Another part of my excitement came from the fact that everything I read in the years leading up to its release in terms of pre-production, production, interviews, press releases, etc., Hogan (and other actors) promised that it would remain faithful to the story. Hogan said himself, as I recall, that since it had never been brought to the silver screen, he would do it faithfully and do it justice.
And how do I feel about Hogan’s production? It’s 60% perfect, 40% atrocity.
Let me start with the good parts.
First of all, Jeremy Sumpter. He did an incredible job of being the eternal boy. I sincerely think Barrie would have been proud of his performance. He embodied everything about Pan - including the devil in him that Barrie so wanted him to have in the statue in Kensington Gardens. But it’s not just the script that provided the diabolical side of the boy, Sumpter brought it on with his wonderful expressions and acting. I can’t think of anyone who can make faces (in the good sense) better than Sumpter. He has said how much he enjoyed being Peter Pan and it shows. Adorable one minute, sorrowful the next and tricky in a flash. Bravo, Jeremy! Truth be told, there are two line readings that make me nuts. One of them I dislike because it is not at all how I always imagined Peter saying it. Not that I am solely correct, of course. But Sumpter’s interpretation is so different from mine that I had to put down my aversion and applaud it. Wendy asks Peter his name. In my mind, Peter would proudly and brightly respond, “Peter Pan!” with a “and YOU’RE NOT” subtext. (Chevy Chase similarity noted.) In the movie, he backs away from her, with a pause between “Peter……Pan” making Peter cautious at her approach. A cool way of reading it, I admit. The other line I just don’t understand. When Wendy withdraws under her covers, Peter must lure her back out. He’s trying to woo her, in a sense, so what he says should be enticing. Barrie says that Peter tells her “One girl is more use than twenty boys.” But the movie Pan says, “Onegirlisworthmorethantwentyboys.” No enticement, no sweetness. Just onebigword forced out his mouth. I’m not sure if Jeremy made these decisions or Hogan. But it matters little, for the rest of what he gave us IS Peter Pan. It should also be noted that Jeremy is the first boy to play Peter Pan on screen and be seen doing it (as opposed to Bobby Driscoll who voiced Disney’s).
The other actors all did a great job, too. Bravo to Jason Isaacs for making a refined but frightening Captain James Hook. No foppish, bumbling, comedic villain here. And the hook is on the correct hand. Honest, to all the actors a resounding BRAVO!
The set design, the mood, the tone, the colors, the lighting…beautiful. Perfectly matches the book in my mind. Bravo to the team. And James Newton Howard’s score - I can’t get enough of it.
Before I talk about what I deem horrendous, let me talk about the changes that I liked. Most especially the character of Aunt Millicent. Hogan’s invention actually fixes Barrie’s work. In the story the Darlings are concerned over how to meet expenses, yet they have a maid. A maid whose sole function is to almost catch the children with Peter Pan in the nursery. To add that bit of tension. Seriously, no other purpose. Hogan picked up on that, creating George Darling’s sister Millicent, played wonderfully and to the hilt by Lynn Redgrave. Not only is the scene more dramatic now that the dreaded Aunt Millicent will catch them, but she provides the nudge that perhaps Wendy should leave the nursery and grow up. She also nudges George, forcing confidence into him to be a smash hit at the party they attend with his co-workers so as to get a promotion. A brilliant tweak. I liked Aunt Millicent so much that if I ever made my own movie, I would ask Hogan for permission to use her.
The Black Castle. It’s not in the book…but I love it to pieces. One of the things Barrie envisioned for a movie of his work is expanding it in the visual sense. To be able to do and show material and places that could not be done on stage. So erecting a creepy castle around the kidnapping of Tiger Lily (which in this version included John and Michael as well) did wonders for the tale. Just the sort thing TO add. Bravo.
