Review: “Peter Pan”

Even though the original tale hasn’t been done as a live-action film before, do we really need another version of “Peter Pan” when we have had an animated take, plus sequels (both live action & animated) and countless other variations of the tale? That has been the question most dogging this big budget new take on the classic.

‘Pan’ is something like “Jekyll & Hyde” or “Frankenstein”, its a stand alone story which everyone in the world is familiar with even if many have never read the actual book. Pan, Wendy, Hook, the ticking Crocodile, the Lost Boys, Neverland, etc. are all very familiar concepts which have been re-interpreted and redone in one way or another onscreen for decades.

Thus heading back to the source tale means treading some very familiar territory and so this new and ‘first’ real take on the old classic tries to blind us from the familiar with a garish wash of hues, computer generated settings, elaborate sets and wild costumes. The result is a movie which looks fabulous but as a film about one of the greatest children’s books ever made it never really flies and is hard pressed to appeal to demographics outside those who count their age in single figures.

Why is there no magic in this most magical tale? Its kind of hard to explain. Part of it might be to do with the almost post-referential lines fielded by some of the actors who play things almost like a sequel – describing forthcoming events not only in jest but as absolutes. Most notably though is the tone of the whole thing which is done purely as an almost Disney clean take on the tale.

Barrie’s story, like all great fantasies, has its dark subversive side which has been de-emphasised here. There’s hints at the growing up and even sexuality of the story but it all feels kind of fumbled. Pan himself has a famously cruel and twisted side but its never really shown here other than the boy breaking off into hissy fits.

The acting is also surprisingly uneven. In the real world, the three adults are done so over the top and one-note its shocking, particularly Lynn Redgrave who despite having one good scene (involving her shadow) is playing this almost like satire. Over on the Neverland side though things are better – Jason Isaacs brings a swarthy meanness and dark humour to Hook, Richard Briers makes for good comic relief as Smee, and Rachel Hurd-Wood is a gorgeous little actress who shows great talent for her age.

At this young age its hard to criticise these child actors because its early days for many of them but sadly Pan himself Jeremy Sumpter is disappointing. He’s got the look, has some nice moments of boyish spark and plays action well but the more emotional scenes and Pan’s darker elements are admittedly tough for anyone to do so the fact that he only gets a few of them right is not surprising but do stand out. Worse is Ludivine Sagnier who feels simply miscast as Tinkerbell.

As mentioned before the production design is superb – ok soit all feels like it was shot in soundstages but that strange feeling kind of works in some ways, especially when the sets are this luscious. Whether it be the jungles of Neverland, the Jolly Roger deck, the pirates castle cave, the Darling household or the stunning skyscape Neverland journey/cloud hopping sequence towards the start – visually its very cool.

Cinematographer Don McAlpine lights everything in strong colours and shades of pink, red, turquoise, purple, green and blue with lighting conditions quite different depending upon the scenes – all making this one of the most ‘saturated’ movies you’ll ever see – its like someone exploded a paintbox.

There’s some creative stuff in here too – Hook’s gadgets, the aforementioned Smee coming up with the right gag at the right time, Hook himself doing away with a fairy watchmen, and a fun sequence in which Hook basically tries to ‘recruit’ Wendy to be a pirate (Isaacs and Wood play off each other better than her and Sumpter funnily enough).

Still, it’s not enough to breathe life into this imaginatively crafted yet still somewhat bland redux of the ‘Pan’ tale. For all its criticisms when it came out, Spielberg’s “Hook” at least felt like it was trying to recapture the magic and made one interested in learning more about the original story. There’s nothing new or special here we haven’t seen before, the gee whiz look of the expensive effects wears out quickly and the appeal is all too limited to the point non-toddlers will get bored easily.