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Peter Pan (***)
Directed by P.J. Hogan
Written by P.J. Hogan and Michael Goldenberg, based on the play and books by Sir James Barrie
Peter Pan
Principal Cast
Jason Isaacs -- Mr. Darling/Captain Hook
Jeremy Sumpter -- Peter Pan
Rachel Hurd-Wood -- Wendy Darling
Lynn Redgrave -- Aunt Millicent
Richard Briers -- Smee
Olivia Williams -- Mrs. Darling
Geoffrey Palmer -- Sir Edward Quiller Couch
Harry Newell -- John Darling
Freddie Popplewell -- Michael Darling
Ludivine Sagnier -- Tink
Ratings
Ratings are based on Rick's four star system.
One star - the commercials are more entertaining than the viewing.
Two stars - watch if you have nothing better to do.
Three stars - good solid entertainment.
Four stars - you never dreamed viewing could be this good.
Past Feature Reviews
A review by Rick Norwood

This film version of Peter Pan is not really a three star film. It is, rather, a few four star moments embedded in an ugly two star setting. It is impossible to film Peter Pan so badly that the audience does not shed more real tears than they did watching The Return of the King.

"Can anything harm us, mother, after the night-lights are lit?"

"Nothing, precious, they are the eyes a mother leaves behind her, to guard her children."

It is also impossible to film Peter Pan well. Like Tom Sawyer, Peter Pan is so politically incorrect that anyone who dared make a film true to the book would be tarred and feathered and run out of town on a rail. And so, in this Peter Pan, in the interests of political correctness, Peter acknowledges from the first that girls are smarter and stronger than boys, all Native Americans possess wisdom greater than any white man, and the many things we call love -- the love of a man for a woman, the love of a mother for a child, the love of God that passeth all understanding -- all human loves can be fitted into nice, Freudian compartments and assigned numbers by the American Psychiatric Association, and there is never, never any blurring around the edges.

Sir James Barrie -- knight, playwright, and pederast -- blurred the edges. In the movie, Peter loves Wendy. In the original, Peter loves Tinkerbell -- but quickly forgets her when she dies. Really, he only loves himself. The idea that twelve-year-old boys fall in love with twelve-year-old girls is sentimental Hollywood hokum. It never happens outside of movies.

Peter Pan is still popular as a stage play -- it returns to Broadway every few years, and is a favorite of high-school theater. Everybody gets to try the flying rig after the last performance. Songs by a variety of composers have been added to the play. The good songs, especially "I've Gotta Crow," almost make up for the bad (Uga-wug Uga-wug Uga-wug Waah!). This new film version is not a musical, although some of Sir James Barrie's original music is used. Hook, improbably, plays one piece two-handed. There is also a snatch of music by Sir Arthur Sullivan.

But the best parts of the play are missing in all the movies. Hook's great soliloquy, "No little children love me...," has been left out. Sir James could write! "Of course the Neverlands vary a good deal. John's, for instance, had a lagoon with flamingos flying over it at which John was shooting, while Michael, who was very small, had a flamingo with lagoons flying over it." I recommend to you some of Barrie's other plays. Dear Brutus is my favorite. Barrie's charming female characters remind me of similar characters in the work of Edger Pangborn.

To say that there are problems with Barrie's work is to state the obvious. The Victorian Era, famous for its prudishness, was paradoxically tolerant of Barrie's interest in little boys, as it was of Lewis Carroll's interest in little girls. These days, Barrie and Carroll would be in jail. Can great art excuse great crimes? William Faulkner said, "'The Ode to a Grecian Urn' is worth any number of old ladies." Is Peter Pan worth the life of a child? One of the children Sir James Barrie adopted killed himself. Can you make up for doing evil by doing good? Hundreds of children's lives have been saved by Barrie's bequest of all royalties from Peter Pan to the Great Ormond Street Hospital for Sick Children.

When the film uses dialogue from the play or from the book -- and the film quotes the book a good deal -- the dialogue sparkles. Unfortunately most of the dialogue written especially for the film is leaden.

"Do you believe in fairies?" Barrie wanted a resounding, "Yes!" and during his lifetime he got it. Remember that rational adults, the most famous example is Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, believed in fairies in those days. No more. Tinkerbell's death scene is difficult to stage today. It asks the audience to pretend to believe. The movie gets this scene right.

A few, a very few, of the scenes created for the movie are interesting. The episode where Wendy quits the Lost Boys and joins Hook actually works, thanks to a remarkable actress and actor. But most of the film plods and parts are offensive -- the cowardly begging of Michael and John at Hook's feet, for example.

So, while the film has its moments, it is ultimately no more successful than any of the many other failed attempts to film what cannot be filmed. See the play. Read the book.

Copyright © 2004 Rick Norwood

Rick Norwood is a mathematician and writer whose small press publishing house, Manuscript Press, has published books by Hal Clement, R.A. Lafferty, and Hal Foster. He is also the editor of Comics Revue Monthly, which publishes such classic comic strips as Flash Gordon, Sky Masters, Modesty Blaise, Tarzan, Odd Bodkins, Casey Ruggles, The Phantom, Gasoline Alley, Krazy Kat, Alley Oop, Little Orphan Annie, Barnaby, Buz Sawyer, and Steve Canyon.


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