Peter Pan: A kids movie?

Snow White, Cinderella, Little Red Riding Hood, Bambi. Why is it that some of our most beloved children’s stories have such dark subtexts? Such is the
case with Peter Pan, another much-lauded tale for kids that actually has some really dark moments. The film stays pretty close to J.M. Barrie’s original tale of a boy who never wants to grow up and the little girl who joins him in a fantastic adventure in Neverland. With a little help from Industrial Light and Magic (the folks who brought us Pirates of the Caribbean), and a stellar cast with real-live children in the lead roles, the film is genuinely lovely to watch.
Fourteen-year-old Jeremy Sumpter plays the devil-may-care Peter and the 13-year-old Rachel Hurd-Wood is a gorgeous, if at times wooden, Wendy. Jason Isaacs takes on a dual role, serving as the timid Mr. Darling as well as the deliciously evil Captain Hook.
The film begins when Wendy’s Aunt Millicent (Lynn Redgrave) convinces Wendy’s parents she should go off to finishing school to become a lady.
Wendy prefers sharing a room with her brothers and staying up all night telling tales of pirates and monsters. When Peter and little fairy Tinkerbell visit the Darling house and hear her tall tales, Peter invites Wendy, along with her two brothers, to join him in Neverland. A little fairy dust from Tink and some happy thoughts, and soon they are flying across the night sky.
But the fairy dust is not to last, as Tinkerbell becomes envious of Wendy, and convinces the “lost boys” (grubby little children who came to Neverland
after falling from their baby carriages and being left behind by their parents) to shoot down Wendy with their poisoned arrows. Luckily, she survives, and soon the pitiful gang builds Wendy a little house and start calling her “mother.” In Neverland, the children never grow up, but the evil Captain Hook is always looking to wipe them out, if they aren’t first eaten by the super-sized reptiles or drowned by the creepy mermaids.
While there are lots of fun, lighthearted moments, there are some disturbing ones sprinkled in as well. Captain Hook is quick to fire off his pistol, killing several of his men when they talk back. He also attempts to drown Wendy and her brothers at one point. The children are in deadly warfare with adults, which I found a little disconcerting. But these being elements of the original story, it can be overlooked. Less easy to tolerate, at least in my opinion, is the love story between Wendy and Peter. It brought to mind a couple of flashbacks from the truly icky movie The Blue Lagoon. I’m not a parent, so I’ll leave those judgments to the professionals. All I know is how it affected me.
I can say, though, that the film is beautiful, magical and brilliantly executed. Wendy’s mother, played by the luminous Olivia Williams, is a definite highlight. Poorly cast is the lovely young French actress Ludivine Sagnier (Swimming Pool), whose mute Tinkerbell must resort to making silly faces to get her point across. That said, check Peter Pan out for yourself; then decide if the kiddos should come along.


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