out of 4
All-Reviews.com Movie/Video Review
|*Also starring: ||Lynn Redgrave, Ludivine Sagnier, Olivia Williams, Rachel Hurd-Wood, Richard Briers, Harry Newell, Freddie Popplewell, Rupert Simonian, Don Battee, Harry Eden||
Review by Dustin Putman
3 stars out of 4
Better-known fantasy tales exists, but the story of "Peter Pan" has
remained timeless throughout the years, originating in a book by J.M.
Barrie. Cinematic incarnations have arose since, most notably the
1953 Disney animated feature, the 1960 Mary Martin-starrer, and Steven
Spielberg's 1992 reimagining "Hook." This 2003 version, directed by
P.J. Hogan (1997's "My Best Friend's Wedding"), is superior to all
of those, and may just be the best fil med adaptation to date. It
is sharply paced, endlessly beautiful to gaze at, and actually stars
a young male adolescent in the title rolea first, indeed, as all previous
actors have, for reasons unknown, been actresses or adult men. As
mesmerizing as the picture is visually, what stands out most vitally
is its portrait of two preteens on the verge of adulthood who experience
their first love. There is real sexual tension felt without it having
to be overt, and the bittersweet romance remains innocent and utterly
As written by Hogan and Michael Goldenberg, the film strays very little
from the source material, a positive thing until the faulty final
scenes. For Wendy Darling (Rachel Hurd-Wood), a 12-year-old girl who
still enjoys childhood things but is being pressured to act more like
a lady from her Aunt Millicent (Lynn Redgrave), a chance at never
growing up comes in the form of everlasting boy Peter Pan (Jeremy
Sumpter). Wendy meets Peter one night as he spies on her in her bedroom,
and before long they have made friends and he has convinced she and
her younger brothers, John (Harry Newell) and Michael (Freddie Popplewell),
to fly away with him to Neverland, a place where they will never have to grow up.
Once in Neverland, Peter resumes his ongoing feud with the nefarious
Captain Hook (Jason Isaacs), a squabble that grows more intense when
Hook suddenly sets his sight on Wendy. Meanwhile, Wendy discovers
that the longer she stays gone from her home, the more she comes to
forget her parents and the place she comes from. Is the chance of
a constant childhood worth losing all memories of the ones you love?
And is not wanting to grow up nothing more than a reluctancy at taking
on responsibility? Such are the tough questions Wendy and her brothers
will have to decide; that is, if they survive the wrath of Captain
Hook and his pirate henchmen first.
"Peter Pan" is a purely and simply magical motion picture that, tied
with "Elf," is also the best live-action family film of the year.
The exuberance director P.J. Hogan brings to the story, and the imagination
he has brought to Barrie's images, is infectious. Nearly every shot
is jam-packed with special effects work, all of it intentionally stylized
and reminiscent of Tim Burton's oeuvre, but that doesn't make it any
less impressive. There are images on display here, in fact, that are
awe-inspiring and unforgettable, such as a ship setting sail across
the clouds above London, and the trip across time and space to Neverland.
Another sequence in which Peter and Wendy drift up into the sky as
they dance together among the fairies in the forest is, in a word, lovely.
All the exceptional visuals in the world would mean nothing, though,
if there wasn't an identifiable human story to place them within.
As Peter Pan and Wendy, Jeremy Sumpter (2002's "Frailty") and newcomer
Rachel Hurd-Wood are more than up to the challenge. Sumpter is appropriately
boyish and mischievous, but there is a hint of sadness underneath
his gleeful exterior that really fleshes him out into a believable
entity. He also has a smile that could light up a citywide blackout.
And Hurd-Wood is a real find, touching and resourceful as Wendy without
the faintest glimmer of amateurishness.
The blossoming friendship and ultimate love that grows between Peter
and Wendy is so natural and enchanting that it sets up the movie's
one disappointmentthe ending. It may be truthful to the book, but
that doesn't mean it was the right decision there, either. And without
blatantly giving the finale away, I ask this: Is Peter's choice justified,
or does it threaten to undermine the whole point of the premise? Judging
by the unmistakable connection Peter and Wendy have, I'd have to side with the latter.
This quibble aside, "Peter Pan" is top-notch entertainment that does
not talk down to kids and can be enjoyed just as much, if not more,
by adults. The film is adventurous and action-packed, yes, but it
is also a thoughtful rumination on innocence and the questioned loss
of such as one transitions into adulthood. Director P.J. Hogan's pacing
is economical in the best way: he trusts his audience enough that
he does slow things down at times to develop the characters and themes,
yet there is always another rousing swordfight or crocodile chase
around the corner. "Peter Pan" is a highly successful adaptation,
filled with enough wonder and excitement to make it an end-of-the-year
holiday treat. And if it's family fare you're seeking, see this and
skip the dreadful, condescending "Cheaper by the Dozen." You can thank me later.
Copyright © 2003 Dustin Putman
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