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One of the greatest children's films for adults of all time,
This review is from: Peter Pan (2003) [VHS] (VHS Tape)
I do not think that most kids can appreciate how great of a movie P.J. Hogan has made with this new version of "Peter Pan." However you really have to be familiar with not only all of the various versions of the story from Disney to Steven Spielberg but also J. M. Barrie's original plays and books to really appreciate everything that is in this movie. Hogan's purpose was to go back to that original material, but it is impossible not to touch upon everything that has come since then. My generation cannot hear the words "I do believe in fairies" without thinking of Mary Martin beckoning out from our television sets beseeching us to clap (or when Smee turns and gives an aside to the viewer).
On the one hand there are the fantastic elements as Peter Pan (Jeremy Sumpter) and the Darling children Wendy (Rachel Hurd-Wood), John (Harry Newell), and Michael (Freddie Popplewell) fly off to Never-Land. But this is a more realistic Never-Land than every before for all the wonderful computer generated images. More importantly, these are more realistic children than ever before. Peter Pan is the boy who will never grow up, but he is also on the cusp of puberty, as is Wendy. Into the Darling household comes Aunt Millicent (Lynn Redgrave), who insists that Wendy is not a girl anymore and while her father should start looking for marital prospects at the bank where he works, the more immediate goal is to move her out of the bedroom she shares with her brothers. When Peter Pan appears on the windowsill and requires his shadow to be sewn back onto this feet, Wendy not only does the sewing but accepts his offer to come to Never-Land because she too desperately wants to avoid growing up.
In this "Peter Pan" a kiss is more than just a thimble. This is not to suggest that there is a sexual element to these children or this film that parents need to worry about, but there is the potential for sexuality in Peter and Wendy. It is around the corner and that is important because there is a price to pay for never growing up, and never before has the tragic flip side of Peter Pan's joyful and magical existence been so obvious in telling this tale. Adults will recognize that period of their life it all it's metaphoric splendor in this film.
We also have the most realistic Captain Hook (Jason Issacs) of our acquaintance as well. Hogan continues the long-standing tradition of having the actor who plays Hook do double duty as Mr. Darling as well, but in this richer vision of the story they are as opposite as night and day. When this Hook crosses swords with Peter we know that they it might look like great fun, but these two are deadly serious about the final, fatal outcome. More importantly, when this Hook blusters and bellows he manages to do it without falling into parody. This is Hook as Barrie intended him to be, larger than life, but still a real figure.
Ultimately the power running throughout this story is the power of the story. The Lost Boys are despearate for a mother and to them Wendy can fulfill the role because she has what they consider to be the single requirement: she can tell stories. But there is another, more important requirement for a mother, and this film remembers that as well in the end when the Darling children return to their mother (Olivia Williams). I especially liked the way the film plays the beginning of the reunion of the scene, a nice underscoring of the idea that you can wish for something so hard that you do not notice when you have it.
This is a stunning visual film, but it is also a film of substance that mines Barrie's idea of the boy who would not grow up for everything it is worth. This "Peter Pan" has a depth greater than every all the other versions we have seen on the silver screen to date. This is a glorious film and even if few will really appreciate it the way it truly deserves, there is still the fact that just coming into contact with it will open the minds of its viewers to the greater realm of meaning and significance. Besides, there is always the possibility that somewhere down the road as they enjoy this beautiful film again and again, that eventually they will appreciate what it is all about.