All children grow up, except one...
Me, that’s who. I’m sure 9 out of 10 kids grew up at least knowing the story of Peter Pan, whether you saw the play, read the book or watched the Disney film (or Hook if you were really unlucky). I always found it an interesting story but it wasn’t really my favourite out of the bunch, nor was the Disney film one of my must-watches back then. But here I happened to stumble across a certain live action adaptation made in 2003. I remember seeing the ads for it and thinking it looked good but I never got to see it in the cinema. Considering the day I was at the cinema it was a choice between this and Love Actually, I might have been better off seeing this so as to avoid all the awkwardness with my family when watching those nude scenes in Love Actually.
We have a narration by veteran British actress Saffron Burrows telling the story of three young children – Wendy, John and Michael. Wendy is the oldest and her Aunt Millicent (Lynn Redgrave) has noticed that she has grown older and insists it’s time for her to grow up. Wendy of course doesn’t want to leave behind her adventures so she’s very lucky that one night she is visited by a boy who can fly and who never grows up. Peter Pan takes the three children away to Neverland in the middle of the night, a magical place populated by eerie mermaids, brave Indians and a crew of pirates captained by the sinister Captain James Hook (Jason Isaacs) who as the name implies has a hook for a hand. The children soon forget their home in London as they play with the Lost Boys and something of a romance develops between Peter and Wendy, except Wendy realises she is indeed growing up while Peter is too afraid to.
First of all, yes this is indeed a kids’ film but that doesn’t mean adults can’t enjoy it as well. I get the feeling if I had watched this as a kid then I would have loved it and watched it all the time. It’s a pretty fun little adventure that, according to people online (who are clearly never wrong) is the most faithful adaptation of the story there is. The film features plenty of excitement and adventure with a couple of cool swashbuckling scenes that wouldn’t look out of place in Pirates of the Caribbean (except for the fact it’s children fighting adult pirates, do with that what you will) and brilliant special effects. They’ve done something with Neverland that makes the weather reflect Peter’s mood, so that whenever he leaves it’s Winter and it’s Spring if he’s happy.
Playing the title role we have Jeremy Sumpter who has the distinction of being the first male to play the role in a live action adaptation. He’s brilliantly witty and also charismatic as Peter who is made a bit older in this version. He’s normally about seven or eight in the stories but is about thirteen here. I haven’t really seen him do much since this film, though I was unlucky enough to catch him in some truly godawful Lifetime movie where he got addicted to internet porn but his IMDb resume shows he’s still acting. Rachel Hurd Wood is playing Wendy and has definitely gone on to do some high note stuff such as Perfume, An American Haunting and Dorian Gray. She is perfectly charming and entertaining as the heroine, showing she was indeed going to become a big time actress in the future. The rest of the children are also quite good as Wendy’s brothers and the Lost Boys, with the stand out of them being young Theodore Chester who plays Slightly who hasn’t done any acting since. Among our adult co-stars we do have Jason Isaacs acting for two as is the tradition in adaptations of Peter Pan, playing both Hook and Wendy’s father. Olivia Williams is just a perfect rose as Wendy’s mother while the bubbly and pompous Aunt Millicent is played by Lynn Redgrave. Saffron Burrows also makes a good narrator so maybe she is another candidate to take over from Morgan Freeman in the future.
The film has a beautiful design to it that is just perfect for a proper fantasy adventure and since the whole thing was filmed on sound stages, a lot of the locations are CGI including the city of London. I think that works in this film to give it a proper fairytale type look as well as helping with the theatrical tone of the film. The colours in this film are amazing with a lot of use of blue in places, notably the flying scenes in London and the night scenes in the forest. There are a lot of saturated colours here going hand in hand with the CGI backgrounds to help with the theatrical-ness of the whole thing. They all combine to make Neverland look like a proper fantasy fairytale place. And for those who hate CGI don’t worry there are some real proper sets in this such as the underground home for the Lost Boys (whoops, I gave away their location), the Black Castle where Hook imprisons the children and of course the pirate ship. This is definitely a film I would have loved to be involved in.
My favourite scene definitely has to be one that happens while the other children are in the Indian camp (maybe singing an even more un-PC version of “What Makes The Red Man Red”) and Peter and Wendy see the fairies mating and proceed to dance in mid-air with the fairies flying around them. The colours, effects, music and performances all make it one of my favourite film scenes ever. I love the flying scenes as well and for fans of the Disney film, they definitely rival the ones in that. I can imagine a lot of children seeing this film wanted to fly like that. And of course the climactic battle on Hook’s pirate ship is pretty exciting and a little alarming when he knocks Peter down and nearly comes close to breaking the poor little boy. I just love the musical theme that plays during the flying scenes and again when Peter’s mounting his almighty comeback.
Now to the scene which will divide older viewers – Tinkerbell took Peter’s poison for him and died so he starts saying “I do believe in fairies” to bring her back. A lot of older viewers might find this scene corny and cheesy but it is what it is, it’s in the original story and I think the film handled it pretty well. There is a pretty funny bit where it shows Mr Darling saying “I do believe in fairies” in front of his fellow bank colleagues. I’m sure some parents would be a bit shocked at seeing how pronounced the romance between Peter and Wendy is in this film, much more so than in any other adaptation. They do play up some sexual tension between them – Wendy’s teacher sees a drawing of Peter hovering above Wendy’s bed and assumes it means something more sinister – and there is even a proper kiss. I don’t have any problem with it but I’m sure a few parents should wait until their child is a bit older before showing them this – maybe about the age of seven is old enough.
So fans of Peter Pan got a pretty faithful and exciting adaptation of JM Barrie’s book that captures the spirit of what the book really meant – a children’s story that has a few adult overtones. It is nice to see the parallels between Wendy’s adventures here and growing up in real life. It’s definitely a fun adventure that the family will enjoy (though be warned that there is a body count if you’re one of the parents who cares about that kind of thing). I would indeed call it a modern classic. Until then Bobby-verse, don’t forget to follow me on Twitter.