Review – Somebody Should Walk the Plank for this… (“Pan”)

Tiger Lily is white? Captain Hook without a hook? Blackbeard the pirate who’s bald and has no beard? WTH?? Confused? You should be! This is the newest retelling of J.M. Barrie’s immortal children’s book, Peter Pan, as told from a slightly different angle. Hang on to your pixie dust, you ain’t seen nuthin’ yet!
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We have 12-year-old Peter Pan (Levi Miller) in a London orphan boys asylum (Oliver, anyone?) during WW2. His mum dropped him off there as a baby, unbeknownst that the nasty nun there is in cahoots with pirates that periodically steal boys and take them away to Neverland. The flying pirate ship (in a scene straight from Disney’s 2002 Peter Pan sequel) races across London and is shot at by RAF planes, thinking it’s the Germans!

Anyway, Peter is taken to Neverland and forced, along with hundreds of thousands of kids, to mine the land for pixie dust called Pixum, a very rare crystal that keeps Neverland’s ruler, Blackbeard the pirate (Hugh Jackman), healthy and youthful. Peter quickly meets a wise-cracking, self-centered scoundrel called James Hook (Garrett Hedlund) who, after seeing Peter momentarily fly (and fall), agrees to help him escape and steal a flying pirate ship.

But Blackbeard is worried ’cause there’s a prophecy (there’s always a prophesy, isn’t there?) about a boy who can fly that will unite the tribes, free the fairies, and defeat him. Shades of Harry Potter here especially when Peter refers to himself as “the chosen one” later on. Naturally, Peter, Hook, and a dim Mr. Smee (Adeel Aktar) escape, but crash in the vast Neverland forest, only to be captured by Princess Tiger Lily (Rooney Mara) and her tribe of multi-ethnic Indians (Japanese, African, Aborigines, etc). BTW: when they die, they explode into colored smoke and powder because. . .they just do.

Blackbeard, his huge first mate Bishop (Nonso Anozie), and the pirates show up and ruin their fun, but fail to capture Pan, Hook, and Tiger Lily, who take off to save the hidden island fairies from Blackbeard, who wants to destroy them. Will Pan finally learn how to fly and save everyone before its too late? Will Hook and Tiger Lily hook up as more than just friends? Will that gargantuan crocodile, those mermaids in the lagoon, and Tinkerbell demand more screen time? Oh, you betcha! 

Joe Wright, who usually does period films like Pride and Prejudice and Anna Karenina, directs this beautifully looking, but ultimately tedious and unrewarding kids film filled with scattershot directing and choppy editing. This, plus the cliche-riddled underwritten and remedial script by Jason Fuchs, make this film tiresome, predictable, and only occasionally interesting. The dialogue is hokey and don’t get me started on all the Jolly Roger-sized plot holes or we’ll be here all night! I will give it major points for it’s looks: the cinematography, costuming, and production design are through the roof and are pure eye-candy.

Miller as the Pan is exceptionable; anyone who can steal scenes from Jackman is okay in my book. Speaking of Jackman, he looks awkward playing a wig-wearing beardless Blackbeard and seems confused on how to play him. Hedlund plays Hook as a Han Solo-wannabe so closely, you’d swear that Chewbacca is somewhere close by. Mara, as an axe-weidling Indian, is sufficiently kick-ass, but terribly miscast in her role.

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The legacy of J. M. Barrie’s immortal tale of The Boy Who Won’t Grow Up has been told and retold for decades in stories, TV specials, theatrical shows, movies, animated feature films, and most recently, a dreadful and laughably embarrassing 2014 live television broadcast of the Broadway musical with Christopher Walken as Hook (who kept forgetting his lines!) with 20-something-year-olds as the Lost Boys (the Lost Men?). Ugh! Let’s forget THAT ever happened and take a quick look at the history of that scamp, Peter Pan, in featured films.

Peter Pan (1953)
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Disney’s signature animated film of Peter Pan that set the gold standard for all others to be compared with. J.M. Barrie’s book. Spun and retold the Disney way with Peter (voiced by Bobby Driscoll) kidnapping Wendy, Michael, and John from the safety of their home in London and flown to Neverland (“second star to the left, then straight on ’till tomorrow”).

There the kids meet the sinister Captain James Hook (the perfectly voiced Hans Conried), his bungling first mate, Mr. Smee (Bill Thompson) and his savage pirates. Peter introduces Wendy (Kathryn Beaumont–who also voiced Disney’s Alice) to the Lost Boys, the very un-PC local Indian tribe, the murderous mermaids in the lagoon, and let’s not forget about the vain and selfish Tinkerbell the fairy, who risks her tiny life to save Pan’s.

