Peter Pan Review

by Robin Clifford (robin AT reelingreviews DOT com)
January 8th, 2004

"Peter Pan"

J.M. Barrie's classic story about the boy who refused to grow up first appeared on the London stage 100 years ago. Done countless times in the theater, and to great fame by Mary Martin in the 50's, the story was brought to the movie screen, first, in 1924, and recently made as a sequel in Disney's "Return to Neverland." Now, a brand new live action feature comes to a big screen near you and, once again, we are told the story of "Peter Pan."

I think everyone over the age of three must know the story of Peter Pan, Wendy, Captain Hook and all. But, this is the first time, in almost 80 years, that the story has received live action treatment. (Well, some might consider Steven Spielberg's overblown "Hook" as live action Peter Pan, but I'm not one of them.) In this new rendition of the classic fairytale Jeremy Sumpter (the younger brother in 2002's "Frailty") is Peter Pan, who spies on Wendy Darling (Rachel Hurd-Wood) and loves to listen to her stories as much as her brothers, John (Harry Newell) and Michael (Freddie Popplewell). But, Mr. Darling (Jason Isaacs) has decreed that she must stop telling her stories and grow up. This edict is wonderful news for Peter.
One night, Pan convinces Wendy to join him and the Lost Boys in Neverland where pirates, Indians, malicious mermaids, a monster-size crocodile and a whole bunch of adventures await. With the help of some fairy dust from his sidekick, Tinker Bell (Ludivine Sagnier), Peter shows Wendy and her brothers how to fly and they set off for the stars. This is all familiar territory as the five travelers set down on the island where Captain Hook (Jason Isaacs) and his gang of thieves plot their vengeance against their nemesis, Peter Pan.

Director P.J. Hogan marshals the lavish, F/X laden production along at a fairly leisurely pace with lots of film time spent talking about all the adventures the children will face. (I would rather that more time be spent on the actual adventures.) This version of the Peter Pan tale is more a youthful love story than action/adventure flick with a disturbingly sensually full-lipped Wendy saving a hidden kiss for macho, swaggering Peter. Helmer Hogan is so intent on this youthful romance that the adventure saga often takes a back seat. I'm not sure I like the screenplay, by Hogan and Michael Goldenberg, introducing young sexual allure in a children's film like "Peter Pan."
The action part of "Peter Pan" is serviceable enough with Jason Isaacs putting the right note of menace and comedy on his Captain Hook character. The actor also serves as the milquetoast patriarch of the Darling family but has the most fun as Hook. The other characters from Barrie's story - Smee (Richard Briers) and the rest of Hook's cutthroat crew; the Lost Boys; Princess Tiger Lily; the clock-swallowing croc - are presented without much development or depth. While watching "Peter Pan" I kept remembering Disney's recent "Return to Neverland" that did a better job of fleshing out the supporting characters and had more adventure, even if it is just a sequel

Production techs are fine all around with the special effects, such as Peter's flying, done well and pretty seamlessly. Scripters Hogan and Goldenberg do some other embellishing with the original Pan story, adding Aunt Millicent (Lynn Redgrave) to the Darling family and coming to politically correct closure with the Lost Boys.

"Peter Pan," if the screening audience (mostly kids) is any indication, should fit the bill for families with younger kids seeking suitable entertainment during the holiday season. Maybe the latent sexual allure is an attempt to get to the older kids. It doesn't work for me. I give it a C+.

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