Finding magic in "Finding Neverland"

Dec. 2, 2004, midnight | By Grace Harter | 17 years, 1 month ago

Little boys jump up and down on their beds before lifting off into the air and flying through a nearby window. A dog transforms into a great bear and dances gracefully with a circus ringleader. And the walls of a house open up to reveal a magical land full of fairies, pirates and fanciful animals. All of these breathtaking images, directly from the imagination of "Peter Pan" author J.M. Barrie, are portrayed beautifully in the film "Finding Neverland."

The film focuses on the life experiences Barrie used for his most famous play, "Peter Pan." In the movie, Barrie (Johnny Depp) has just come off from a major flop at the theatre house, but he soon finds salvation and inspiration in the form of four little boys in the park. Though his imagination can rival their own, they provide the spark he needs for spinning his finest tale. The boys' mother Sylvia Llewelyn Davies (Kate Winslet) also provides adult companionship for the lonely Barrie, who is drifting farther and farther away from his own wife, Mary (Radha Mitchell). As time goes on, they become a surrogate family for Barrie, offering him the love and affection that is absent in his own household.

Audiences familiar with the story of Peter Pan will take pleasure in recognizing all the "Peter Pan" allusions in the movie (like how Barrie's own dog is the inspiration for the lovable pet Nana in the play). Though the movie is not entirely factual (it glosses over allegations that Barrie was a pedophile and reduces the number of families he was inspired by from three to one), it gives a good starting point for audiences to understand the real-life author J.M. Barrie.

The acting is superb in "Finding Neverland." Depp may be in the running for an Oscar for Best Actor. He pulls off a quiet, delicate demeanor and a Scottish accent extremely well in the film. Similarly, Winslet does an excellent job of portraying the frazzled, widowed mother of four who desperately wants to believe in magic again but remains firmly grounded because she is intent on making ends meet. Veteran actors Julie Christie and Dustin Hoffman play Sylvia's strict mother and Barrie's flustered producer, respectively, and inject lots of passion and power into their roles. Newcomer Freddy Highmore, who plays Sylvia's sour child Peter, displays an amazing grasp of his role. He represents fading innocence and increasing skepticism in the film; Barrie is focused on convincing Peter of the benefits of imagination and the simple faith that good things will come in life.

The cinematography conveys a sense of wonderment and fantasy that is closely linked with the way Barrie views the world. The vibrant hues of Kensington Gardens, where Barrie often spends his time with the Davies family, contrast spectacularly with the dull and dreary interior shots of his home. Director Marc Forster employs special techniques that combine the real world of London with Barrie's overactive imagination. Often, ordinary shots turn into enchanting spectacles, such as when the Davies children are staving off bedtime by jumping on their beds, only to suddenly soar into the air and out of the window. With this magic added to the film, the audience gets to truly see how Barrie's mind works and to understand how imagination played a large part in his life.

The film is not entirely about innocence and fantasy, however. Forster makes a special point of also stressing the importance of responsibility and maturity. At one point in the film, one of Sylvia's boys finally fills the patriarchal role in the house and takes charge for his brothers and his mother, and Barrie highly praises him when the boy takes the initiative. There is a time for games and make-believe, but there is also a time for reality.

"Finding Neverland" (101 minutes) is rated PG for mild thematic elements and brief language.

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Grace Harter. Grace Harter is currently a CAP senior at Blair. She loves anything British, books, music, movies and of course Silver Chips Online. She'd like to close with a quote from "Ferris Bueller's Day Off" that is especially profound (and makes reference to her ultimate favorite … More »

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