ninth symphony films - movie reviews

PETER PAN (2003)

DIRECTOR  -  p.j. hogan

RATED  -  pg

GENRE  -  adventure

LENGTH  -  113 minutes

RELEASED  -  25 december 2003

DISTRIBUTOR  -  columbia & universal

OFFICIAL SITE  -  peter pan

ESTIMATED BUDGET  -  $100,000,000
peter pan - a shot from the film


buy the dvd from peter pan at

buy the dvd from peter pan at

a faithful re-telling of J.M. Barrie's classic story about the darling family children who receive a visit from peter pan, who takes them to never never land where an ongoing war with the evil pirate captain hook is taking place.

this is the first live-action version of the story with a little boy playing the lead role.


picture from peter pan

picture from peter pan

picture from peter pan


two out of four possible stars

The tagline, "As You've Never Seen It Before," has taught me to by wary regarding films whose creators claim to have put a fresh spin on a classic novel or story. After all, 2001's The Musketeer was the last movie to tote that phrase around and the combination of martial arts choreography with a story that took place in eighteenth century France was nothing if not disastrous. But viewers of 2003's Peter Pan shouldn't worry that such a classic tale has been mutilated beyond what one could consider fine entertainment.

If anything, the filmmakers involved in creating this movie have strived to create as vivid a portrayal of J.M. Barrie's tale as possible, while staying true to the original narrative. "As You've Never Seen It Before" probably refers to the heavy use of computer generated images regarding the characters' ability to fly, rather than any revolutionary method of story-telling. From the appearance of the nurse-maid dog, "Nana," to the opening of the film that includes the phrase, "All children but one, grow up," the film is filled with exact scenes and dialogue from the book. It seems sometimes as though filmmakers wanted to take absolutely everything from the book and make sure it got into the film.

Though none of the characters (save the deliciously evil Captain Hook) really bounce off the screen (despite various characters' habits of flying and defying gravity), the performances are still one of the highlights of the movie. The film has more than one actor skilled in the art of intense facial communication and often-times, when the dialogue fails, the expressions on various actors' faces certainly pick up the slack. In particular, Richard Briers, playing Hook's first mate, "Smee," definitely owns the best performance in the film, able to charm his way off the written page with perfect timing and delivery.

Rachel Hurd-Wood, having famously "beat out" several thousand other potential "Wendy Darlings" has innocent sincerity on her side, though her performance is not as polished or believable as it should have been. And one should call into question the size of her front teeth, because they really are quite distracting when she opens her mouth wide for a smile, as she does after nearly every other sentence. Relative newcomer Jeremy Sumpter plays the impish Peter Pan and like Briers, is very expressive in body language and facial expressions, though his dialogue might cause laughter in a present day audience.

Jason Isaacs, who performs both the roles of the father, "Mr. Darling" and Pan's nemesis, "Captain James Hook," probably has the most juicy material to work with as an actor given the near insanity of Hook's personality and the flamboyant costuming and attitude required to bring the character to life. Playing the character from an interesting angle, Isaacs is a more sympathetic as Hook than actors who have performed in past incarnations of the famous pirate. Olivia Williams, playing the mother, "Mrs. Darling," is beautiful inside and out in her role, and easily captivates the audience whenever she's on screen.

With the visual look of the film so vivid and detailed and the great effort put forth in the characterizations, this film's only real failing seems to be in its dialogue. And while some viewers will notice that much of what is said has been taken verbatim from the novel, that technique doesn't seem to have yielded the best results. Most viewers familiar with the story will remember the moment in the book where Tinkerbelle is brought back to life by Peter Pan's uttering of, "I do believe in fairies!" after her unfortunate meeting with a flower-full of poison. And while the sentiment is lovely, it's completely overdone in the film and drags on for such an incredible amount of time so as to allow nearly every single human in the film (except for Captain Hook) the opportunity to shout out, "I DO BELIEVE IN FAIRIES!!!"

And while the film doesn't exactly jump out of the starting gate, the pace of the film is fine once the children are up in the air and on the way to Neverland, so why the editor and director decided to create this cacophonous scene with so many people repeating the same phrase over and over again is a mystery. While the sentiment is charming at first, it becomes wholly annoying by the end. Since the film overall is not that long, the scene itself takes up a large percentage of the total running time and seems to knock the pace off-balance. Like a musical number in the middle of an action film, the Fairy scene just seems overblown and out of place.

An additional failing of the film is how it seems specifically targeted to very young children. Though the story has traditionally been one for children anyway, talented writers and directors have been able to make children’s' stories appeal to all ages. And while the set decoration and performances will impress older viewers, it's clear throughout much of the film that the filmmakers did not set out to woo older viewers. Which might have been a mistake, given the age of the story itself and the familiarity all generations have with it. the special effects aren't always as polished as modern, adult audiences might demand and adding the simplicity of the dialogue, the film comes across as being entirely suited to five year olds.

This latest imagining of this often-told story will delight and enthrall the youngest members of the audience, but probably won't appeal to all viewers. While the film might try the patience of older viewers (people over the age of thirteen or so), the wit and humor (usually non-verbal) inserted into the performances by some of the actors will keep most audience members mildly entertained. The cinematography and set-design are beautiful and if one is willing to overlook the fact that the flying sequences aren't always believable (the special effects techniques used by the crew aren't exactly seamless), the film is otherwise vivid and beautifully put together. A faithful re-telling of the classic story, Peter Pan respectful of its source material, but doesn't exactly leave you breathless.

Review by Kelsey Wyatt.

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