Peter Pan (2003)

I’ve procrastinated about Pan for a week now. As one of the world’s few Hook fans, I’m somewhat of a nut where Peter is concerned. J.M. Barrie’s original novel is a special memory for me. Though there have been both good (Disney’s animated take), bad (Sandy Duncan anyone?), and wonderful (Hook is underrated) versions of it put on screen, none has really captured the real intent of the Barrie classic.

This latest version of the Pan mythos, from Director P.J. Hogan, is an ambitious attempt. Despite some genuinely original ideas brought into the retelling, this version falls short of anything special. For the most part, it sticks strictly to the time honored story we’re all familiar with: Pan (Jeremy Sumpter) at a windowsill, John (Harry Newell) and Michael Freddie Popplewell) in their beds, Peter loses his shadow and the kids wake up and the film drags for what seems an interminable amount of time while we tap our fingers waiting for the kids to get their butts into the sky.

Eventually they do, after some psychedelic in-nursery flying antics by Peter and a great deal of whining from Tink (Ludivine Sagnier), who for some reason has been transformed from a jealous fairy into a total bitch. You know the rest. Wendy (Rachel Hurd-Wood) and the boys land in Neverland. Indians, mermaids, and one-handed pirates ensue.

Where Hogan’s version really differs from the rest is in its attention to a burgeoning romance between a barely pre-pubescent Peter and soon to be woman Wendy. While that was always a lingering theme in Barrie’s vision, Hogan pushes it front and center, making it the only reason for his story’s existence. Where Barrie had kids clapping to bring Tink back to life as his story’s dramatic climax, Hogan has resorted to French kissing as a means to resurrect heroes. That’s not really as bad as it sounds. The dynamic between Peter and Wendy is an interesting one, as is Hogan’s nearly successful attempt to understand what it’s like, taking that step from childhood into the first blooms of adulthood… a world where girls are no longer icky.

Things only get problematic because his quest for Peter/Wendy romance tends to so badly overshadow everything else in the movie. Romance is fine, but what about some of the other characters? The Lost Boys get cast to the wayside, as does just about everyone else in the film except Captain Hook (Jason Isaacs), who plays his own weird, slightly disturbing role in what is nearly a Peter/Wendy/Hook love triangle.

The weirdness of Hook’s relationship with Wendy is not however, Jason Isaacs’ fault. He does a fantastic job of giving the character to life. So good is his portrayal that I can nearly forgive his flying. Yes, the codfish flies. It’s dismally disappointing, and horribly ill-conceived, just as you might expect it be. But you can’t blame Jason Isaacs. I choose to pretend they slipped a wire on his belt while he was hanging out at a snack tray and that once he was in the air he had no choice but to go along with it.

What ought to work best in Peter Pan are the visuals, since the original movie stills we saw had a dark and unequaled flair. In the movie, a lot of that is still there, and much of it is indeed quite beautiful. But it suffers from a lot of bad visual choices, like vampire mermaids and yes… flying through the solar system, jumping to light speed and then ending up in Neverland. I think someone took, “second star to the right, and straight on till morning,” too literally.

Hogan’s take isn’t a total failure. It’s ambitious and at times even original. It’s even a bit refreshing in the way it captures the total terror and confusion of approaching puberty in pre-teenagers. But in the process it loses a lot of the magic and wonder that made the story so appealing to begin with. Under those ho-hum circumstances, Jeremy Sumpter is only a passable Peter. His character, much like the movie, lacks the requisite cockiness that’s a bare minimum for a decent Pan. This Peter Pan could use a little more fairy dust.

In the meantime, I’ll be holding out for someone, someday, to step up and do something totally audacious with this property, instead of just poking it with a big director’s stick. Give me something dark and gritty, or give me something full of wonder and life. Don’t get caught somewhere in the middle, wandering around Neverland without a fairy guide.