It’s kind of surprising I didn’t see Peter Pan in theaters, especially considering at the time it came out I was in the middle of “Captain Hook”, a stage production that focused on the Peter Pan story from the pirate side. Instead I had to wait until Peter Pan was released on DVD to see it, and now I’m sorry I missed this wonderful adaptation of J.M. Barrie’s story on the big screen.
The story of Peter Pan has always fascinated me. I can remember reading the book as a teenager and thinking that it really wasn’t the children’s tale the Disney cartoon had made it to be. It was a much darker story, where pirates were brutal, fairies were mean (and even cursed), and Pan was more a rebellious anti-hero then a good guy. P.J. Hogan’s Peter Pan finally tells the story the way it should always be told, while keeping it somewhat safe for kids as well.
Everyone should be familiar with the story of Peter Pan so there’s not much point going into a long drawn out summary. It’s the story of the boy who wouldn’t grow up, and what happens when he brings an English girl to Neverland to be mother to himself and the Lost Boys. It’s the story of the battle between Pan and the nefarious Captain Hook. It’s a lot of stories, but what gets lost sometimes is that it’s really a parable for growing up. Wendy meets Peter when she’s told the time has come for her to be trained to become a proper English woman. Everything from that point on is really a metaphor for what we lose as children when the time comes for us to be an adult. Peter Pan is the eternal child, forever on that awkward cusp of puberty, but never crossing over the line. This movie completely and totally gets that aspect of the story, and does their best to bring it to the audience.
The decision to remain true to the story meant casting actual kids in the lead roles, basically trying to sell the film with unknown faces. To some degree they manage to pull it off. Rachel Hurd-Wood stands out among the young cast as Wendy. She completely captures the role: the awkwardness of falling in love for the first time, the proper English girl’s reaction to the chaos of Neverland, all of it is well personified by Hurd-Wood. Following her lead are Harry Newell and Freddie Popplewell as Wendy’s brothers John and Michael as well as a herd of Lost Boys, who provide much in the way of comic relief to the story. Unfortunately Peter Pan himself is somewhat of a weak note. Played by Jeremy Sumpter, I was unable to tell whether the character was weak because it’s a character who is a kid, or because Sumpter is just a kid and hasn’t developed much as an actor. It’s a shame to see other young characters played with deep emotion and Pan sit there rather bland. Sumpter manages to give the character a perpetual mischievous grin, but never really follows through with any emotion, save for showing sorrow and anger over Tinkerbell’s death.
Of course the cast couldn’t be completely full of unknowns, so to counter all the new faces director P.J. Hogan cast Jason Isaacs. Pulling double duty (the way the character was meant to be portrayed) Isaacs plays both father to Wendy as Mr. Darling, and villain to Pan as the evil Captain Hook. They are two very different and contrasting roles, and Isaacs knocks the socks of viewers in both roles. As Hook is dastardly and evil, Mr. Darling is a soft hearted man who only wants what’s best for his family. Isaacs manages to make you feel some response for both characters, a not so easy task. Isaacs isn’t the only adult to add emotion to the film though. Olivia Williams portrays Mrs. Darling’s longing for her missing children in a way that has never been shown before. Saffron Burrows narration helps move the film along with a nice touch. Finally Richard Briers’s Smee is a thing of beauty.
Holding true to the J.M. Barrie stage play and novel, Peter Pan drags a bit in places, but makes up for it with some spectacular visuals. Neverland truly is a place of wonder, and becomes even more so as Hogan makes the decision to tie Neverland directly to Peter Pan. When Pan returns to Neverland, flowers bloom and frozen waters thaw. When Pan is angry the land is angry, from choppy waters to stormy skies. It’s a very interesting approach that really makes the story work, and helps move through what could be very slow moments of the movie. James Newton Howard’s score also helps Neverland become a wondrous place, as important to the ears as the special effects are for our eyes.
Writer Director P.J. Hogan manages to make Neverland and the story of Peter Pan come alive, despite a somewhat listless portrayal of Pan and a story that isn’t always consistently paced. With fun special effects and the talent of Jason Isaacs, the story of the boy who wouldn’t grow up has never been told this well on film.
Peter Pan’s DVD release is also spectacular, despite missing many expected features such as a director’s commentary or trailers for the movie. The extras that are included are all fun and informative, although some could be a bit longer for my tastes.
Divided into five sections, you navigate to one of several key locations from the movie to watch the extras. For example, information about the pirates, Jason Isaacs home video footage, and the deleted pirate song are all found on the pirate ship. The alternate ending and deleted scenes for Mr. Darling are found in the Darling House. It’s a clever and fun way to organize the extras. Each “location” has one option that opens a short video of that location that shows the creation of the set and details you wouldn’t see in the film. This gives the viewer a quick behind the scenes look at the picture’s key locations.
The longest extra clocks in at around 10 minutes and is a behind the scenes look at the film hosted by Duchess Sarah Ferguson. I’m not entirely sure why she of all people hosts what is essentially a 10 minute commercial for the film, but she seems to be a good sport about it, proven by the inclusion of bloopers from the featurette.
Like the film, the best thing the extras have going for them is Jason Isaacs, who shot behind the scenes home video footage (although a lot of the footage is of him, which leads one to believe someone else must have shot that). Issacs is hilarious in this footage and interacts with other members of the cast, particularly the children, for a lot of fun. Although only one extra is advertised as being made up of this footage, after watching it it’s easy to see home video footage by/of Issacs in most of the other featurettes.
The rest of the features offer glimpses into other areas of the movie such as special effects, flying, and sword rehearsal. They are all interesting, but as I said before, far too short. I’d like to have seen a lot more, particularly on the special effects which really make the movie a success. With the exclusion of a director’s commentary, there’s just not enough information about the making of this movie.
Peter Pan is targeted at kids who will enjoy the basic story and adults, who will see the metaphor behind the story. The DVD seems to be built with that same idea in mind: extras that give a peek at behind the scenes, but are short enough for kids to enjoy without boring them or going on endlessly about special effects procedures. It’s a shame there isn’t more information there for adults who are interested in it, but sometimes you just have to take what you can get.