J Hogan, 2003, UK/USA, 143 mins
Jason Issacs, Jeremy Sumpter, Rachel Hurd-Wood, Lynn Redgrave, Richard Briers, Olivia Williams, Ludivine Sagnier
A lasting tale of adventure, discovery and dreams, Peter Pan has thrilled audiences around the world since it premiered on a London stage 100 years ago. J. M. Barrie's classic story of the boy who wouldn't grow up has had many popular incarnations over the years, but has never been fully realized on-screen.
Until now. Focusing on capturing the essence of a great writer's work, with a hearty appetite for adventure and the modern magic of visual effects, writer-director P. J. Hogan (My Best Friend's Wedding) and producers Lucy Fisher and Douglas Wick (Gladiator, Stuart Little) have brought all the wonder, danger and excitement of Barrie's original vision to the screen in the first live-action feature film version of Peter Pan since the silent era.
The story begins on a chilly night in Edwardian London as Wendy Darling (Rachel Hurd-Wood) mesmerizes her younger brothers with tales of swordplay, swashbuckling and Captain Hook, the legendary pirate who fears nothing but a ticking clock. But a clock is ticking for Wendy, too. Her father has decreed that it's time for her to grow up. After tonight, no more stories. She's to be groomed for womanhood and marriage by strict Aunt Millicent (Lynn Redgrave).
Unknown to the Darlings, Peter Pan loves Wendy's stories, too, and travels a great distance to hear them. His appearance in their nursery that night, along with a jealous little fairy called Tinker Bell (Ludivine Sagnier), triggers a big adventure for Wendy and her brothers. Following him out the window, the children swoop over London's moonlit rooftops, through a galaxy of radiant planets and stars, to the magical Neverland, where they begin an exhilarating new life free of grown-up rules with Peter and the Lost Boys in their secret underground home. Confronting depraved pirates, malicious mermaids, a monstrous crocodile and, worst of all, the vicious steel claw dangling from Hook's right arm, Wendy and her brothers find out what they're made of. And the ongoing battle between Peter and Hook escalates to a thrilling climax, played out against the fantastical backdrop of the enchanted world of Neverland.
A beguiling quality ripples through Peter Pan. Are we meant to imagine that the Darling children actually stepped off their window ledge and flew to Neverland one night when their father had been especially stern? Or should we instead assume that Wendy bid her childhood a poignant farewell with a fantastic dream on her last night in the nursery? Either scenario offers audiences an awfully big adventure with a cast that contrasts veteran character actors at the peak of their craft with remarkable break-out talent and a number of brand-new discoveries. Rachel Hurd-Wood, discovered at an open casting call in London, makes an assured and impressive screen debut as Wendy. And for the first time, a boy - Jeremy Sumpter Frailty- stars in the title role, opposite Jason Isaacs (The Patriot, Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets) as Mr Darling and Captain James Hook.
P. J. Hogan co-wrote Peter Pan with Michael Goldenberg (Contact) and was intent on remaining true to the spirit of Barrie's original work. Filming in his native Australia, Hogan collaborated with world-renowned behind-the-scenes artists where a calibrated balance between the magic of storytelling and the magic of effects was always the mandate. The contrast between the story's two worlds - prim Edwardian London and larger-than-life Neverland - is sharply drawn. The city's gray, cold formality melts from the children's memories as soon as they breathe in Neverland's surreal jungles.
"The book is amazing - dense and full of great characters and marvelous moments. You get the feeling that J. M. Barrie put everything that ever occurred to him in it," Hogan observed. "And the play is so different from what I remembered - the story is strong, filled with adventure and action, and very funny, but also very, very moving. What drew me to making the film was realizing it had not been done. Yes, it's literally been filmed, but the full story hadn't been done. There were wonderful things that had not been put on-screen before."
"Peter Pan is not just about kids having an adventure and playing with fairies," Fisher emphasized. "The actual Barrie material, while completely accessible to children, also has a depth and mystery to it, which is why I think it has sustained for so long. The myths that sustain themselves are the ones in which people face fear and come through it. "
"One of the great ambitions from the very beginning was to give the audience the pleasure of letting it seem true, letting us all really go to Neverland, letting us inhabit a real version of a fantasy place," said producer Douglas Wick. "We knew that with today's technology we could create that kind of strange reality in a way that's never been possible before.
Technologically, the time has never been better to tell this story on screen. Philosophically, the world's need to dream, imagine and believe, as Peter Pan urges us to do, is greater than ever. Much more than romantic nostalgia or a simple bedtime story, it springs from a fantasy of flight and adventure that is both universal and timeless.