Robin Clifford Laura Clifford
J.M. Barrie's classic story about the boy who refused to grow up first appeared on the London stage 100 years ago. Done countless times in the theater, and to great fame by Mary Martin in the 50's, the story was brought to the movie screen, first, in 1924, and recently made as a sequel in Disney's "Return to Neverland." Now, a brand new live action feature comes to a big screen near you and, once again, we are told the story of "Peter Pan."
I think everyone over the age of three must know the story of Peter Pan, Wendy, Captain Hook and all. But, this is the first time, in almost 80 years, that the story has received live action treatment. (Well, some might consider Steven Spielberg's overblown "Hook" as live action Peter Pan, but I'm not one of them.) In this new rendition of the classic fairytale Jeremy Sumpter (the younger brother in 2002's "Frailty") is Peter Pan, who spies on Wendy Darling (Rachel Hurd-Wood) and loves to listen to her stories as much as her brothers, John (Harry Newell) and Michael (Freddie Popplewell). But, Mr. Darling (Jason Isaacs) has decreed that she must stop telling her stories and grow up. This edict is wonderful news for Peter.
One night, Pan convinces Wendy to join him and the Lost Boys in Neverland where pirates, Indians, malicious mermaids, a monster-size crocodile and a whole bunch of adventures await. With the help of some fairy dust from his sidekick, Tinker Bell (Ludivine Sagnier), Peter shows Wendy and her brothers how to fly and they set off for the stars. This is all familiar territory as the five travelers set down on the island where Captain Hook (Jason Isaacs) and his gang of thieves plot their vengeance against their nemesis, Peter Pan.
Director P.J. Hogan marshals the lavish, F/X laden production along at a fairly leisurely pace with lots of film time spent talking about all the adventures the children will face. (I would rather that more time be spent on the actual adventures.) This version of the Peter Pan tale is more a youthful love story than action/adventure flick with a disturbingly sensually full-lipped Wendy saving a hidden kiss for macho, swaggering Peter. Helmer Hogan is so intent on this youthful romance that the adventure saga often takes a back seat. I'm not sure I like the screenplay, by Hogan and Michael Goldenberg, introducing young sexual allure in a children's film like "Peter Pan."
The action part of "Peter Pan" is serviceable enough with Jason Isaacs putting the right note of menace and comedy on his Captain Hook character. The actor also serves as the milquetoast patriarch of the Darling family but has the most fun as Hook. The other characters from Barrie's story - Smee (Richard Briers) and the rest of Hook's cutthroat crew; the Lost Boys; Princess Tiger Lily; the clock-swallowing croc - are presented without much development or depth. While watching "Peter Pan" I kept remembering Disney's recent "Return to Neverland" that did a better job of fleshing out the supporting characters and had more adventure, even if it is just a sequel
Production techs are fine all around with the special effects, such as Peter's flying, done well and pretty seamlessly. Scripters Hogan and Goldenberg do some other embellishing with the original Pan story, adding Aunt Millicent (Lynn Redgrave) to the Darling family and coming to politically correct closure with the Lost Boys.
"Peter Pan," if the screening audience (mostly kids) is any indication, should fit the bill for families with younger kids seeking suitable entertainment during the holiday season. Maybe the latent sexual allure is an attempt to get to the older kids. It doesn't work for me. I give it a C+.
Mr. and Mrs. Darling (Jason Isaacs, "Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets" and Olivia Williams, "The Heart of Me") provide a uniquely creative home for their three children. The eldest, Wendy (Rachel Hurd-Wood), spins stories for younger brothers John (Harry Newell) and Michael (Freddie Popplewell) which all three play act. However, when their Saint Bernard nursemaid Nana (Rebel) embarrasses Mr. Darling in front of his boss, Wendy's childhood is declared over. That night, she's given one last fairy tale adventure by the little boy who refuses to grow up and has been listening to her stories all along from outside their second floor window, "Peter Pan."
