Peter Pan Review

by Shannon Patrick Sullivan (shannon AT morgan DOT ucs DOT mun DOT ca)
January 5th, 2004

PETER PAN (2003) / ***

Directed by PJ Hogan. Screenplay by Hogan and Michael Goldenberg, based on the play by JM Barrie. Starring Jeremy Sumpter, Rachel Hurd-Wood, Jason Isaacs. Running time: 113 minutes. Rated PG by the MFCB. Reviewed on December 31st, 2003.


Synopsis: Wendy Darling (Hurd-Wood) is a girl on the cusp on young adulthood, having been told by her father (Isaacs) that it is time for her to put away childish things. One night, however, Wendy meets Peter Pan (Sumpter), a boy who lives in the magical Neverland where no one ever grows up. Wendy and her brothers fly away to Neverland to join Peter and his Lost Boys, only to find themselves menaced by the evil pirate Captain Hook (also played by Isaacs).

Review: Disney has long been harangued for watering down its source material, and their animated "Peter Pan" does not escape such criticism. While it captures the rollicking fun of JM Barrie's adventure, it largely overlooks its deeper themes. PJ Hogan's live-action version, fortunately, is more perceptive: "Pan" is not just a story about pirates and fairies but a meditation on the tragedy of the eponymous boy. Staying forever young is amongst a child's most fervent wishes, but "Pan" explores why never growing up is not as desirable as it might first seem. Hogan takes advantage of the story's bittersweetness, adding poignancy to scenes such as Peter and Wendy's dance by fairy-light. This is also one of several gorgeous effects sequences, which seem to draw on the story's theatrical roots but just manage to avoid cheesiness. The acting is more uneven: while newcomer Hurd-Wood is angelic as Wendy and Isaacs is great in his double role, Sumpter is disappointingly wooden while Vanessa Redgrave rather overacts as Aunt Millicent (who is one of the few wholesale deviations from Barrie's work). Parents should not be fooled by the Disney edition into thinking that "Peter Pan" is appropriate for the very young, however: children scared by, say, the "Harry Potter" movies may be similarly spooked by this film's eerie mermaids and bloodthirsty pirates.
Copyright 2003 Shannon Patrick Sullivan.
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