Sunday, April 26, 2009

Bloody Smashing Performance, eh what?

Quite a bit I’ve seen the fact that Jeremy Sumpter (Peter Pan in the 2003 film) is not British called into question. The objection being that Peter Pan is British, of course. Some are turned off that he therefore did not have an accent. Which is, really, the actual argument. Sumpter could have inflected as such in the movie. By the same token, I have seen just as many have nary a qualm with it. I thought I’d put in my two cents on this issue.

In my review of Hogan’s movie, I made it clear how much I enjoyed Sumpter’s performance. He’s Pan, no question. So… did the lack of British accent bother me?

Let’s consider Peter’s history. Yes, born in the United Kingdom. So it stands to reason that he would speak with an accent. However, he did not stay very long in his house. The actual duration depends on which version of Barrie’s works. (I’ll save the details for another post. Suffice to say that Peter stayed no more than a week in his house.) We know for a fact that he heard his parents talking. Their conversation launches Peter into the adventure of a lifetime. But would he adopt the accent in so short a time? Possibly, but not likely. For when next seen, Peter is speaking with birds (as he had not forgotten the bird language.) Soon after he speaks with fairies as well. Who are we to assume fairies have a British accent? (Surely, fairy accents [if these exist] could be indigenous around the world as they are with humans.) I cannot say for sure, of course. But I’m inclined to believe the fairies would not want to associate themselves with such human silliness and complication. Thus, I’d imagine if they have an accent at all, it would be their own.

Peter Pan had little interaction with other humans before arriving in the Neverland. One Maimie Mannering, namely. But he does not spend much time with her, either. So again, it’s doubtful he would pick up the inflections.

The Lost Boys, well, they might have British accents. But by the time Peter Pan had become captain of a band of boys, he would already have a manner of speaking. He might pick up some from them. However, it's just as likely that they would lose their accents. Either by forgetting or emulating Peter Pan, who would be their model.

Some of the pirates in the Neverland would have British accents, surely.
Yet the pirates had different accents as well.

So, the eternal boy would not have any real model for how to inflect his speech.

And there you have it. I don’t think Peter Pan would have a British accent.

And if anyone still has the idea that the actor picked for Pan should have been a native of the United Kingdom, I say this: I support the widespread search for an unknown. And given the unnecessary accent and the performance captured on film, it makes little difference. I mean after all, Peter started off being played by the opposite gender.

Bravo to P.J. Hogan on this issue.


Moira Lewelyn said...

I have to admit, I was a little surprised when I first heard Jeremy in the film, I did not expect him to have an American accent.
Then again, I think it was just because I have a British one, and I by extension all the people in the books I read have one too. (except last time I read a play by JM Barrie and I gave a few a Scottish accent... The Old Lady Shows Her Medals, sweet play ^^)

Anyway, it doesn't bother me, like you say he was not exposed to a British accent long enough for him to be influenced by it...
And anyway, I am a fervent believer that everyone has their own vision of Peter Pan (same as everyone's Neverland is different) and so I accept any twists on his character.
It doesn't change the way I see him.

Anonymous said...

If you know how children acquire speech in the first place, let me ask you this: You argue that Peter didn't hear the British accent for long (I grant you that) but how on Earth would he pick up an accent that he had NEVER heard?

I didn't mind Peter being American in that particular movie. I explained it to myself that Peter was just different from the others. His accent set him apart a little more.

But in general, the Peter of my imagination is English. If anything, he should speak the language of birds and fairies and then we wouldn't understand him at all (at least for a while). So... no point can be made to convince me that the American accent is likely or even possible. But honestly, who cares? It's a great movie and when I'm watching a story about a magical island, flying kids who never age, mermaids and pirates, I'll gladly suspend my desbelief that little bit more.

Peter Von Brown said...

Let me clarify that I, personally, do not hear an "American accent" from Sumpter. Perhaps I'm just not well enough versed in "American accents." I'm not saying his speech isn't affected in any way... but I also think this term ridiculous. There are a plenty of accents across the United States. And furthermore, saying "American" is wrong, too, assuming one means to designate the United States only. Residents of South Americans are "Americans" as well. And this adds a plethora more accents. Even if we pinpoint the locale of the accent he's (apparently) using, it's still moot. For me, at least. The point only is that it's not British as people seem to expect from Peter Pan, which I believe to be an erroneous expectation. So the question of how Peter Pan can have an "American accent" if he'd never been to/heard the US doesn't really exist. It's just that he wouldn't necessarily be BRITISH sounding.