children and adults that serves as a prequel to Peter Pan, but their treatments of Hook are fascinating, too. Admittedly, I haven’t read the book, but I’ve been fortunate enough to see the stage show, and it’s incredibly clear therein that Hook, then called Black Stache and possessing of both hands, is meant to be a hugely exaggerated archetype. As a villain, he’s one of the cornerstones of the story and his cruelty is renowned, but simultaneously, he’s given another treatment in which he’s written as flamboyant, emotionally sensitive, and a lover of poetry. His motivation is validation, as the last in a line of villains.

    At first I didn’t think much of it or that it was done to add color, and then my thoughts shifted to “maybe this is what ruthless pirates in a post-Captain Jack Sparrow world are like,” but the more I’ve thought about it – especially as someone who loves thinking about character backstory and development – I think it’s a really great opportunity to have a multi-faceted character who fulfills his duty as an antagonist while still being truthful and accessible empathetically to the audience.

    • Captain Hook is always characterized differently in any interpretation of Peter Pan. I’ve seen and read a bunch of different ones: the original novel, various movies, the original stage musical, Hook (RUFIO!), and others. My personal favorite, though, is SyFy’s Neverland – Hook is portrayed as someone selfish, but someone who feels betrayed or manipulated, which is implied to be the main reason he hates Peter so much.
      Any interpretation has a better characterization than the original, though – I felt the novel portrayed Captain Hook as an incredibly flat, mustache-twisting Bad Guy.