Director: P. J Hogan
Cast: Jeremy Sumpter, Rachel Hurd-Wood, Jason Isaacs, Richard Briers, Olivia Williams, Lynn Redgrave, Ludivine Sagnier
Plot: Wendy Darling (Hurd-Wood) and her two brothers are whisked away to Netherland by the charismatic Peter Pan (Sumpter) and caught up in his battle with the terrifying Captain Hook (Isaacs).
Peter Pan has the bare bones of a cracking story. A group of pampered youngsters get to spend the day with a group of young boys who have renounced maturity. At first the fun of freedom thrills, but the longer they stay there, homesickness settles in. Peter Pan sounds like a sure-fire success, but arguably we haven’t quite had that great Pan film just yet. The animated version was the first Disney I felt apathetic about and here, the 2003 live action version, there is something missing.
In fairness, P. J Hogan’s take on J. M Barrie’s play is a step in the right direction. Certain themes are definitely fleshed out more. Disney was far more interested in the adventurous, swash-buckling nature of the content, while Hogan realises that this is a story that acts as a neat mirror to our own reality. Sumpter’s Peter Pan perfectly finds the balance of a charming rogue, who looks like he is the master of his own life, an energetic free spirit, but as the story gets going, we begin to see the cracks around the edges of the character, the missing pieces of his identity. Arguably the whole story is set into motion because Peter is looking for that missing bit of himself, even if isn’t quite prepared to take it when it is offered. Hogan also find time to grab an extra slice of emotion. Disney’s finale was a little hollow, while Hogan adds to the sacrifice of Tinkerbell, giving it an added bite. It seems like a simple addition, perhaps a few cynics claiming that Hogan is simply stretching out his running time, but what it does do is give Peter Pan the sense of being worth a watch. However, the real area where Hogan improves Peter Pan is in its villain. The Disney Captain Hook was the biggest let-down of the film. Billed as one of the greatest bad guys in the Disney canon, Hook turned out to be a useless wuss, who talked a big game, but ended up being no match for Peter Pan. Admittedly it is hard for a villain to keep his threatening persona, when the story requires him to be outmatched by a young boy, but you wish Hook tried that little bit harder. Enter Jason Isaacs. Isaacs is a tremendous British actor and he seizes the chance to play Hook, like it is a role that is going to set his career for life (it very likely did). Isaacs finds that great balance between what is essentially a panto villain, but still retaining that real sense of dread. He handles the camp with ease, but has veiled threats to fall back on, purring vile promises. His Hook also comes far closer to taking out Pan than the other iterations of the character. Hogan, in essence, reworks the Disney classic, showing it for what it should have been.
But, in a way, that is slightly the problem. Hogan sticks very closely to the original tale, adding depth, sure, but this film holds very little in the way of surprises. Set-pieces are recreated rather than invented. Characters are brought to life, rather than being devised. The film moves along at a brisk pace too, ending up becoming bloated by trying to add to what had came before. There are scenes that could have done with being trimmed, the mermaids and Tiger Lily not quite bringing much to the plot, but Hogan keeps them, likely out of a sense of fan service, rather than true narrative merit. Also the problem with reworking a story for a modern age is that time is often the cruellest critic. Peter Pan, at the time, must have seemed pretty impressive with swooping wire works, mimicking the flying of the animation. The animatronic parrot is also a great source of laughs. But add fifteen years onto Peter Pan and suddenly that innovative film-making technique is looking old hat. Peter Pan strikes the audience as a film in serious need of a reworking, which, partially, defeats the point. Good, but, as it turns out, not timeless.
Final Verdict: Isaacs makes a great villain and Hogan definitely improves the original, but Peter Pan still could do with a better telling.