Peter Pan Review

by Laura Clifford (laura AT reelingreviews DOT com)
December 29th, 2003


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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