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Peter Pan (Frank's Take)

01/02/2004. Contributed by Mark R. Leeper

Buy Peter Pan in the USA - or Buy Peter Pan in the UK

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Visually vibrant and mystical in its charming presentation, Franks happily discovers Hogan's live action take on Peter Pan is an exquisite and sparkling celluloid fable that just pops into life.

Peter Pan (2003) Universal Pictures. 1 hour 52 minutes. Starring: Jason Isaacs, Jeremy Sumpter, Rachel Hurd-Wood, Richard Briers, Olivia Williams, Lynn Redgrave, Ludivine Sagnier. Directed by P.J. Hogan.

It doesn't take a pile of fairy dust to spice up the wonderful James M. Barrie tale about a magical boy that lives in his little lost world while hanging on to his innocence. In director P.J. Hogan's whimsical version of Peter Pan, the lad from Neverland that refuses to grow up gives us a whole new adventure to ponder about on the big screen.

Hogan, who directed the mid-nineties quirky Australian comedy Muriel's Wedding, does a decent job at crafting the live action installment in the true sense of Barrie's timeless classic book. Visually vibrant and mystical in its charming presentation, Hogan's take on Peter Pan is an exquisite and sparkling celluloid fable that pops into life.

Although Hogan does conjure up an aesthetically pleasing picture that's as sweet as a dancing gumdrop set against the holiday sentiment, the flick does have its flaws to consider. Hogan, who helped co-write the screenplay, doesn't seem to inject anything new or distinctive to the familiar groundwork of the Barrie material that has been interpreted over and over again in the same tiresome fashion through various sources.

If Hogan's edition of the Lost Boy with an ageless wonderment took the time, it could have stood out as a daring adaptation that was fresh and originally unique in its own right. Hence, Peter Pan would have covered inventive territory that would have invigorated this updated story even more so with its snappy and radiant production values.

Still, Hogan's expressionistic offering is a far cry from the so-called overproduced, misguided pseudo-cheeky kiddie fare that was woefully evident in Steven Spielberg's dull and inflated Hook or even in last year's dismissive and disastrous Oscar-winner Roberto Benigni's Pinocchio.

Jeremy Sumpter (from Frailty) plays the title character in Peter Pan and is quite impressive and well cast as the wide-eyed adventurous boy. Armed with an impish grin to go along with a curly stack of hair, Sumpter's Peter Pan embodies the spirit and inquisitive nature of Barrie's waif-like protagonist.

As we are well aware, Peter Pan meets up and bonds with galpal Wendy Darling (played by newcomer Rachel Hurd-Wood) as they make their travel to the fanciful Neverland. In tow with the tandem are Wendy's younger siblings John (Harry Newell) and Michael (Freddie Popplewell). As the youthful crew partakes in their colorful journey, legendary despot Captain Hook (Jason Isaacs) is the evil-minded pirate waiting to exact his revenge on the elusive Peter Pan and will stop it at nothing to see that the flying tyke gets a taste of his wrath.

Aiding the group in their quest to reach their destination is Peter Pan's impetuous fairy/guide tour Tinkerbell (Ludivine Sagnier from Swimming Pool). For poor Wendy, there's a suitable reason why Peter's fetching playmate may want to take off and leave her parents behind. Apparently the expectations are set high for the ambivalent little girl. Mother Darling (Olivia Williams) is a beautiful and warm but somewhat distant parent that expects her daughter to reach womanhood responsibility and leave her child-like whims behind.

As for Father Darling - Jason Isaacs playing dual roles as both Wendy's Papa and Capt. Hook - he's a timid and over-pleasing worrywart too oblivious to care one way or another about Wendy's growing pains. It certainly didn't help matters that Wendy's interfering Aunt Millicent (Lynn Redgrave) was the instigator who stirred up the fuss about her niece's denial of becoming a young lady - to her indifferent parents.

Basically, the impressionable Wendy is just as befuddled emotionally as her loving lad Peter and she too much search for something that fulfills her empty heart and soul.

Filmmaker Hogan is very exuberant and wondrous in the way this winning movie projects the subtle themes of irreverent forethought into the Barrie mythology of the Lost Boy and his quest for identity. For starters, it's refreshing to see Peter Pan being played by a gangly male as opposed to a fragile female.

The sexual tension of these different gender adolescents can be heightened to the point that the self-discovery they're looking for as inquiring individuals can blossom into something more provocative as an inspirational subtext to them finally growing up and realizing that one cannot remain in a kiddie-coated mindset forever.

Also, the 'innocence factor' that's played up between the bonding of Sumpter's Peter Pan and Hurd-Wood's Wendy Darling is cleverly jeopardized by the violent overtones being demonstrated through the perilous sword fights and other conflicting confrontations. Of course allowing Peter Pan and friends to experience such ominous obstacles reinforces the notion that not everything in life is smooth and steady and 'peachy keen' as our young heroic bunch will soon discover.

This may be too much for the little sensitive children to endure as a lesson on making the transition from childhood to young adulthood. As explosive and rough-around-the-edges that Hogan's spirited storybook saga can be, at least there's a challenging element of truth behind the high-minded sappiness that invades the Peter Pan universe. Even the well-known and beloved Disney interpretation wouldn't venture this far from a psychological standpoint.

In addition to the imaginative and breathtaking spectacle that is Hogan's enchanting production Peter Pan, the movie has an intriguing and glib sense of humor. One of the reasons for this revelation is Isaac's wacky turn as the sinister Capt. Hook who pokes and jabs with his cruel verbal barbs as effectively as he does with his shiny swords.

His sidekick Smee (Richard Briers) is a riotous hoot as well. As villainous as Isaac's Hook is towards Sumpter's Peter Pan, the mean-spirited lowdown he spouts out to the fantasy flyboy is harsh but truthful - nobody can maintain a goodness about them that is above the realm of a gritty existence.

For what it is worth, Hogan's undertaking of this glittery showcase is fascinating and will no doubt be one of the memorable displays of the variation of the floating Boy Wonder looking to spread his wings in more ways imaginable.

Maybe we should all reach for our misplaced innocence and childish qualities every once in a while, huh? Geez, I wonder what the rental rates are these days in downtown Neverland?

Frank Ochieng

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