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Saturday, April 29, 2017

Peter Pan (2003)

You might think that there have been many film adaptations of Peter Pan, but in reality, they are mostly spins on the story: a prequel (Pan), a sequel (Hook), or a psychological investigation of the author's motives (Finding Neverland). In fact, there have only been two films that have told the actual story by J.M. Barrie in the post-World War II era: the Disney animated musical version from 1953 and P.J. Hogan's unjustly forgotten 2003 version.

I showed this film to my students as part of their unit on fantasy, and I had completely forgotten about it (it was a huge bomb). I hadn't seen it before, but it is a lovely, sumptuous telling of the story of the one boy who doesn't grow up. It manages to be funny, exciting, and insightful on just what growing up means.

The film stars Jeremy Sumpter as the boy who peeks into the Darling's nursery (a stalker, he is) to hear Wendy (Rachel Hurd-Wood) tell stories. He loses his shadow, she helps him get it back, and makes his fairy, Tinker Bell, jealous. She and her brothers Michael and John, enticed by promises of pirates and Indians, head off with him to his home, Never Land, where no one grows up. Of course, Never Land has dangers--a crew of pirates, led by Captain Hook, who has a score to settle with Peter while also being chased by a crocodile who swallowed a clock.

This film works as both an introduction to the story for children, and a bit of nostalgia for those who grew up reading it or watching the Disney version or the TV musical starring Mary Martin. It has great special effects, particularly in the rendering of Tink (Ludovine Sagnier) and the flying characters, who swoop and soar and make us all want to fly. Since it is a film, the "Do you believe in fairies" bit, which is done with audience participation live, is handled differently, but is none the less just as emotionally fulfilling.

Jason Isaacs plays the dual roles of Mr. Darling and Captain Hook, and in the latter he really lets his inner villain shine (Isaacs has specialized in villainy, especially as Lucius Malfoy in the Harry Potter films). He gives Hook some depth--he's lonely. I also liked the comic relief of Richard Briers as Smee.

I haven't read the original play or book (although I have seen the play, I just don't remember it very well), but Sumpter gives Peter a kind of leering quality whenever he looks at Wendy. I fear that the poor boy is starting to go through puberty, and if he never ages, he will never get to satisfy it. Not unless he and Princess Tiger Lily hook up.

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