Peter Pan Review

by John Ulmer (johnulmer2003 AT msn DOT com)
December 29th, 2003


2.5/5 stars


Imagine a world where you could never grow old. Imagine a world where fairies exist. Imagine a world where saying "I believe in fairies" could suddenly make every single person on the universe say the same thing. Imagine a world where pre-pubescent children stood a chance against murderous pirates, apparently have more strength, and are smarter than a nefarious captain who has vast wealth yet sits docked in a single bay all day long dreaming about destroying a young boy who can fly. How did he achieve his ship, crew, and wealth if he can't even catch a flying boy, I wonder?

I liked Steven Spielberg's "Hook." Yeah, it was too over the top and glossy and the production was almost sickly bright, but I liked the story and the acting (Dustin Hoffman has yet to be out-performed) and all that. The film's strongest flaw was the casting of Julia Roberts as Tinkerbell, a problem not fixed by "Peter Pan" -- Tinkerbell is still an annoying fairy brat.
P.J. Hogan's "Peter Pan" is more faithful to J.M. Barrie's work, but something's missing. The film carries a disturbing undercurrent of something that just isn't right. It struck me when I read a review after seeing the film expressing that there was too much sexuality in the film -- adult humor or just sick, slick ideas.

Example? A flying boy visits a young girl in her bedroom, and the next day she draws a picture showing him hovering above her in an odd position. "If this is you," the teacher asks, "then who is that?" The girl responds by saying, "It's a boy." The teacher's face contracts and she sends a note to the girl's parents. Of course, we know that she is innocent, but the film makes us take the teacher's perspective of young sex as an adult-oriented joke -- something that shouldn't be in any adaptation of Peter Pan.
Later, in Neverland, two boys are hung upside down after being caught in a trap, their nightgowns down around their heads, and a nearby Indian girl is shown watching them. The boys lift up their nightgowns to cover their nudity, embarrassed, but not before we see their completely bare behinds (twice), and once again the idea of innocent eroticism is subtly disturbing.
Am I going overboard? I don't think so. Because the film is somehow disturbing in a subtle way -- I don't know what it was that disturbed me, but something did. And "Peter Pan" is devoid of any real warmth or excitement -- from the beginning on I felt that the filmmakers were trying to turn the classic story into something really great, and screwed it all up in the process.

Wendy Darling (Rachael Ann-Hurd) and her two brothers are wisped away to Neverland by Peter Pan (Jeremy Sumpter), a flying American boy who wants Wendy to tell her adventure stories to his band of Lost Boys. Wendy arrives and soon thereafter the evil Captain Hook (Jason Issacs, a great villainous actor given little to do here) embarks on a mission to kill them all.
Issacs also plays Wendy's father, which reminded me of the film "Jumanji" -- a much better family film. In that film, the father was also a villain in different form. In both films they represented the fear of the offspring.
I can't find any praise for "Peter Pan." When I heard that Jason Issacs was to play the infamous Captain James Hook, I was delighted -- Issacs has always been a tremendous villain (see "The Patriot" or "Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets"). Here, Issacs is given little to do other than sit around and crack weak villainous jokes, attempt to sword fight with a young boy (it may look good in animation, but not with real actors.), act very unthreatening and seem very, very stupid.

All the pirates in this film are stupid. Granted, Hook was stupid in the most famous adaptation of the story, Disney's "Peter Pan" (1953), but here -- with a real actor -- he seems to be watered down. Sad and very disappointing, since Issacs is always so darn creepy, even as a good guy ("The Tuxedo").

Jeremy Sumpter ("Frailty") didn't win me over, either. His voice is annoying and he is, in my opinion, just a year or so too old for Peter Pan -- his voice is too low and it croaks and cracks when he is excited.

I came close to recommending this film a few times, but when the "I do believe in fairies" sequence came around, I lost all remaining hope. And the climatic finale, involving Peter's long-awaited showdown with Hook, feels nothing other than contrived -- if Hook is so eager to kill Pan, why let him fall to the deck of the ship and lie there for five minutes before taking a stab -- when he's already recovered from his momentary loss of flight?
I can't express my disappointment in this film, because I'm not sure how to. Unlike most films, there wasn't anything in particular that truly made "Peter Pan" a bad film. I just got an eerie feeling watching it, half expecting that Peter Pan and Wendy were about to do something very inappropriate together. And I can't express in words the failure on Issacs' part to make Hook somewhat dreaded -- something he has always exceeded at in the past.

Peter Pan's world may restrict him from growing old, but watching this in the theater certainly didn't restrict me from growing some two hours older -- and very bored. It's a complete waste of time and should not be seen by children. Next movie, please.

- John Ulmer
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