Starring: Jason Isaacs, Jeremy Sumpter and Rachel Hurd-Wood
Director: P.J. Hogan
IN Peter Pan, P.J. Hogan’s retelling of the exploits of the boy who would never grow up is faithful to J.M. Barrie’s classic children’s novel and stage production.
And in the final analysis, perhaps, it is too faithful.
We all know the story. Enthralled with her storytelling, Peter teaches Wendy Darling and her brothers, John and Michael, how to fly. Against his pixie sidekick’s (Tinkerbell) protests, Peter leads the Darlings back to Neverland, a storybook island of pirates, Indians, mermaids and little boys who fell out of their prams (aka the Lost Boys). It is a place without responsibility or memory, it is a place of fun and adventure, and it is a place where children never grow up.
True to the traditional convention of the stage play, Jason Isaacs plays both the role of Mr Darling, the children’s father, and of Captain Hook, Pan’s nemesis. He is successful as the dastardly pirate, less so as the nervous, stuttering father.
Given the perils inherent in using child actors, there are some remarkably good performances. Rachel Hurd-Wood is marvellous as Wendy. Harry Newell is a natural as her brother John.
Unfortunately, the lead falls short. Jeremy Sumpter (Peter Pan) is a stiff, often awkward forest sprite and much too young to serve as the foil for Wendy’s adolescent sexual awakening (a story element of much public controversy in an early phase of the film’s production which was apparently toned down before the shooting script was completed).
As far as I know pop music, I have always felt the best remakes are those where the echoing artist offers a novel arrangement to make an old song their own. Perhaps it is unfair to apply this bias to a film, but Hogan’s Peter Pan seems like the same old story told the same old way.
Thanks to Walt Disney’s animated version, most of us know the Peter Pan tale through and through. J.M. Barrie’s original text, however, is a work of bright and unique imagination, the sort which would have been welcome in this production.