This movie made Disney a fortune with the animators trying something new: having the voice talent/actors in costume and act out their parts, while being drawn on paper. This added a whole new dimension and fluidity to their characters not seen before, giving them a realistic look. The story, even for 1953, still has dark elements in it’s plot. Check out YouTube’s Honest Trailers: Peter Pan to see what I mean!

Disney did attempt to catch lightning in a bottle twice with a sequel, Return to Neverland in 2002, but the movie wasn’t anywhere as good as the original. It came and went at the box office without so much as a ‘hello’, and then went straight to DVD sale.

Hook (1991)
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“What if Peter Pan grew up?” That was the tag line from Steven Spielberg’s grandus opus featuring the late, great Robin Williams as Peter Banning, a corporate lawyer who is really Peter Pan grown up and married with two kids! On a visit to London to see Wendy Darling (Maggie Smith), the unthinkable happens. The dreaded Captain Hook (Dustin Hoffman) comes back from Neverland and kidnaps Peter’s son and daughter (Charlie Korsmo, Amber Scott) and all because he “wants his war with Peter Pan”. You also have a great Bob Hoskins as Mr.Smee, Hook’s voice of reason and ship announcer.

Peter, along with help from Tinkerbell (Julia Roberts), must travel to Neverland, remember who he really is (with goofy help from the Lost Boys), turn back into Peter Pan, and then sword fight Hook to rescue his kids. Sounds simple, right? Nope! The movie, while purporting to be a kids film, has a horrific murder in the finale act involving Lost Boy leader Ruffio (Dante Basco), that shocked everyone. It still upsets me to this day. While panned by many, this film still retains that magic Spielberg touch.

Cameos abound in this movie with singers Phil Collins (as a cop, who’s also ‘John’ grown-up), David Crosby and Jimmy Buffet as pirates, and also look for Glenn Close as a pirate, and Carrie Fisher and George Lucas as a couple walking in a park.

Peter Pan (2003)
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THIS is the best live action movie about Peter Pan ever! Staying true to the book AND borrowing from the Disney animated version with some bits from the Broadway musical thrown in. The story is the same: Pan shows up, he takes Wendy and the kids to Neverland where Hook wants to kill Pan and keep Wendy, yadda yadda yadda, etc, BUT the production values are very high and the script wasn’t watered down for the kids.

Directer P.J. Hogan shot this entire film in Australia and the casting was terrific. Peter Pan is a feisty, cock-sure boy played by Jeremy Sumpter. Hook is played to the hilt by Draco Malfoy’s dad, Jason Issacs, and looks and acts so perfectly as the crooked pirate, you’d swear he was born to play this role. Tinkerbell is a CGI fairy played by a silent Ludivine Sagnier and Wendy is beautiful little Rachel Hurd-Wood, who would go on to have a modeling and Aussie TV career.

You want to buy or rent a live action Peter Pan movie and not be disappointed in it? THIS is the one to buy or rent. Forget the newest movie in theaters right now and see this instead; you’ll be more satisfied and infinitely more pleased than paying $12 and seeing Pan. Trust me on this.

Neverland (2011)
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Okay, while technically NOT a theatrical release, this British made-for TV mini-series was quirky, strange, and really, really interesting as it took the classic story of Peter Pan and turned it on its ear with a wildly imaginative and bizarre storyline.

London, 1906, and orphan Peter Pan (Charlie Rowe) is part of thieving street gang of lost boys whose Fagin-like caretaker, Jimmy Hook (Rhys Ifans), sends then out on nightly runs to pilfer stores. Hook also teaches them sword fencing and takes quite a liking to Pan. But one night, Pan steals a mysterious glowing orb from an antique shop and faster than you can say, “Bangarang!”, he’s whisked away to Neverland along with Hook and some of his mates.

There they meet the cutthroat pirate Capt. Elizabeth Bonney (Anna Friel), her first mate Mr. Smee (Bob Hoskins–reprising his role from Hook), and an Indian tribe on the island. After a deadly fight, Jimmy calls himself Captain Hook and the rest of the show is a weird melange of Lost Boys/Indians/pirates all fighting each other, taking sides, usurping power and double-crossing one another, and using that strange glowing orb to teleport from Neverland to London and back again. Sorry, no “second star to the left” nonsense here.

The shot-on-video series had it’s moments, but the SPFX were weak and sometimes even laughable. Pan’s flying against a green screen was especially noticeable. The acting, on the other hand, was quite good, given the unique arc of the story and the strange retelling of history’s most enduring tale.

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