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Peter Pan (Mark'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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In this new movie, Mark discovers a feast for the eyes that he can recommend with more conviction for parents than he can for the children who might see it.

CAPSULE: P. J. Hogan brings to the screen a reasonably accurate version of the classic J. M. Barrie children's story, but one with more depth and a look at the emotions of the maturing process. This is a feast for the eyes that I can recommend with more conviction for parents than I can for the children who might see it. The film creates charming illustrations for the famous story and does it in all in what looks like live action. Rating: +2 (-4 to +4) or 7/10.

What a delightful surprise it was to discover that I like J. M. Barrie's story Peter Pan more than I thought that I did. I almost skipped seeing this film.

The story in good hands is more intelligent and stronger in ideas than I was expecting. PETER PAN is a children's film for adults. Bring children to it and it might be a fantasy that may not really engage them. It is not like Pokemon or Lord of the Rings. Parts will possibly seem slow. Some children I know may not find it to their liking. That is some children. Adults, on the other hand, will probably remember seeing the Disney animated adaptation.

And perhaps they will have seen even the musical stage play with Mary Martin swinging around the stage on the wire and with Boris Karloff mugging as Captain Hook. They may well be entranced by what is the most beautiful and intricate visualization of the familiar story. On the stage and even in the animation Never Land was simplified for economy and for stagecraft. But Roger Ford's production design for the film makes it look like some marvelous old Victorian toy come to life.

The script by Hogan and Michael Goldenberg from the play and books of J. M. Barrie generally follows the original story, but then adds some sequences not in the original play, notably Mr. Darling's attempts to look good for the management of his firm. It broadens and expands the original theme of the gain and loss of growing up. Much more than in previous version the dialog seems to concert adult emotions and even desires. At times it almost becomes sensuous.

The story, for those who have not seen some version, is of the playful spirit who is Pan (Jeremy Sumpter). He comes visiting the children of the Darling household from the mystical place called Never Land. After Pan loses his shadow, Wendy Darling (Rachel Hurd-Wood) helps him get it back and Pan ends up bringing all three children flying with him back to his Never Land. Never Land seems to be comprised of smaller regions, one with Indians, one with pirates, one with the foundling Lost Boys. (It may well have been the original inspiration for Disneyland.) And what a luxurious Never Land this film shows us.

Pan is in a constant war with Captain Hook (Jason Isaacs, who also plays Mr. Darling). He fights Hook while trying to play father to the Lost Boys who need a mother. Pan wants Wendy to be a mother to the lost boys. And trapped in eternal youth, he is puzzled that he also wants something else from her, but he is unsure what it is.

It has something to do with the pleasure he gets from kissing her. He may not know what he wants, but one gets the feeling that Tinkerbell does know. Tink (Ludivine Sagnier of THE SWIMMING POOL), though incompatible with Peter, is jealous of female competition for Peter's attentions.

This Tinkerbell worries about more than if children will clap for her. Her rubber-faced antics hide a personality with more depth than one might expect. Much the same is true of Hook who is a villain, but in this version he also has some humanity. He makes sense as a character. When he dies, the Lost Boys jeer him saying not that he was not a good fighter or is ugly as might be expected but with the taunt "Old. Unwanted. Alone." Now that is fighting dirty in a way unexpectedly insightful for a children's film.

Sumpter and Hurd-Wood have surprising stage presence at the ages of fourteen and thirteen respectively. There even is a certain romantic chemistry between them. James Newton Howard has created a heroic fairy tale musical score for the film that fits it very nicely.

For a generation whose only contacts with this story are the dreadful film HOOK and re-releases of the Disney version, this film will be a fine rediscovery. This is the vision of Peter Pan that I would want in my head when I read the story. I rate it a +2 on the -4 to +4 scale or 7/10.

Mark R. Leeper

Copyright 2004 Mark R. Leeper

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