Peter Pan glides

Jan. 4, 2004, midnight | By Josh Gottlieb-Miller | 20 years, 4 months ago

There's something charming about a quality retelling of a favorite story. The kind of story you've known since you were small, but to hear it again, in a new voice, given its proper due, is truly satisfying. It's the same kind of feeling you get from watching people fly in movies, effortlessly. Charmingly.

It's hard to find many faults with Peter Pan, though its nature as a remake invites you to try. This doesn't mean that there are many accolades for this Peter Pan to receive, either as a boldly inventive new interpretation or for a wildly good script. No, the one impression that Peter Pan makes, foremost, is that of a thoroughly solid and entertaining job well done.

Director P.J. Hogan does a remarkable job maintaining Peter Pan's integrity as a faithful adaptation of J.M. Barrie's book while embellishing where possible. Hogan also makes the movie dark enough for adults while keeping its still barely innocent soul intact. The movie is a technical success: The tentatively dark setting is full of potent and consistent camerawork and framing, filled with the vaguely dangerous magic inherent to children's imaginations. As a period piece, Peter Pan is perfectly evocative of turn of the last century London, the stiflingly adult atmosphere naturally promoting a child's desire to leave and never grow up.

This is the situation that Wendy Darling (Rachel Hurd-Wood, in a nicely naïve performance) faces. Wendy's on the cusp of adolescence when Jeremy Sumpter's fun-loving Peter shows up. Peter plans to bring her back to Neverland, to perform as storyteller for the Lost Boys. Of course, the subtle chemistry between the two is another motivation for his request, a connection that is not lost on sexy, jealous Tinkerbell (Ludivine Sagnier).

Soon Peter and Wendy are off to Neverland (her brothers joining them of course), ready for adventure with pirates, mermaids and Indians. (Hogan gets credit for making the Indian scenes as minimally condescending as possible.) Of course, Neverland would be incomplete without Pan's nemesis and counterpoint, that evil old Captain Hook (Jason Isaacs, also playing Wendy's father, and wonderfully emotional and imposing in each role).

Peter Pan moves swiftly from Peter's return to Neverland. The Pan-Hook swordfights soon commence, the Lost Boys remain as adorable as ever, and the pirates are made into creepily comic set dressing. All of the characters are nominally attractive (save for the pirates, naturally), and the movie keeps a fairly traditional pace, with few surprises.

Nonetheless, Hogan saves Pan from mere mediocrity by adding humor and tension throughout (he proves a master of mood and atmosphere, especially in the darker Neverland sequences). There is no funnier double-entendre than Wendy telling Peter that he's "deficient," meaning "immature," and "just a boy." Also no chillier sight than the murderous mermaids, all sleek and streamlined as they slyly drown their prey.

Sure to be enjoyable, though nothing terribly original (it is a remake after all), Peter Pan is nonetheless good adventurous fun.

Peter Pan is rated PG for swordplay, gunplay and the occasional violent death.

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