As far as we know, one characteristic that makes us different from other species is storytelling. We enjoy stories and everybody has their favorite type. There are people who like mysteries for some reason, while others love romances. Many industries are devoted to storytelling because of the high demand. Stories are a necessity as much as food, water, air, and shelter. One huge plus for those industries is that there are always new audiences being created to hear the old stories and new people coming along to re-interpret them. That’s why there are so many versions of Romeo and Juliet, Frankenstein, and Peter Pan.
The story of Peter, Wendy, and their adventures in Neverland is one of those fairy tales in which everyone knows the basics, but very few people, myself included, have ever read the original book. It has been told numerous times over the years in many variations, so I won’t rehash the plot. Like all the good fairy tales it has something for everyone: adventure for boys and for girls a tinge of romance and some girl power. One positive factor for the film was that in going back to the book there were many elements of the story brought forth that I didn’t know. I became more engaged with the movie as a result because I wasn’t always sure where the plot would turn next. My last contact with the story was the ride at Disneyland a few years ago and they just skim the plot.
P.J. Hogan’s version seems better suited for grown-ups than for kids, but the best children’s stories usually are, although my observation might be more of a commentary on the current state of movies for children. I don’t remember too many fart jokes in Peter Pan, which seems to be the apex of current family comedies. I’m sure children will be able to enjoy this swashbuckling adventure, but the themes and some other elements of the story would only be understood and appreciated by an older viewer. It certainly isn’t an accident that Capt. Hook and Mr. Darling are played by the same actor, but the reasons why are probably lost on children.
Speaking of the acting, Jason Isaacs does a masterful job portraying the meek father Mr. Darling and the villainous Captain Hook. Even though Hook has splendid costumes compared to the drab clothing of Mr. Darling, the choices Isaacs makes with his voice and gestures are the real difference. Rachael Hurd-Wood does a wonderful job as Wendy, who has a wide range of emotions throughout the story. She has to be a mother to the Lost Boys, has her first crush on Peter, and has to not be scared when she becomes Red-Handed Jill the pirate. Jeremy Sumpter as Peter Pan was adequate, but he is certainly outshined when he shares the screen with the aforementioned actors.
The production design team does an amazing job creating turn-of-the-century London and Neverland. This film would make a great coffee table book. When Wendy and her brothers first get to Neverland, they spy Captain Hook while riding atop pink clouds that appear to be made out of cotton candy. This scene and most of the skylines have the look of Maxfield Parrish illustrations with very rich, vibrant hues. The Black Castle has a magnificent, scary appearance and it was a great setting for a sword fight between Peter and Hook. The Underground Home of the Lost Boys amidst the Neverland jungle is the clubhouse every young boy dreams about when they think of running away from home. If it had TV and a fridge, older boys would desire it as well.
Although I feel adults will get more enjoyment out of this version of Peter Pan, let’s check in with the kids to get their reaction since the film was certainly marketed to them. These comments were taken shortly after viewing the film, about an hour later.
According to 10-year-old Mono Sobrina, she thought Peter Pan was funny and had a lot of action in it. She liked the way that they used Hook in the movie to be so mean. When asked about her favorite scenes, she provided me with a litany. They included the part where Peter flew into the window and said, “Hello,” to Wendy at the beginning, when Wendy gave him the thimble, which she called a “kiss,” and then a later scene where they kissed and Peter screamed and turned pink. Aside from the romance, she also liked the action during Neverland. The scenes she highlighted were when the Lost Boys and Wendy were attacking the pirates, when Hook threatened Wendy to learn how he could fly, and also, the scene where Hook traps Tinkerbell inside the chest.
The only negative comment she had was that she didn’t like it when Tinkerbell died because some people might believe in fairies and it might make them sad. She would recommend it because it was funny and it seems like it was real. She liked this version over Disney’s because it looked more realistic.
Four-and-a-half-year-old Sobrino Poco Loco didn’t want to discuss the film at first because he wanted to play. Eventually, I coerced an opinion out of him because the kid has to learn, even at this age, that there is no free lunch or movie. He said he liked it, all the parts. Specifically, he liked the part where the crocodile comes because he looks so cool and him pretty mean, but nice to Peter Pan. He liked it because Peter Pan didn’t get killed. I’ll have to make sure not to take him to Hamlet.
He liked the scenes where they go to the Black Castle and also the mermaids because they were cool and scary. When asked about a comparison, he thought the Disney version was better because they do different moments and then he said something about the mermaids talking, which they don’t do in the current film. Overall, he thought the movie had nice parts yet found it kind of boring. I noticed that within a matter of minutes he changed his mind about liking “all” the parts. When he was asked to elaborate, he didn’t remember what he thought was boring. I saw him yawn a few times in the theater, so I can attest to the fact that occasionally he was bored but it was infrequently.
When asked if he would recommend Peter Pan, he said he would tell people not see it because it would be funny to tell them not to go. I doubt that Universal gets his sense of humor. He thought it was kinda of scary but you can see it. He then followed up with this qualifier: “Only little kids can see it because they are nice and big kids are bad,” which means he learned some warped message from the film or that the bigger kids at school are being mean to him.
In conclusion, Peter Pan (2003) is a good family film. It has elements both adults and children can enjoy, but it might be too slow for the under-seven set. It’s not a definitive version of the tale, but it has more depth than the well-known Disney version and might draw interest in reading the novel. That is always a good thing.