starring Rachel Hurd-Wood, Jason Isaacs and Jeremy Sumpter
4 1/2 stars
review by Stephen Notley
Peter Pan is completely gay. And by "gay", I mean "happy and full of fun; bright-colored; showy; fond of pleasures". By "gay" I mean "good". And Peter Pan *is* good, really good, almost startlingly good.
We all know Peter Pan… sorta. Maybe we read the book or had it read to us a long time ago, maybe we saw the Disney movie a while back or remember clips from it, maybe we saw Hook and kinda worked backwards from there. We know Peter Pan is the boy who flies around, and there's a girl named Wendy and a fairy named Tinkerbell, and they go to Never-Never Land and fight Captain Hook and there's a crocodile.
What we may not recall is that Peter Pan is an achingly honest and bittersweet tale of the transition between childhood and adulthood, the stubborn resistance of innocence and the strange rewards of growing up. To be a child is to be carefree, to have adventures, to fight pirates and be brave and fly in the world of pretend, while to be a grown-up is to be old, to "put away many dreams", to not believe in make-believe. Why would anyone ever want to grow up? Director and screenwriter P. J. Hogan, who did wedding movies My Best Friend's and Muriel's, and who seems to be making this movie from another universe than ironical 2003 Hollywood, knows why, sees the story, gives it life on screen.
It's been a while since I've read the book, so I can't say how faithful the adaptation is, but I can say this: it sure *feels* faithful. Maybe it's the attention to the text, the willingness to quote, from the opening placard that tells us "All children grow up… except one" to small moments of narration perfectly matched to image like "There, hidden in the right-hand corner of her mother's mouth… a secret kiss." For all the visual splendor there's a constant attention to the magic of words, how they can make us feel.
And there is visual splendor. Yes, this movie is gaily free with its special effects, splashing them in starbursts of color across the screen. But the effects aren't heavy or leaden or pointless like we're used to in films such as The Cat in the Hat or, god help us, Hook; instead they're light, frothy, unashamed, as though springing from a child's imagination. We zoom off towards the second star on the right, punching through the atmosphere into a kid's imagining of space, wheeling and tumbling with stars and planets, or we watch Captain Hook from atop clouds made of real fluffy cotton, or we spin and zip through the air with Tink, showered with fairy dust.
But Hogan never forgets the real magic is the cast, and it's a wonder. Rachel Hurd-Wood debuts in this movie as Wendy. She is, it must be said, achingly beautiful. Not hot, not sexy; she's "not yet thirteen". But she's a lovely girl a heartbeat from becoming a lovely woman, much like Natalie Portman in Beautiful Girls, and she's the perfect Wendy, telling scary pirate stories, flirting impishly with Pan, whispering between child and grown-up with flawless grace.
Jeremy Sumpter, another relative unknown, makes for a fantastic Pan, the ultimate little boy of the snips-n-snails variety, smiling, cocky, brave, boasting "the cleverness of me!" when he finally reattaches his wayward shadow. He is full of fun and boyish charm, brave when fighting pirates but scared of feelings, at once confident and bewildered and ultimately left behind as the boy who can not, *will not*, grow up.
And then there's Jason Isaacs as Wendy's Dad/Captain Hook. He's not an enormously well-known actor; his biggest role was as the English captain who committed the Nazi war atrocity in Mel Gibson's The Patriot. Here, though, he's dead on, seamlessly integrating the stern, grown-up father with the guile and temptation of Hook. And while we're at it, Olivia Williams (of Rushmore) is quietly beautiful and arresting as Mrs. Darling who insists "the window must always be left open" in case her children ever return.
I admit it: I cried at this movie. Perhaps Return of the King has left me such an emotional spongebag that I'll give it up for anything, but I don't think so. I'm pretty sure this is a damn good movie. It puts paid to the notion that a movie for kids always has to be a clanging cacophony of noise and color and shitty ironic jokes; it can be sweet and simple and true, and still have wild special effects. If you've got kids, God, take them, and even if you don't, check it out anyway.