Peter Pan Review

by Richard A. Zwelling (razwee AT yahoo DOT com)
January 21st, 2004

PETER PAN (2003)
** 1/2 (out of ****)
a film review by
Richard A. Zwelling

So yet another film adaptation has been made of J. M. Barrie's classic story. Yet despite the fact that this is a big-budget, visually lavish production with a heavy dose of CGI, do not let that keep you away from this surprisingly faithful and complex version.

Of all the Peter Pan versions I have ever seen (both on screen and on stage, and that includes Mary Martin's performance), this is not only the one truest to its source material, but also the one that most directly takes on the confusion of growing up, losing innocence, and discovering and understanding adult emotions. For the first time, Peter Pan (Jeremy Sumpter) is not the one-dimensional, triumphant hero we are used to seeing, but has flaws which directly relate to his unwillingness to grow old.

Unfortunately, despite the fact that the film takes on these issues, I personally did not feel that they were presented in an emotionally compelling manner. Part of this has to do with the lead performance of Jeremy Sumpter, who has the perfect visage and physicality, but does not possess the necessary acting range needed to genuinely convey Peter Pan's inexhaustible sense of fun, adventure, and vitality. I also did not feel convinced during the scenes in which he must convey Peter's growing awareness of what will be missed as a result of not growing up.

The choices for direction, editing, and CGI also factored into my lack of enthusiasm for the film. There is heavy use of brisk, fast-paced shot selection (often saturated with ornate computer imagery), which works to a film's advantage in some cases. However in this case, I felt that it kept the narrative from breathing and drew excessive attention to itself at times when I wanted to focus on characterization and theme. For some, this will not be a problem, and will indeed be welcome, as much of the picturesque scenery seems lifted straight out of a fantasy world and surely does not claim to be extracted from reality. For me, though, characters and themes come first, and if I don't feel drawn in by either (again, this is just my personal reaction), I cannot enjoy the film.

While Sumpter is not convincing, Rachel Hurd-Wood is radiant and exuberant, and she perfectly captures the wonder, passion, and romance of Wendy Darling, who in this version is not only Peter's half-platonic, half-romantic interest, but also the catalyst for Peter's first thoughts about facing his emotions and realizing the shortcomings of eternal childhood.

Also fun to watch is Jason Isaacs, who plays both Wendy's father and the villainous Captain James T. Hook (you might remember Isaacs in his deliciously over-the-top performance as Lucius Malfoy in Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets). As Hook, Isaacs provides the necessary evil touch, but also presents Hook's more human side. We see Hook not only as a malicious monster, but also as a lonely, aging man who has no sense of happiness, friendship, or love. Rather than remaining in type, Isaacs' Hook shows signs of a genuine desire to reform. It might sound strange, but when Hook meets his final fate, I felt sadness and pity, despite his obvious evil. Showing his range, Isaacs imbues Wendy's father with a funny, heartwarming combination of social awkwardness, humility, and devotion to his family.

The performances of Hurd-Wood and Isaacs were not enough to leave me with a positive impression of the overall acting, however. Many lines felt rushed and glossed over, being recited without inflection or emphasis when there was obviously a world of subtext lurking beneath. Such a moment occurs when Peter tells Wendy that he does not know love, and that the mere mention of the word offends him.

I tried hard to enjoy this film simply for what it was, but too often I felt that there was a world of potential for this to be a truly great film, and I always felt that potential being suspended instead of realized. As a children's film, however, this is most certainly a winner.

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