6 January 2004 | GulyJimson
A glorious retelling of the J.M. Barrie tale
Tradition be damned! I HATED the Mary Martin, Sandy Duncan, Cathy Rigby productions of Peter Pan! There, I've said it. I realize I'm in the minority on this point, but I have NEVER been able to accept the idea of some actress dressing up in silly green tights, singing equally silly songs, while pretending to be a prepubescent boy pretending to fly on silly piano wires. I fully admit that it's a pet peeve of mine and not meant to denigrate those who have delighted in this tradition. As a long time lover of the J.M. Barrie stories and play, all I can say is that P.J. Hogan's "Peter Pan" is the Pan movie I have waited my entire life for. It is simply a glorious retelling of the J.M. Barrie tale. After Spielberg's dreadful 1991 abortion, "Hook" I was convinced that the story had been buried forever as far as big budget film-making was concerned. I thought all there would be was the 1953 Disney animated film, which unfortunately is more Disney than Barrie or worse, that I was condemned to a lifetime of endless reruns of Mary Martin and Cyril Ritchard. Boy, was I wrong. Taking its visual cue from the wondrous illustrations of Maxfield Parrish, Edmund Dulac, N.C. Wyeth and Arthur Rackham, this new film recreates the storybook Never Land on a level that has never been achieved before, nor will ever be again.
But the film is not simply a special-effects fest a la "Star Wars". The effects, dazzling as they are, are just the icing on the cake. Hogan understands it is the characters, and our need to care for them, that must carry the film. And this film has a wonderful cast. Jeremy Sumpter is a great Peter Pan. Gifted with a luminous smile and physicality, he captures all the radiant cockiness, the self-delighted impishness of undefeated, indefatigable youth. One almost feels sorry for Hook for having such an adversary. Rachel Hurd-Wood in a very impressive film debut does a marvelous job as Wendy, the young daughter of the Darlings now at the beginning of young womanhood. Hurd-Wood is both child and woman, and she and Sumpter have very warm and charming screen chemistry in their scenes together, capturing the potentially dangerous under-current of adolescent sensuality without ever hitting you over the head with it, or becoming too cloy. Olivia Williams as Mrs. Darling isn't given much to do, beyond being the mother everyone wishes they had, but she does that very well, and she serves the story beautifully. And she is absolutely gorgeous. In the double role of Mr. Darling/Captain Hook, Jason Isaacs finally comes into his own as the cinema's most perfidious villain since Basil Rathbone crossed swords with Errol Flynn. Isaacs is simply magnificent in a role he was born to play. With a sneer and a swash of his buckle he obliterates forever the image of Hook as a buffoon, the mere butt of Peter's jokes. This is a dangerous, deadly Hook, a figure of Satanic dignity, who one can believe might actually best Peter some dark, unlucky night. Lynn Redgrave plays the role of Aunt Millicent, a character created for the film and not in any of the Peter Pan literature. While the new part doesn't really add anything to the story, it doesn't really take anything away either. And Redgrave is always a joy to watch. Finally the performance of the great Richard Briers should be noted. As Smee he steals every scene he is in. It is a delightful comic turn.
The one performance I questioned was Ludivine Sagnier as Tinker Bell. While I loved the concept of Tink as a bitch-sprite, capable of murderous intent, I felt at times her performance was a little broad. This may have been the outgrowth of having to play a purely physical role without the benefit of any spoken lines. On the other hand I thought she was vastly superior to Julia Roberts who played the same role in "Hook". Nor was she a Marilyn Monroe wannabe from Disney. Sagnier to her credit never plays the part for easy sentimentality.
Hogan and company have brought the Barrie work to the screen and have rightly restored to it a child's sense of awe and wonder, of both beauty and terror co-existing side by side and for this reason alone it is the definitive film version of Peter Pan