February 22, 2002
Starring: Jason Isaacs, Jeremy Sumpter, Rachel Hurd-Wood, Lynn Redgrave, Richard Briers, Olivia Williams, Geoffrey Palmer, Harry Newell, Freddie Popplewell, Ludivine Sagnier, Theodore Chester, Rupert Simonian, George MacKay, Harry Eden, Patrick Gooch, ,
The tenth screen version of J.M Barrie’s classic tale about the adventures of a boy who doesn’t want to grow up.
Does a story so often retold…well, need to be told yet again? This is reported to be the closest adaptation of the book yet, and if not perfect, it does have its moments thanks to P.J Hogan’s sprinkling of darkness throughout the film. And for those who are crying “What about Hook? Doesn’t that make it eleven screen versions?” Hook wasn’t technically based on the original Pan story.
So what distinguishes this movie from Hook and the other past incarnations? Well, for one Peter is played by a boy (usually it’s an athletic girl) and the themes of growing up and the corruption of innocence are brought to the forefront in a way that some parents found unsettling in theatres. In a film that aims for a young audience with colourful CGI and tales of Neverland, there’s a surprising amount of darkness lurking beneath its wholesome surface, and ironically this is what makes it stand out from the crowd.
Captain Hook is the star of the show as usual, and Isaacs manages to veer between camp and dangerous with ease. His severed arm is glimpsed near the beginning and he isn’t aversed to putting a bullet in the face of a loose-tongued henchman (pretty strong stuff for a kid’s film, but it’s the scary bits that stay with us – who could forget the terrifying flying monkeys in The Wizard of Oz or the dog ripping the rabbits to bloody shreds in Watership Down?). Sumpter is fairly bland as Pan, but Wood holds her own, putting in a mature performance that requires her to fall for Peter without going too far in the Dawson’s Creek direction. Isaacs plays the dual role of the bumbling father (another tradition) and Olivia Williams holds the strongest screen presence of the film, despite having little to do.
So the film is an uneasy mixture of mature and immature. One moment we have flamboyant CGI flying adventures and the next there’s sexual symbolism (Wendy draws a picture of Peter ‘hovering’ over her bed). Hogan’s script stays close to the original story yet sadly gives in to political correctness (Wendy can defend herself with a sword you know) and the now cliche’d Hong Kong wire-fight. The Matrix may have revolutionized the way movies were made, but five years later and its techniques have been copied to death in every major Hollywood release. The flying rigs used here are even the same ones used on Revolutions, as both films were shot in Australia.
Younger kids will enjoy Peter Pan, but anyone over twelve will probably be unimpressed with the overuse of CGI and the repetition of a story they’ve seen many times before. The film has moments of magic thanks to P.J Hogan’s energetic direction (it’s never dull, certainly never boring to look at) and James Newton Howard’s score, but the definitive version of this classic tale has still yet to be told. Maybe Johnny Depp’s portayal of J.M Barrie in the upcoming ‘Neverland’ will help soften the blow.
Predictably the bonus material goes for the younger viewer, so instead of an in-depth commentary we get little three-minute behind the scenes snippets spread out over five areas of Neverland. These mostly focus on the blue screen and wire work, with input from Hogan and the cast. Isaacs has his own little documentary he shot during his time on set, and we see Tinkerbell (Sagnier) going completely hyper on a blue screen stage.
The Duchess of York (?!?) presents her own behind the scenes tour for the yanks, who for some reason pay her a fortune to be on TV, and even gets to fly on the blue screen rig. Every bit as awful as it sounds.
There are a couple of deleted scenes which involve Wendy’s father living in the doghouse as punishment. But best of all is an alternate ending, which goes for a slightly more traditional, melancholy epilogue with Peter returning to find an adult Wendy (Saffron Burrows, who narrates the movie).
An uneven, but admittedly enjoyable experience.