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IN SHORT: Not for single digits but preteen boys will eat it up. That includes all the grown boys with a still functioning "inner child". [Rated PG for adventure action sequences and peril. 113 minutes]
Put Disney out of your brain. That's harder to do than it sounds but, if you can't reset before you begin, there will be moments in this version of Peter Pan that will throw you. Sure, Peter Pan and Captain Hook still carry on like a good guy versus a bad guy, but this Captain Hook, who still carries a sword and a brace of pistols, likes using them. This Captain Hook does not stomach stupidity and he certainly doesn't seem all that concerned when he blows away members of his crew.
That being said, somewhere down the line this Peter Pan is going to be the subject of numerous psychological analysis papers because if ever there was a film that better showed Jung's "inner child" and the adult suppression of such, this is it. Even the recreation of the turn of the century city looks almost dreamlike and unreal. Now that we've gotten that out of the way, this Peter Pan is a stunning picture, just the kind of thing that would have our eyes bursting out of their sockets back in the days of comic books and bubblegum breakfasts.
The London we see looks both realistic and yet somewhat unreal. The world, the age of the novels written by JM Barrie is that twilight of the nineteenth century -- an Edwardian London lit by candles and gas lamps instead of electricity, vital communications carried by messenger in a time before telephone wires have crisscrossed the city, women and men growing into a specified order and place. Here we meet the Darling Family. Eldest daughter Wendy (Rachel Hurd-Wood) and brothers Michael (Freddie Popplewell) and John (Harry Newell). Also the dog Nanna, who watches over the sole bedroom in which the three sleep.
Outside the bedroom window, someone else watches, and listens to the wonderful stories Wendy tells to her brothers.
George Darling (Jason Isaacs) works at the bank but hasn't done much to work his way up the corporate ladder. Mom (Olivia Williams) is devoted to her husband and children but Aunt Millicent (Lynn Redgrave) knows the ways of high society and is determined to give George the necessary pushes in the right direction. George is willing but, to be honest, completely incompetent at ladder climbing. Millicent means well but her efforts inadvertently emasculate Wendy's father. It is Millicent who insists that Wendy needs her own room; that she cease playing in the reckless ways that boys do. It is Millicent who insists that a girl must not play at manly occupations like Pirate or Indian Fighter -- Wendy is good with a fake sword, to battle pirates, and can hold her own against any imaginary indian attack, too -- and that Wendy must begin her training in the ways of becoming a high society woman. She is, after all, thirteen. It is time to grow up.
But before order can be imposed, into Wendy's life flies the perfect boy, Peter Pan (Jeremy Sumpter), masculine but beautiful in a way that borders on feminine; filled with energy and doer of good things in a never ending battle against the evil pirate captain James Hook (Jason Isaacs), whose ship the Jolly Roger is stuck in the seas near Neverland. Peter leads a band of runaway boys and Wendy, it seems, would be a perfect mom for his crew. If he can get her to fly away with him. Flight, by the way, comes courtesy of Tinkerbell (Ludivine Sagnier), a faerie creature almost always at Peter's side.
Even before Wendy meets Peter, the lad's impulsiveness works against him. Nanna senses the intruder and traps his shadow in a drawer. Tinkerbell can't rescue half her friend and, eventually, she will be trapped even as the shadow and Peter are reunited thanks to Wendy's skilled use of a needle and thread. When offered the chance to fly away, Wendy asks if her brothers can come along. Told yes, after some obvious surprise and shock, a sprinkle of faerie dust from a less than thrilled Tinkerbell sends the foursome out into the night sky. Up up and away beyond the orbits of planets not even seen with a telescope. Linking hand to ankles in a human chain, Peter tells his new friends not to let go and whoosh!
Next stop Neverland, a place in which all the games of childhood become reality, where Wendy and her perfect match Peter will have the opportunity to rule the roost as Mom and Dad. It is not the marriage that her parents will eventually arrange for her but rather Wendy's ideal match in a world where she does not have to repress her independent streak (or what would come to be called, in eighty or ninety years, her feminist tendency. It is a world where she is happiest, where Peter and his Lost Boys - all runaways, as Wendy and Michael and John now are - engage in real life battle with Princess Tiger Lilly (Carsen Gray) and her Indians and are always on guard for the murderous pirates of the Jolly Roger, led by Captain Hook and, more often than not, mislaid by Hook's First Mate, Smee (Richard Briers).
Peter Pan is a neverending battle in a neverending story, perfect for the pulp novels of the nineteenth century or the comics of the twentieth. The introduction of a feminine element to the context throws everything out of whack. While Hook does his pirate thing, holding Wendy and her brothers hostage and threatening them to lure Peter into battle, the grownup also realizes that any attraction between the near-teenagers will trigger Peter's genetics and force him to grow up. Once the boy Peter is gone, the man Hook will have won. He will have forced the destruction of freewheeling childhood...
Unless Tinkerbell destroys it first. We enjoyed this Peter Pan tremendously. Not only for the murderous humor of Hook but for the rampant jealously expressed by a very frustrated Tinkerbell. We weren't kidding about the psychological stuff. This film is drowning in it. Ignore it and put any old songs from your childhood out of your mind and wait for the most important question to be answered: How are you going to save Tinkerbell from death when there's no audience to clap and cheer her back to life?
On average, a first run movie ticket will run you Ten Bucks. Were Cranky able to set his own price to Peter Pan, he would have paid . . .
While this Pan is not as single digit friendly as either of the other live productions (let us not forget Mary Martin or Sandy Duncan) that are probably flopping around the rental world, this Peter Pan is by far the most beautiful and wondrous film of them all.
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