Director P.J. Hogan ("Muriel's Wedding, "My Best Friend's Wedding") goes back to J.M. Barrie's play and novel ("Peter and Wendy") to create the first literary, live action version of "Peter Pan." For the first time ever, the title character is portrayed by a little boy (Jeremy Sumpter ("Frailty"), and Hogan introduces a subtle eroticism which gives "Pan's" theme additional complexity for adult viewers which should fly over the heads of children. "Peter Pan" is kept from truly soaring, however, by a stiff performance from newcomer Hurd-Wood and some garish visual effects.
Aunt Millicent (Lynn Redgrave, "Gods and Monsters," playing a character created by Hogan) makes the observation that Wendy is no longer a child, alarming Mr. Darling with the suggestion. Auntie points out 'a kiss in the right hand corner of her mouth' that is waiting to be bestowed upon the right young man. At school, Wendy's teacher discovers a drawing she has made of herself in bed with a winged boy hovering above like a succubus. Alarmed, the teacher sends a letter to Mr. Darling at his place of work, which Wendy and Nana attempt to intercept. After the resulting scene, Mr. Darling divests Nana of her vocational cap and declares the day Wendy's last in the nursery. That evening, Pan returns, charms Wendy by declaring one girl worth twenty boys and coaxes the Darling children to Neverland with promises of flight, pirates and Indians.
The filmmakers have a lot of fun with Peter's unattached shadow, which taunts Aunt Millicent before Wendy has a chance to sew it onto the boy who can fly. Director of Photography Donald McAlpine ("Moulin Rouge") captures Pan floating outside of the nursery window with a vampiric eroticism that is as unsettling as it is magical. The children's trip to Neverland, though, finds them speeding amongst planets that look like a child's paper mache mobile painted in neons and the cloud they land in to observe Hooks ship is too brightly colored. Hook's ship, however, is delightful, initially mired in ice like Shackleton's Endurance. Hogan and Production designer Roger Ford ("Babe") also excel with creepy, blue/white mermaids who look like something out of a Korean horror film and a crocodile realistic in every way except its gargantuan size.
Hogan, who did a rewrite of Michael Goldenberg's ("Contact") adaptation (they share screenwriting credits), brings Pan's themes of abandoning childhood squarely to the forefront in his version without sacrificing fun and adventure. Peter and Wendy set up house as father and mother to the lost boys and Pan brings Wendy to see the dance of the Fairy King and Queen before leading her into a duet of their own. Before Wendy bestows her kiss (the actress may have been chosen for her ripe lips alone), younger brother John gets one of his own from Princess Tigerlily (Carson Daly), which turns him bright pink. The same actor who plays the father pushing Wendy into adulthood reappears as Captain Hook, Pan's worst enemy. Wendy is pleased by her incarnation as 'Red Handed Jill,' the storyteller to a shipful of adult men, before learning of Hook's poison of 'jealousy, malice and disappointment.' Pan taunts Hook with the noise of a ticking clock before the children more blatantly tell him that he's old and done.
Humor abounds with inventions like a peg-legged parrot and Indian rites to heal a warrior restoring Michael's beheaded teddybear. The siren of "Swimming Pool," Ludivine Sagnier, delivers a delightfully clownish Tink and Richard Briers ("Love's Labour's Lost," the British series "Good Neighbors") is an endearing Smee.
Young Sumpter gives a lively performance as Pan and is physically adept as well, smoothly acing many scenes of suspended flight. Isaacs is well cast in the dual roles of Hook and Wendy's father, playing both straight with a gravity that balances out the film's lighter aspects - and this Hook gets to fly as well. Hurd-Wood pastes a smile across her face whenever appropriate but never achieves any real character for Wendy. Olivia Williams is radiant as the motherly ideal and Redgrave adds a nice mix of British whimsy as the elder aunt.
P.J. Hogan's "Peter Pan" resists generic safety and emerges as a family film that tells a story worth repeating.
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