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Peter Pan (2003)
Director: P.J. Hogan

review by Amy Harlib

Australian-born director P.J. Hogan, noted for his contemporary comedies (My Best Friend's Wedding and Unconditional Love, among others), tries his hand at fantasy to great success, bringing a character-driven sensibility to a refreshing live-action version of the classic story Peter Pan. Hogan's co-scripted (with Michael Goldberg) adaptation of J.M. Barrie's Edwardian opus - highly successful and beloved in book form and as a stage play first produced in 1924 - comes closer to the original source material than nearly any other of the numerous theatrical and cinematic interpretations, especially the well-known musicals and the 1953 Disney animation (also a musical). Taking advantage of the latest CGI technology, Hogan uses it to make the fantastic elements of the beloved story of the boy who never grew up, dazzlingly believable.
   This most recent and Barrie-esque Peter Pan, begins in Edwardian London and focuses on three pre-adolescent, lively and bright siblings, offspring of a well-to-do, mild-mannered banker, Mr Darling (Jason Isaacs) and his devoted wife (Olivia Williams). These children: Wendy (an amazing debut by 13-year-old Rachel Hurd-Wood) and her younger brothers John (Harry Newell) and Michael (Freddie Popplewell), love to boisterously romp and play 'let's pretend' games about being pirates or American Indians, activity followed by the boys enjoyment of Wendy's storytelling in which she embellishes familiar fairy tales. Wendy, rapidly maturing, begins to get pressured to grow up by a newly invented character created for this film and who fits seamlessly into the narrative - a certain Aunt Millicent (Lynn Redgrave), an elegant dowager planning to transform Wendy into a refined and proper young woman worthy of note in society.
   Life takes an unexpected turn when the eponymous flying boy (another remarkable debut performance by 14-year-old Jeremy Sumpter), with an unruly shadow and with a saucy, rambunctious, diminutive fairy named Tinkerbell (Ludivine Sagnier) for a sidekick, make their presence known after they had spent some time secretly hovering outside the window, listening to Wendy's yarn-spinning. Peter offers to take Wendy and her brothers to his otherworldly home Neverland where children never grow up and adventures with pirates, Indians, mermaids and fairies are the order of the day and where Wendy's stories will be sure to delight the Lost Boys, a small group of rescued orphans who, though uncivilised, look up to Peter as their leader.
The Jolly Roger
By thinking happy thoughts and applying copious sprinkles of Tinkerbell's fairy dust, the Darling youngsters fly with Peter to Neverland past the second star to the right and straight on till morning, in a glorious spacey sequence. At their destination in the lush, exotically blooming environs, the new arrivals encounter all the marvels the could have hoped for, most notably Indian Princess Tiger Lily (Carson Gray) and her people, at last given the dignity they deserve. The protagonists also have to cope repeatedly with the villainous pirate Captain James Hook (Jason Isaacs again in a superb double role), his rowdy crew and their hilarious mascot, a digital, peg-legged parrot - on shore and on their impressive galleon The Jolly Roger.
   Complications ensue when the Darling trio get caught up in an ongoing conflict between Peter and Captain Hook and the adventures get downright dangerous. Also, when John and Michael start to forget their former life and their parents, Wendy decides they'd be better off to return home. Tinkerbell's jealousy of Wendy causes more trouble, especially when the pirate antagonist gets involved, actions which the sprite fortunately comes to regret and tries to put right in a powerful and effective part of the climax. This denouement also includes Captain Hook's capture of Wendy, her siblings and the Lost Boys to use as bait to lure Peter into a trap in which he could be defeated at long last.
   Throughout the above-mentioned events, Peter's "strange feelings" towards Wendy, and Wendy responding likewise in a flowering of innocent first love, adds much depth and motivation to the characters who portray these emotions beautifully, especially when Wendy realises that their relationship can never mature - a bittersweet insight. Besides this tastefully understated, subtly played serious undertone, the film Peter Pan brims with humour and excitement, witty dialogue and magical adventure including plenty of swashbuckling swordplay (frequently cleverly airborne!) for Peter and Captain Hook and, glory be, a bit for Wendy too.
   Much wonderment and amusement gets added with Tinkerbell's expressive miming and gestures with amazing special effects making her portrayer seem tiny and yet very real. Jason Isaacs, resplendent in 17th century style garb, brings a delightfully wicked, dashing flair to Captain Hook, and adds enough dimension to his role that he arouses some sympathy despite his callous cruelty 'blowing away' displeasing crewmen and when meeting his ultimate fate. It takes impressive acting to pull off a dual part of two such opposite personas - Isaacs' stuffy, reserved banker father equally well done.
Captain Hook
The film dazzles with visual splendour - starting with the recreated Edwardian city-scapes and followed by the cosmic journey to Neverland and the fanciful, tropically bucolic environs of same. More wonder comes from overall production design; costuming; make-up; plus superb CGI and live-action blends (the flying worked particularly well). Still more treats include: a scary giant crocodile ceaselessly hunting Captain Hook, hungry for the rest of the sought after prey having already eaten the missing hand; the pirate chief's motley, colourful crew with a vivid first-mate Smee (Richard Briers) and with members of African heritage; Tinkerbell's antics and those of her kindred; and the protagonist children sailing home on The Jolly Roger airborne aided by glowing fairy dust and soaring through the clouds past Big Ben. Animal lovers will be pleased to take note of the charming Saint Bernard 'nursemaid' Nana, so lovable even when her canine klutziness causes awkward incidents.
   Many memorable cinematic, spine-tingling moments occur in this most recent version of Peter Pan, with James Newton Howard's lush, symphonic score contributing greatly to the atmosphere. This film makes a familiar tale seem fresh and new, offering enchanting, charming entertainment for adults and young ones alike - an exhilarating and joyous journey to this Neverland that deserves to be wildly experienced.
Peter Pan

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