Retro Review: Peter Pan (2003)

I have always compared the struggle between Peter Pan and his arch-nemesis Captain Hook as a struggle between the road-runner and the coyote. I always sided with the coyote because you never knew very much about the road-runner.

When it comes to Peter Pan we know he never wants to grow up, he commands his “lost boys” and rescues Native princesses. We also know that he is aided by a fairy named Tinkerbell. But we never really understand why Pan never wants to grow up and why he doesn’t want to experience real human emotion. We never fully understand the hero himself.

In the new, highly rich, elaborate recreation of the epic story, we begin with a retelling of the Darling children’s meeting of a magical boy named Peter Pan (Jeremy Sumpter) who promises them that they can live the stories they love. The children are whisked off to Pan’s home, Never Never Land where they discover the wonders and horrors of the world of never growing up. The biggest threat to the harmony of Never Never Land is the surging vengeance of the menacing Captain Hook (Jason Isaacs). What will the children learn from this journey? Will they ever want to go home? What new things will we learn from this new telling of a literary classic?

Peter Pan has always celebrated the child within us all. His eager innocence and stubbornness to never let go of his child-world has always been appealing to adults and children alike.

In director PJ Hogan’s lush treatment of the story, we begin to understand and see that Pan isn’t as one-dimensional as one perceived.

He struggles with his continual denial of growing up. We see that Pan’s emotions are directly connected to the weather and seasons of Never Never Land. We also learn that there is more emotion stored up in this boy than we could ever imagine.

I really enjoyed the conflict struggle in this version of Pan.

The film shows that Pan has a lot more emotion than that of all the Darling children combined.

Why is that, because each of the Darling’s knows they have to grow up and fit into the real world.

I also really enjoyed the performance of Jason Isaacs as Captain Hook. He is a lot more memorable that Dustin Hoffman’s performance in “Hook”. I liked that the actor was able to mix the comedic elements and the dramatic with little effort. I also loved the dark humor he has with his men.

This is a wonderful portrayal and deserves to be the showcase of the piece. The sad thing about Isaacs in this film is that he had to forget all his brilliance of Hook when he put on the spectacles to play Father Darling. I wished there was a different actor for Darling.

The production design, costumes, and lush cinematic effects make this film feel special and they are some of the boldest I have seen on screen in quite some time. They don’t feel like effects but blend effortlessly with the characters and the style of the film. They so deserve an Oscar nod.

My problems with this update of the classic have to do with the film’s structuring. The beginning of the film where we meet the Darlings and their world was awfully boring and drab. The world looked a lot like what Charles Dickens describes in his novels but there was this raw innocence. I felt no emotion from this “real world”. I felt that a lot of what the film was trying to show was severely lacking in the film’s take on London. The dad’s job woes and his snooty boss were boring and seemed out of place. I know I am being rather picky in a fairy tale but it stood out.

I really enjoyed Peter Pan but just felt the film opened a door to a new take on the legend but didn’t jump through the door. I wanted more of Pan’s conflict and Hook’s goofy antics. I wanted to see some of Pan in the children when they returned. I also wanted more Olivia Williams as the Darling’s mother. She was a lot more interesting than their two-dimensional father.

The next time we have such a bold retelling, run with it.

(4 out of 5)

So Says the Soothsayer

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