Though it veered, dare I say greatly, from Barrie I even liked making Wendy more strong-willed and disenchanted with her matronly duties. Craving adventure. I know a certain Miss Richards who would clap at this idea as well. I even could deal with the omission of the medicine scene for the clever race to retrieve the note from the teacher’s messenger. Again, it expanded the staging.
However, during that scene something is happening that made my skin crawl in the theater, and still does to this day. In Hogan’s version, Hook learns to fly. Why? It bears repeating. WHY? After all that talk about being accurate, finally realizing Barrie’s masterpiece in “reality” and then Hogan has Hook FLY? I can see if this had been the umpteenth movie made of Peter Pan. Wanting to change it up a bit so this version stands out among the others. But there ARE no others. WHY, Hogan? I don’t even think Hook would WANT to fly. And adults aren’t “supposed to,” am I right? If that didn’t ruin the movie (the one that had promised to be faithful) for me this next alteration did.
When Peter is defeated (for the time being) laying on the deck of the Jolly Roger, Wendy prevents Hook from plunging his claw into the boy, saying she wants to give him a thimble. Now, as we all should know, a thimble to Peter is a kiss and vice-versa. So…she gives him a kiss. Not a peck. Not a smack. A kiss. A full blown, face-sucking kiss. First of all, I do not need to see 13 year old kids sucking face. Second of all, it…are you ready…invigorates Peter Pan. He turns bright pink, his whole body, PINK. He lets out some sort of sonic boom cry and BOLTS into the sky, happy as hell and energized to whip the pants off Hook. No. No. NO. Sexuality would destroy Pan, not rejuvenate him. Why, Hogan?
I have a few minor bones to pick, such as the fact that Smee has a watch. I get it, the Captain smashing it with his hook is cute and it lends itself to his speech about the crocodile being after him. But that is the whole point…the only way to tell time in the Neverland is via the clock in the croc. I also abhor the notion of “Swiss Army Hook” by which I mean Hook having many hooks to choose from. I’m under the impression that this bloodthirsty pirate would relish a rusty, scratched, worn, severely evil looking hook. I didn’t like the parrot, either. I won’t go on with these, they’re minor. For each one of these, there are marvelous moments, such as Peter’s dejection at seeing Hook’s demise and the make-your-head-spin disorientation of rippling the stars on the way to the Neverland.
But the last bit that truly bothered me is that no last bit came. The scene when Wendy grew up and Peter Pan finally comes back for her again, only to take Jane, her daughter, instead. I read about the auditions for Jane, I knew the scene would be coming. Bart (who sweetly attended on Xmas Night much to his utter contempt for the idea), in fact, had been waiting for this scene. It’s his favorite of the whole book. It’s what he came to see, really, what he wanted to see most. But no. In the theatrical release, we hear a voice over from Wendy (which is when we learn that the female narrator is in fact her) saying, “But I was not to see Peter Pan again…” Excuse me? Wendy goes back to the Neverland many times! But alas, they even left out the scene with Jane. Argh! It does appear on the DVD as a deleted scene (among other scenes that should not have been deleted in my opinion because they are all beautifully done and retain some of Barrie’s best bits). It’s a gut wrenching scene. Truly. Even unfinished. There’s no music (which makes it more devastating) and the harnesses to make Peter and Jane fly are clearly visible. Still, it’s damn powerful and again Sumpter delivers. Too bad they cut it.
So there you have it. When it’s good, it’s perfect. When it’s bad, it’s unforgivable.
The 2003 Peter Pan is the best Peter Pan movie ever.
Because it is the only one. (Excluding the silent film, of course.)
One last thing. Why did they release it in 2003? It didn’t do as well as it might have up against the final part of Jackson’s Tolkien epic. Also, just one more year and a couple days and it could have been released 100 years to the day of the play's premiere. Hollywood inexplicably avoided making a Peter Pan movie for 99 years…what’s one more to celebrate the Centennial of Barrie’s masterpiece? I’m truly baffled.
And thank goodness we have a Peter Pan, Wendy and Hook that do justice to these complex characters.