Peter Pan Review
Even before its release on Boxing Day 2003, headlines like 'Disney Abandons Peter Pan Film To Play Scrooge' compounded the studio's increasingly poor relationship with the press. As business reporters swarmed around Michael Eisner's rocky relationship with Roy Disney, the studio pulled out its investment in the film, claiming that it was refusing to pay the Great Ormond Street Hospital, the owner of the copyright on Peter Pan, any royalties associated with this version given that it has already made voluntary payments from the success of their 1953 animated version.
Despite Disney guarding its reputation as the world's most child-friendly corporation, a difficult relationship with the world's most famous children's hospital was one fight, in the midst of many others, that Disney could well have done without.
This latest and live-action version of Peter Pan begins in winter in the Darling household, with Michael, John and Wendy staying together at night in the nursery as shadows flicker inside and outside of their window. As their mother and father leave for a society ball, Peter Pan enters their bedroom to recapture his shadow, it having been trapped in the Darling house on a previous visit. As Peter shakes fairy dust from Tinkerbell over Wendy, John and Michael, they leave the Darling house for Neverland, second star to the right and straight on 'til morning, where they will face the evil Captain Hook and his gang of pirates...
The problem this reviewer has always had with Peter Pan, both this film and Disney's 1953 animated film, is that the actual character of Pan is one of the least likeable to have ever appeared in a film, less likeable even than Sleeping Beauty's Maleficent, Snow White's wicked stepmother and Madame Medusa from The Rescuers from other Disney films. Whilst accurate in its portrayal of a boy who never grew up, Peter Pan is almost too childlike and petty with few redeeming qualities, particularly in his haste to turn his back on Wendy, Michael, John and the Lost Boys as they elect to leave Neverland.
The pirates, however, are wonderful, led by Jason Isaacs' superb Captain Hook and Richard Briers' Mr Smee. Even in Disney's version of Peter Pan, Hook was quite the best character in the film, crackling with spite, sneering as his sword flicks past Pan's neck and terrified of the sound of the clock ticking in the belly of the crocodile that stalks him. In this live-action version, Isaacs plays Hook as cunning, clever but close to being beaten by Pan, notably in his first appearance in the film, hungover from the winter that set in to Neverland on Pan's leaving for London. With Isaacs being supported by Richard Briers, Hook and Smee become a great double act with Hook failing to disguise his frustration at Smee's bumbling villainy, shown to best effect in Pan's disguising of his voice to fool Smee into letting Wendy, Jon and Michael go free from their prison in the Black Castle. As Smee, Briers confirms why he is one of this country's most loved comedians, slipping from physical to verbal comedy without a pause and giving the adults someone to cheer for as he cracks one-liners sympathetic to Pan and just about avoids the placing of a bullet in his skull from the barrel of Hook's gun. Briers also has the best line in the film following Hook's capture of Princess Tiger Lily. As Hook asks Tiger Lily as to whether she knows the location of John and Michael, which will lead him to Pan's hideout, she spits venom at Hook and, at some length, insults him in Iroquois, leading to Briers translating her diatribe with a disappointed, "Sorry, but no."
Where this film does succeed is in enriching the story with many moments that simply feel right. Jason Isaacs' playing of both Captain Hook and George Darling is in keeping with Hans Conried's voicing of these roles in the Disney animated film, which reinforces the feeling, both in London and in Neverland, of the adults' misunderstanding and restraint of childish freedoms, albeit one in which George Darling punishes himself for telling Wendy to leave the nursery, which precedes her disappearance to Neverland. As to whether this was in the original play, I'm not sure, but how Neverland is reflected in Pan's presence or his feelings of joy, anger or sadness is a good theme that runs through this version that was not in the Disney film. When Pan returns to London, the ice and snow that coats Neverland melts and summer returns as he meets with the Lost Boys and, as Tinkerbell sacrifices herself to save Pan from Hook's bomb, Pan's sadness and anger creates havoc across Neverland as storms batter the island.
But regardless of these moments, this live action version of the Peter Pan story impresses with its rich storytelling, much like the BBC's telling of classic children's stories such as The Box Of Delights and The Chronicles Of Narnia, being the type of story best enjoyed on a cold winters' evening. No matter the occasional flaw in the film - the Lost Boys are barely characterised, nor is Mrs Darling and the crocodile that chases Hook throughout the adventure is not as well realised as it was in the animated version of the film - and regardless that this is the type of entertainment that will appeal to middle-class parents who prefer the advert-free CBeebies and CBBC than Fox Kids, Peter Pan is great fun and a wonderful example of a children's that avoids unnecessary contemporary influences in favour of classic storytelling.
Peter Pan has been transferred in its original aspect ratio of 2.35:1 and looks, as one would expect from a recent film, wonderful. The early scenes, being those set in London, have the warmth of a classic children's film whilst those in Neverland recall the rich, rural, fantastical style of Peter Jackson's work on Lord Of The Rings: The Fellowship Of The Ring.
