No one would pass up a chance to soar around burning blue and gold planets, to sift their fingers through the stars with fairy dust dripping off their toes, especially not Wendy Darling. This is her greatest adventure, her last hurrah before giving in to growing up, for, according to this tale, “all children grow up, except one” — Peter Pan. And Peter has found himself a Wendy, “one girl worth more than twenty boys” and “almost a woman.” The two are living in that moment on the threshold of adolescence, able to taste the fantastic fruits of both worlds at the same time.
Get ready to see the best version ever of Neverland. Webbed mermaids glistening under the moonlight and harpsichord-playing pirates may seem like a stretch for director P.J. Hogan, a guy whose past successes thrive on the adult-driven plots of Muriel’s Wedding and My Best Friend’s Wedding. Pan is a different kind of successful union that marries J.M. Barrie’s classic 1904 play to that sparkling wonderworking only dreams and celluloid can achieve. Hogan has taken great care in concocting a film that looks like a 19th century storybook illustration. Children in nightshirts hang onto clouds of cotton candy blue and pink while spying on pirates below, Maxfield Parrish hues swathe the landscape in heightened magentas and aqua greens while the characters brandish a sense of humor slathered in mischief — after the lost boys shoot Wendy with an arrow, they lament, “Tragic. Awful. Good shot, though.” This is a marvelous mixture of actual and anything-can-happen realities, a place where life-threatening blades and sharp-toothed tick-tocking crocodiles are real enough to fear. Yet somehow Neverland always ends up having a soft landing, right on its feet.
Impeccable casting doesn’t hurt. You may remember Jason Isaacs as the blond and insidious Lucius Malfoy in the Harry Potter films; in Pan he handles a double-headed role as Mr. Darling and Captain Hook, which takes a Jekyll-and-Hyde versatility. He’s charming and handsome with a bite and a barb while juggling the strange implications applied to the two adversaries of childhood he represents. Jeremy Sumpter and Rachel Hurd-Wood as Peter and Wendy drink up every inch of the far-fetched and carry it on their faces with precocious glows. Ultimately, their story is a love affair — the birth of sexual attraction — flying between the freedoms of childhood and the coming wonders of growing up. But Peter can only go so far.
Hogan’s Peter Pan is a wondrous ode to the carefree days of childhood adventures, where thimbles, acorns and kisses are the most powerful things. No matter what your wrinkle-count, after watching this film, you may just find yourself saying, “I do believe in well-made films for kids.”
Anita Schmaltz writes about film for Metro Times. E-mail [email protected].