“Oh, the cleverness of me!”
The Scoop: PG 2003, directed by P. J. Hogan and starring Jason Isaacs, Jeremy Sumpter, Rachel Hurd-Wood, Richard Briers and Olivia Williams.
Tagline: The legend you thought you knew becomes the adventure you never imagined.
Summary Capsule: Classic kids’ story is redone from the ground up. An eternal child contends against the ultimate pirate and the passage of time.
Louise’s rating: High as a boy can fly.
Louise’s review: Funny. Beautiful. Sexy. Dangerous. Pink. Blue. Deep. Classic. Fresh. Magic. Not racist. All these words describe Peter Pan.
Surely everyone in the western world has either read the novel, acted in the musical, seen the play, seen the Disney film, seen the cartoon series, dated someone who persisted in acting younger than their age, or knows of someone who died before their time. So, everyone should immediately know some of the details of the story.
When children dream or imagine, they go to the Never-land. The Never-land is ruled by Peter, a boy who is both very mysterious and instantly recognizable. He says of himself that he was once an ordinary baby who overheard his parents talking about what he could be when he grew up. Unwilling to grow up, he ran away to live with the fairies instead, and became the ultimate Boy Hero who fights pirates and Indians all day long, but gets safely home to his bed every night. Oh, and he can fly. He is an enticing, attractive magical figure BUT he is also an arrogant, selfish, ignorant child. This magic/child dichotomy in Peter reflects the plot itself, and the wonderful way it has here been visually created for the screen. The nursery – the children’s commonplace world of school, upbringing, strict relatives, baths and bedtimes – is mixed with their fantasies and imaginings, and this is perfectly conveyed by the CGI, the wittily over-the-top dialogue and the beautiful, beautiful, beautiful sets.
Now, to Wendy. Wendy is a kind, charming, clever, brave and beautiful (though maybe slightly naive) girl on the verge of ‘growing up.’ She tells wonderful stories to her brothers, and because children’s dreams are Peter’s domain, he likes to come and listen to the stories too from outside the window. One evening Peter and Wendy meet, and he invites her to come with him to the Never-land, to see the mermaids and the fairies, and to be a mother to his tribe of Lost Boys. She agrees because she doesn’t much like the sound of ‘growing up’ either. Unfortunately the wheels of adolescence are in motion and she has already outstripped Peter emotionally, meaning that she could not be happy staying with him if she tried.
It’s clear to me that the whole story is sexually charged, for all it’s about pre-teens. Peter and Wendy play at both courtly love and at parenthood, and there’s a lot of talk about kisses, but while it really is just a game for Peter, Wendy is ready to start falling in love (not necessarily with him, but with someone, or maybe with love itself). He entices her from her childhood sanctuary into the dark unknown – and it’s very, very exciting with really atmospheric tinkling music – but he can’t move from make-believe to reality. Jason Isaacs brilliantly (and gorgeously) plays both of Peter’s adult rivals for Wendy’s heart – her sweet and shy father Mr Darling, and the dangerous, melancholy (topless) buccaneer Captain Hook. We’ve got a trifecta of types here: Peter is the immature male who is incapable of feeling, Mr Darling represents the male who has difficulty expressing his deeply-held feelings, and Hook is the one who can feign emotions to get what he wants.
All right! Enough about What It All Represents! As Peter Falk would tell Fred Savage, it’s not just “a kissing book”, but also a fantastic kids’ adventure – as in a proper adventure with pirates, Indians, mermaids, black castles, fights, flying, feasting, ships and a miraculous recovery when all hope was lost. It’s wonderfully shot and endearingly acted. Wendy has no sooner landed in the Never-land than she has to rescue her younger brothers from Captain Hook, Peter’s greatest enemy, who tries to use her to defeat Peter and his Lost Boys once and for all. Will she and Peter escape his malevolence, and will she ever make it safely home to her parents?
I honestly think this film is perfect.
Aside from its gripping exploration of the twelve-year-old mind, its enchanting adventure, its gorgeous sets (in glorious technicolour) and its atmospheric music, it has some tremendous performances from the cast. I’ve already mentioned Jason Isaacs, but I’ll mention him again. He’s that good. He’s got the ability to be smoothly evil – as seen in The Patriot and the Harry Potter films (he went blond as Lucius Malfoy) – but he can also pull off the action sequences and he’s remarkably handsome. The script even references ‘piercing eyes.’ Phwoar, is all I can say! No wonder that Wendy is completely taken in by his Hook. However, he’s equally convincing as Mr Darling, the bespectacled bank clerk who has the love and support of his wife, but gets cut little slack by everybody else. Olivia Williams plays Mrs Darling as a beautiful, faithful and mysterious figure who fascinates her husband and her daughter (with occasional mama bear moments). While Wendy loves her as a nurturing caregiver, as she is growing she has also started to notice her mother’s adult beauty.
Wendy is played by the radiant Rachel Hurd-Wood and Peter by Jeremy Sumpter, an American actor. Now, making him the only character with an American accent was a brilliant idea. It emphasizes his difference from the other children and it takes away any danger that he might have become twee and old fashioned in a British period-drama sort of way. During filming young Mr Sumpter clearly grew a good few inches, and this means that he looks slightly different at different parts of the movie. Now, despite the gimmick of Peter Pan being that he will never grow up, I think his age going slightly up and down really works artistically. If it had been deliberate, I would have thought it a good idea, suggesting that he’s in a time loop of some sort. I approve of the children’s performances and think they handle their roles really well. Finally, special comedy props to the late Lynn Redgrave as the Darlings’ aunt, Ludivine Sagnier as a Tinkerbell done entirely through mime and whistles, and Richard Briers as the cuddly (up to a point) and self-serving pirate Mr Smee. He’s a lot smarter than any other interpretation of the character I can remember, and much better for it. Watch out for his feud with the ship’s parrot.
In short, I first saw this adaptation of Peter Pan in the cinema with my sister, who must have been about 6 years old, and we were both completely amazed by it. I recommend it to romantics, builders of dens, readers of children’s books and pre-Tolkien fantasy, young families, and anyone who wanted Peter to come to their window.
- This is the first live-action adaptation of Peter Pan released to cinemas since the 1920s, and the only live-action cinema adaptation with sound.
- The film was exec-produced by Mohamed Al-Fayed, and dedicated to his son Dodi Al-Fayed, who famously died alongside Princess Diana in the Paris motor accident in August 1997.
Pirate: Beg for your lives!
John: Sir! My brother and I are English gentlemen. English gentlemen do not beg!
Michael: Please, please don’t kill us!
John: Please, don’t kill me either!
Mr Darling: I must become a man that children fear and animals respect!
Peter: Come with me where you’ll never, never have to worry about grown-up things again.
Peter: I want nothing but to be a boy and have fun.
Wendy: You say so, but I think it is your biggest pretend.
Peter: To die would be an awfully big adventure.
Smee: It’s very exciting. That’s two dead already!
Hook: If you are Hook, then what am I?
Peter: You… are a codfish.
Peter: Discipline! That’s what fathers believe in. We must spank the children before they try to kill you again. In fact, we should kill them!
Wendy: Don’t you know what a kiss is?
Peter: I shall know when you give me one.
John: You offend reason, sir. I should like to offend it with you.
Hook: Split my infinitives!
Wendy: Who be you to order me about and call me ‘girlie’?
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