Peter Pan is available both with a Dolby Digital and a DTS 5.1 Surround audio track, neither of which have any noticeable flaws or noise. If anything - and it's close - the DTS track is the better of the two, with a warmer, more rounded sound and more presence to the soundtrack through the use of the rear speakers to fill out the film.
Whilst never offering anything as substantial as a director's commentary or one long documentary, this DVD release contains many, many short features. Unless otherwise stated, each bonus feature is presented in 1.33:1 and in 2.0 Surround, with the full list being:
Neverland Forest - Explore The Forest (59s): This short feature looks at the design of the Neverland Forest including the painting of the set.
Neverland Forest - Tinkerbell - Behind The Fairy Dust (4m40s): Having decided to use an actress instead of a CG Tinkerbell, this interviews both Ludivine Sagnier and those who worked with her in her playing of a fairy.
Neverland Forest - I Do Believe In Fairies (1m33s): As one of the most magical moments in the film, this feature looks at the dance between Wendy and Peter Pan as they become surrounded by fairies as well as the playing of fairies throughout the film.
Neverland Forest - Princess Tiger Lily (1m02s): The Native American girl who played Princes Tiger Lily, Carsen Gray, is interviewed for this short feature.
Black Castle - Enter The Castle (1m13s): As with the opening feature on Neverland Forest, this summarises the action in the Black Castle from behind the camera.
Black Castle - Learning To Fly (6m08s): As one would expect, this shows the training involved in learning to use the harness and on to the actual filming of the flying on the set.
Black Castle - The Mermaid's Tale (2m11s): The mermaids, who went through hours of make-up to prepare for the film, are interviewed during make-up and shown preparing to be filmed.
Pirate's Ship - Board The Pirate Ship (1m02s): Again, as the opening feature in this section, the design of the pirate's ship is shown as various models and sets.
Pirate's Ship - Through The Eyes Of Captain Hook (6m23s): Beginning with a joke from the film, this feature has been produced by Jason Isaacs keeping a camcorder close by him during production. Showing the building of the sets, Isaacs preparing to fly and sword fights,
Pirate's Ship - The Pirates vs. The Lost Boys (2m09s): As would be expected from that title, this shows the battles between the pirates on Hook's ship and The Lost Boys.
Pirate's Ship - The Lost Pirate Song (1m20s): Introduced by director PJ Hogan, this shows the song that was to have been included in the film and sung by the pirates but which was cut on-set and never filmed, feeling that singing pirates would be less threatening than the armed, dangerous and non-singing kind.
Home Underground - Dig Under The Home (54s): This short feature shows the design of Pan and the Lost Boy's hideout.
Home Underground - The Legacy Of Pan (11m03s): Hosted by Sarah Ferguson, one-time member of the royal family, this feature looks at JM Barrie, who was the author of the Peter Pan story, the origins of Pan and the history of the story from its debut as a play to the filming of this film.
Home Underground - The Duchess’s Outtakes (2m07s): Not outtakes from the film but outtakes from Sarah Ferguson's presentations as she snorts through interviews and fluffs her lines.
Home Underground - Lost Boys On The Set (2m06s): Getting back to form after the dreadful appearance of Sarah Ferguson, this features interviews with the young actors playing the Lost Boys and an explanation of their place in Neverland.
Home Underground - DVD Credits (46s): Nothing more than you would expect.
Darling House - Alternate Ending (4m32s, 2.35:1 Non-Anamorphic): Featuring Saffron Burrows as an adult Wendy, this would have ended the film with Peter Pan returning to the Darling house after many years, finding Wendy grown and with a daughter of her own, who then follows Peter Pan to Neverland on an adventure. It's clear that the decision to drop this ending was taken early in production as the effects are unfinished and there is no score.
Darling House - Deleted Scene (3m52s): Subtitled Mr Darling In The Dog House, this shows the George Darling living in Nana's doghouse as a punishment for allowing his children to be taken to Neverland.
Darling House - Me And My Shadow (1s19): This feature shows the behind-the-scenes action of Jeremy Sumpter playing his own shadow for those scenes in the film when Peter Pan becomes separated from his shadow.
Darling House - In The Dog House With Nana (2m49s): As the nanny in the Darling household, Nana plays as great a part in the bringing up of the Darling children than their parents and this feature looks at the handling of the dogs that were used to play Nana.
Despite it not being well thought of on its release late last year, this is a much better film than its reputation would suggest although the rather patchy bonus features let down the release somewhat. Peter Pan is still a great story and whilst this is not the definitive release - the comedy on Disney's animated version is still better realised and the songs give that version more vibrancy - this is still a good version of a classic story that, like AA Milne's Winnie The Pooh stories, was written to appeal just as much to adults as it is to children.