Peter Pan (2003)

Posted by on Dec 22, 2011 in Out of This World | 0 comments

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Disclaimer: Far creepier, sadder, and more intense than any version before it.

J.M. Barrie’s character of Peter Pan has seen about 40 different adaptations on a screen (television, taped plays, and movies) and countless live performances. Theater houses have performed Shakespeare’s Hamlet dozens of different ways, yet adaptors of Pan seem to merely reproduce Mary Martin’s Broadway version. Why? Only Spielberg had the nerve to take creative liberties with the story (Hook), and we all know how that fared. So, I have to confess, I was skeptical of this big-budget version when it was released. I thought, “It’s going to be a live-action version of Disney’s cute animated version.” But what initially appears to be a mere effects extravaganza slowly adapts the original text (while staying loyally close to it) by digging beneath the surface of each character, revealing things we may otherwise have never known. So, fans of the traditional version (without violence, darkness, sexuality, and sadness) will be sorely disappointed.

We all know the story, or I should hope, of a mysterious boy (Peter Pan) peeking in the window of the Darling family home as three children share stories. One day, when he loses his shadow, the children meet Peter, learn to fly, and go to Neverland. This film’s Neverland isn’t quite as entrancing as Spielberg’s, which made me want to be there, but is much more aethetically pleasing as the weather changes depending on Peter’s emotional and physical health. One moment it’s vanilla clouds, pink sunsets, and a gorgeous blue ocean, and the next it’s treacherous blackness.

It’s far darker than any filmic pan3version before it. Skittish viewers must contend with the pesky, ticking crocodile again, a bitchy Tinkerbell (Ludivine Sagnier) who threatens Wendy’s life at least twice, and creepy mermaids, who want nothing more than to drown you. There’s lots of swordfights and violence, as expected. The Lost Boys and pirates are quite morose, but have a strange sense of humor about it. “She must stay here and die,” one says after shooting Wendy. “No,” Pan shouts. “Right,” the boy says and begins to giggle. “How could I have thought that? Stupid.” Also, after the boys shoot Wendy, one says, “First impressions are very, very important,” and another states, “We must be cautious. There are some frightfully nasty characters about.” Near the end, in the movie’s funniest moment, the pirates sit on the ship, eager to hear Wendy tell her version of the Peter Pan story. Twice during her telling Captain Hook (Jason Isaacs) shoots crewmembers that disrupt. Smee (Richard Briers), turning to the camera, says of the telling, “Very exciting; two dead already!”

As the plot thickens, the movie takes time to develop elements of a social subplot. While Neverland deals with sexuality and race, I’m afraid the “real world” contends with class and gender. At the beginning, Wendy’s Aunt Millicent (Lynn Redgrave) asks, “Walk towards me, dear, so that I may appraise you,” as if she were property on the market. This coming after her dear aunt told her not to be an author, as they’re difficult to marry. So Wendy’s parents, hoping their 12-year-old daughter will marry into the upper class, aspire to brown nose their superiors and attend dinner parties. Soon, she must leave the nursery and abandon childhood, for she will become a lady and, presumably, a wife. To flee her parents – with a hint of sexual reasoning – Wendy runs away from home with the bare-chested stranger that creepily watched her through the window. The Australian writer/director, P.J. Hogan, reveals these sexual elements and goes so far as to show the twosome kiss – something we’ve never seen before. Eventually they start to fall in love, but such is the luxury of an adult, not a boy, so Wendy must free Peter. This, obviously, is something he cannot do and thus the film turns tragically sour.

“Will they send me to school? Then, to an office?” Peter asks. “Soon, I should be a man. I want, always, to be a boy and have fun.”

“You say so,” Wendy answers, “but I think it is your biggest pretend.”

Interestingly, the film polarizes all of the characters. This makes the people you would think to be opposite strikingly similar, and those you’d think to be similar strikingly opposite. As I stated before, eternity separates Wendy and Peter, a desire for motherhood attracts the pirates and Lost Boys, and a desire for love draws Hook and Pan together. Hook is almost empathetic, here, as he realizes his years of disappointment increasing. He therefore envies the romance between Wendy and Peter and does everything he can to destroy it.

“To grow up is such barbarous business. Think of the inconvenience and the pimples,” Hook says to Wendy, adding that things are simple when you’re young, “but then the mess starts and feelings come. Pan is so lucky to be untroubled by them. Oh no, he cannot love. It’s part of the riddle of his being.”

Jeremy Sumpter, who plays Peter, is unspeakably sub-par in the vital role, while Rachel Hurd-Wood is quite good in her screen debut as Wendy. Isaacs, who doubles as Mr. Darling and Hook, is wonderfully bumbling and dastardly, respectively. They over-do the effects at some points, drawing excess attention to themselves (the cartoonish flight through the galaxy, for instance). And the presence of Princess Tiger Lily was completely worthless (she didn’t even warrant a line of recognizable dialogue).

The story and film have Peter saying, “To die would be an awfully big adventure,” but he later realizes that living would be too much to ask as well. “I know what you are,” Hook says during an epic swordfight. “You’re a tragedy.” I didn’t think so at the start, and obviously he doesn’t die, but he may as well have.

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