Review by: Alysa Salzberg
The world appears different under moonlight or snow; so here, writer/director P.J. Hogan and writer Michael Goldenberg's version of the oft-told tale of Peter Pan, is transformed under a vision at once magical and more serious than that of any other film ever made of the story.
Most, if not all of us, know about Peter Pan, the boy who wouldn't grow up. We know about Wendy and John and Michael and the Lost Boys and Tinkerbell and their adventures in Wonderland, we know about Captain Hook and Mr. Smee and the Crocodile. Most of us also know what it means when someone has a "Peter Pan complex"Â. Yet this film sheds new light on everything.
In fact, though it may not look it from the previews you've seen, this Peter Pan is one of the most unexpected, refreshing, miraculous movies of the season "” maybe even of the year. It's hard, sometimes, to talk of an amazing event. When you emerge from it, you wonder if it even happened at all. Yet I know that what I saw in the theaters lingers with me still, causing me to think this story in a different, deeper way than ever before.
Some critics have pointed out that this Peter Pan isn't for children "” and it's not, really. Certainly, it's alright for kids to see, but they may be scared at times, or more likely, bored. This isn't a film of constant action and laughs; there's dialogue, and some heavy concepts only barely touched on in most Pan's. Yet this in no way means the tale's magic is gone. In fact, this live-action rendition sparkles like fairy dust, and never, never forgets that important characteristic.
Both the traditional storyline and the magic are still here, and there are other things, as well. Some images in the Peter Pan mythology are so iconic, they seem doomed to resemble each other to some degree, no matter how they're being told. Yes, we have Peter's fugitive shadow, yes we have the Darling children learning to fly. Yes we have Tink's resurrection due to a chorus of "I do believe in fairies."Â Yes, there's the "medicine"Â that Wendy, playing mother, makes the Lost Boys take daily. But Hogan adds to these things in his film, as though he's taken flown shadows and set them behind the iconic images to create newer depths and dimensions. Yes, there's Peter's fugitive shadow, yet its behavior is not just amusing, but even a bit spooky. Yes, there's the Darling children learning to fly, but the camera angles and exuberant performance leave the viewer with new unforgettable images. Yes, there's the "I do believe in fairies"Â chant, but done in such a passionate, innovative, and gorgeous way that
allows us to be kept within the film's world, that it may be the best scene in the movie. Yes, there's the "medicine,"Â yet in her role as "mother"Â to the Lost Boys, we, like Wendy, lose the boundary at times between what is real and what is pretend. Filling a flower cup with dripping water, she doesn't explain to anyone that they must pretend it's medicine "” she simply describes the bitter taste it will have, and everyone believes it as though she's changed the water by magic.
And who's to say that she hasn't? For this version of the story also calls up the power of imagination, storytelling, and feelings, and we are taken somehow into the human psyche, all the while watching a world where children's wildest fantasies "” mermaids, fights with pirates, crocodiles, a house of their own "” are reality. Yet the place is inextricably connected to Pan. His feelings and very presence affect the weather and climate of the place. In any version of the story, Wendy is revered for her ability to tell wonderful tales. Here, not only do we get to hear her tell a great example of one (a glorious hybrid of Cinderella and a pirate fight), but various circumstances hint that, just like Peter Pan itself, these stories are more than amusing accounts "” they have power.
The film also pursues the theme of youth and aging in a different way than other Peter Pan films (including the well-crafted Hook). Part of this is borne of the very atmosphere Hogan and his fine actors create. At the very first mention of the fact that Wendy will soon be a woman, a feeling flows from every character, a sort of quiet sorrow. This sorrow stays with us, ever present, and we feel it more than ever before as a strong hand pushing the children to Neverland. Yet the film isn't afraid to show us paradoxes. Though growing up is seen as a terrible thing (Captain Hook seems so troubled by it at times that viewers will find themselves with a clearer picture of his dread of the Crocodile with the clock in his belly), it is something that is important. Peter protests frequently about the idea of being made to become an adult, and this refusal runs deep, and we see some of its troublesome implications, such as an aversion to complex emotions. Yet, at the same time, the film's characters, young and old, never deny the power of romantic love, a love that one has to grow up to feel. As much as bravado, joy, and fear, this love plays a strong part in the story, too.
And so we have a new Peter Pan, a Peter Pan that may, perhaps, be
closer to J.M. Barrie's work than any other film version. The poetry, profundity, and whimsicality of the author's style are all entrancingly open before us, both in a printed phrase at the movie's beginning, to an amusing and often eloquent voice-over. The acting is superb, with Wendy (Rachel Hurd-Wood
) strong and intelligent, and more believable as a girl with two brothers than ever before, and actor Jason Isaacs
doing a fine tour de force as the bumbling, nearly emasculated Mr. Darling and an obsessed, bitter, cruel Captain Hook. As our titular hero, Jeremy Sumpter
personifies this new Peter Pan. No longer must we rely on an animated character or a woman in tights "” here we have a boy at once boyish and effete, passionate and careless, light enough to fly, yet strong enough to cross blades in thrilling, bloody battles with a ruthless foe.
Go see Peter Pan, no matter your mood. It is a film that at once opens your eyes and closes them softly with dreams. It will amaze you.
Movie Grade: A+
The Darling family children receive a visit from Peter Pan, who takes them to Never Never Land where an ongoing war with the evil Pirate Captain Hook is taking place.