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PETER PAN, 2003
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PETER PAN,  MOVIE POSTERPETER MAN, 2003
Movie Reviews

Directed by P.J. Hogan

Cast: Jason Isaacs, Jeremy Sumpter, Rachel Hurd-Wood, Lynn Redgrave, Richard Briers, Olivia Williams
Review by Jane Hopkins


SYNOPSIS:

The Darling family children receive a visit from Peter Pan, who takes them to Never Never Land where an ongoing war with the evil Pirate Captain Hook is taking place.

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REVIEW:

J. M. Barrie’s “Peter Pan” has been retold many times in various ways. Starting out as a short story, it was next adapted for the stage, and later into a novel. It has inspired several film adaptations, from the animated Disney version to the 1990 sequel “Hook.” Yet the original story has probably never received a more satisfying treatment than P. J. Morgan’s 2003 version. This adaptation focuses on the relationship between Wendy and Peter, playing up the adolescent yearnings they have for one another. It also tackles the anxieties the children have about growing up, in a way to which we can all probably relate.

The movie opens with our heroine Wendy and her younger brothers John and Michael. The three siblings amuse themselves with tales of pirates, but as Wendy grows older, her parents and aunt fear she will soon have to outgrow these games. Just when Wendy is under the most pressure to abandon her childhood, she encounters a figure right out of a storybook: Peter Pan, a boy who simply refuses to grow up. Lured by the promise that they too can have an everlasting childhood, the Darling children accompany Peter to Neverland. Of course, they soon learn that life there is not really all fun and games.

Morgan’s version of “Peter Pan” is remarkable in that the title character is actually played by a boy of the right age. Jeremy Sumpter portrays Peter with an impish sense of fun, but understands that the character is also a warrior with quite the mean streak. Rachel Hurd-Wood makes a spirited Wendy, and her chemistry with Sumpter is charming. The “fairy dance” scene, in which they struggle to figure out their feelings for each other, is particularly lovely. Harry Newell and Freddy Popplewell are appealing as John and Michael respectively, and the Lost Boys are all excellent (Theodore Chester is especially endearing as Slightly). As the only other young girl in the cast, Carsen Gray has a small but memorable role as the feisty Tiger Lily.

The adults in the cast also do a marvellous job. Olivia Williams shines quietly as Mrs. Darling, while Lynn Redgrave provides some lovely comic relief as stuffy Aunt Millicent. Richard Briers plays the long-suffering Smee, who as always seems too mild-mannered for a bloodthirsty pirate. Jason Isaacs plays both Mr. Darling and Captain Hook, a device frequently used in stage productions of “Peter Pan.” Isaacs’ portrayal is multi-faceted, touching on the humorous aspects of the character while still making him genuinely dangerous. As civilized as Hook appears, it seems there’s nobody he won’t kill, from children to fairies to his own crewmembers. Of course, we can also see that Hook is absolutely miserable, and although this isn’t exactly played for sympathy, it certainly adds some depth to the character. This movie also puts an interesting spin on Wendy’s perception of Hook: although it’s played very subtly, she seems to have a bit of a crush on him. This leads to an interesting internal conflict for Wendy; in choosing to side with Peter or with Hook, she’s choosing whether or not to cross over into adulthood.

In a category of her own, we have Ludivine Sagnier as an especially mischievous Tinkerbell. Sagnier displays an impressive talent for physical comedy, and her antics are the comic highlight of the movie. She has no lines, but her expressive face makes dialogue unnecessary.

The visual effects have a very fitting “fairytale” look, from the candy-floss clouds to the flying Jolly Roger. The flying effects are excellent; after a while, you forget it’s an effect. As far as creatures go, there’s the infamous giant crocodile, not to mention something you’re not likely to find in any other movie: scary mermaids. There’s also what must be the world’s most tragic-looking parrot, a rickety old thing that unwisely tangles with Tink.

James Newton Howard’s score is adventurous and stirring, especially in the “I do believe in fairies” scene.

The overall tone of “Peter Pan” is bittersweet. There is always the sense that the fun can’t last forever. On the one hand, we recognize the inevitability of growing up and facing the “real” world, but we also long for the fantasy Neverland represents. “Peter Pan” reminds us that even though we all have to grow up, we don’t have to lose our enthusiasm for life.

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