Peter Pan Review

by Harvey S. Karten (harveycritic AT cs DOT com)
December 29th, 2003


Reviewed by: Harvey S. Karten
Grade: C-
Universal Pictures
Directed by: P.J. Hogan
Written by: Michael Goldenberg, play/story by J.M. Barrie Cast: Jason Isaacs, Jeremy Sumpter, Rachel Hurd-Wood, Ludivine Sagnier, Olivia Williams, Richard Briers, Harry Newell, Freddie Popplewell, Lynn Redgrave, Rupert Simonian
Screened at: Universal, NYC, 12/12/03

    If there's one thing to be said for P.J. Hogan's clunky, by-the- numbers adaptation of the J.M. Barrie classic, it's that no couple in the movies this year, not even Bob Harris and Charlotte (played by Bill Murray and Scarlett Johanson in "Lost in Translation") projected more chemistry than the fourteen-year- old Jeremy Sumpter in the title role and Rachel Hurd-Wood as the adventure-seeker and amateur fabulist, Wendy. Peter, who allegedly is emotion-challenged because he never wants to grow up, sees no reason to cherish the thought of kiss by the budding Wendy, played by a gifted thirteen-year-old in a debut performance as a girl of about eleven.

    Wendy's adventures, like those of Dorothy in "The Wizard of Oz," appear to be part of her dream, as witness the dual role of Jason Isaacs as Wendy's dad, Mr. Darling, and Peter's nemesis, Captain Hook. As Mr. Darling, Isaacs inhabits the pin- stripes of a banker who even by British standards is so repressed that he has to practice making small talk with the president of his establishment. As Hook, however, he both captivates Wendy's imagination and serves as her opponent in swordplay, ultimately requiring her to walk the plank of his pirate ship.

    The adventure begins when Peter, played by the 14-year-old, curly-haired Jeremy Sumpter accompanied by Tink (Ludivine Sagnier) beside him, heads to the window of a spacious house and encourages Wendy to surrender the uptight world of adults and to fly away with him to Never-Never Land. As Peter goes through his age-old ritual of unfreezing the pirate ship, he thrusts his group, which now includes Wendy's brothers, into the most exciting days of their lives. They learn to fly, they learn to stare wide-eyed when Wendy falls into danger. All the while, whether doing battle with Captain Hook (who introduces us with the usual special effects as a guy missing a hand), or attempting to convince Wendy to stay with him forever, Peter rarely relinquishes his smile. When the tables turn on Hook, Wendy is left with a lifetime's round of experiences to cherish and to pass on to her children, and they in turn to their offspring. Wendy never does convince Peter to give up his childhood, which she insists is bereft of love and therefore doom Peter to a live of aloneness. (So what's Tink chopped liver?)

    The story comes across as thin, thin, thin, making "Peter Pan" a movie to see only for the special effects, quite good particularly because they're appropriately restrained. Tink appears from time to time following a curvy, traveling line of fairy dust, while Tink is about the smallest fairy you ever will see, expressing envy and disgust each time that Peter makes eyes at Wendy. Ultimately, however, the film is inadequate because despite the special effects, there is little that is gripping about the production, though Jeremy Sumpter and Rachel Hurd-Wood due just fine in their respective guises.

    If prosaic features like this are a sign of what can be done by a live cast, perhaps we'd be better off renting the tape of Hamilton Luske's 1953 Disney cartoon starring Clyde Geronimi and Wilfred Jackson. I had not seen the 1924 adaptation by Herbert Brenon, which Leonard Maltin calls "delightful," but "Peter Pan" looks like the kind of fantasy that would play best in animation.

Rated PG. 105 minutes.(c) 2003 by Harvey Karten at
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