Friday, April 16, 2004

I have to admit at first I was biased against the live movie version of the movie, Peter Pan. I first read about it sometime last year way before the controversy broke out. I mean I grew up with the Walt Disney version and doing a live movie version of something well-loved just ruins the whole experience. Well, guess what? I now think that Walt Disney's version bites the dust of this newer, spiffier version. Not even Spielberg's Hook can hold a candle to this new kid on the block.

I've heard it said that this movie's much closer than the other versions combined and one cannot know for certain unless one reads the entire book for himself. J.M. Barrie's wonderful story opens thus:
All children, except one, grow up. They soon know that they will grow up, and the way Wendy knew was this. One day when she was two years old she was playing in a garden, and she plucked another flower and ran with it to her mother. I suppose she must have looked rather delightful, for Mrs. Darling put her hand to her heart and cried, "Oh, why can't you remain like this for ever!" This was all that passed between them on the subject, but henceforth Wendy knew that she must grow up. You always know after you are two. Two is the beginning of the end.

The original words of the book comes off as exceedingly charming as it reflects the prim and proper behavior that British folks have (especially those living in the early 1900s) and so unlike the other movies based on Peter Pan that comes off with an American flavor, Director P.J. Hogan (My Best Friend's Wedding)'s version goes back to preserve its England roots.

The story starts out with the contrast of the free-spirited and carefree fun of childhood versus the somber, seriousness of the adults. Wendy Darling (Rachel Hurd-Wood) is shown playing make-believe with her younger brothers John (Harry Newell) and Michael (Freddie Popplewell), regalling them with a story of her own, Cinderella fighting the pirates of the high seas. Soon after she's being presented before her Aunt Millicent (Lynn Redgrave)> who adviced that she be sent away to a boarding school to teach her grown up things and to be a proper lady. Her parents Mr. John Darling (Jason Isaacs) and Mrs. Mary Darling (Olivia Williams) were aghast at the idea at first, after all their daughter was just barely thirteen. Her brothers also feared of the fates that await them (after all the suffocating dictates of Victorian Society is no fun for kids at all). But after a series of unfortunate incidents, her indignant father threatened to turn their nurse-dog Nana (Rebel) over to the dog pound and Wendy to the tutelage of Aunt Millicent starting the day after.

Although the morrow held grim news for the little ones, that same night held the promise of an adventure they'll never forget. Soon after the three children have gone to bed, Peter Pan (Jeremy Sumpter) snuck in looking for his lost shadow. Coming in along with Tinkerbell (Ludivine Sagnier) his mischievous fairy friend, they only managed to get themselves into a bind waking Wendy in the process. After a brief introduction Peter had a brilliant proposition to bring Wendy with him back to Neverland. He's leading a pack of Lost Boys and they sorely need a mother-figure that would tell them lots of stories, look after them, and tuck them to their beds at night. Peter also agreed to her request to let her brothers tag along (lured with the promise of seeing mermaids, indians, and pirates). As it turns out, the magical place called Neverland turns out to be one big island playground where one big adventure happens after another. This was how author Barrie describes the place in his book:
...for the Neverland is always more or less an island, with astonishing splashes of colour here and there, and coral reefs and rakish-looking craft in the offing, and savages and lonely lairs, and gnomes who are mostly tailors, and caves through which a river runs, and princes with six elder brothers, and a hut fast going to decay, and one very small old lady with a hooked nose. It would be an easy map if that were all, but there is also first day at school, religion, fathers, the round pond, needle-work, murders, hangings, verbs that take the dative, chocolate pudding day, getting into braces, say ninety-nine, three-pence for pulling out your tooth yourself, and so on, and either these are part of the island or they are another map showing through, and it is all rather confusing, especially as nothing will stand still.

Of all delectable islands the Neverland is the suggest and most compact, not large and sprawly, you know, with tedious distances between one adventure and another, but nicely crammed. When you play at it by day with the chairs and table-cloth, it is not in the least alarming, but in the two minutes before you go to sleep it becomes very real. That is why there are night-lights.

The fantasy land resurrects with the return of its owner enabling his enemies, the pirates led by Captain Jas Hook (Jason Isaacs) and his able right-hand man, Smee (Richard Briers), to plan an attack using Peter's guests as his "chips." In the course of the battle, Wendy's attraction to Peter begins to grow and she certainly doesn't waste any time in letting him know about it. Surprised by this sudden forwardness by someone he only considered to be a friend, he reacts, "Why do you have to spoil everything? We have fun, don't we? I taught you to fly and to fight. What more could there be?" Wendy could only hold on a glimmer of hope that Peter also feels the same way before her heart was finally dashed to a million pieces later. Peter was and will always be the kid who'll never feel what it means to be a grown up.

The story's replete with symbolisms and subtle messages by the author wishing to hold on to the vivacity of lost youth. Like the actor playing both Mr. Darling and Capt. Hook, was this intended by the Director/Screenplay Writer to show the children (especially John and Michael)'s present fear of their father and the chance they would grow up to be as grouchy and stiff? Remember Mrs. Darling's explanation to her children that their couldn't be all that bad, "There are many different kinds of bravery. There's the bravery of thinking of others before one's self. Now, your father has never brandished a sword nor... nor fired a pistol, thank heavens. But he has made many sacrifices for his family, and put away many dreams." Intrigued, Michael asked, "Where did he put them?" "He put them in a drawer. And sometimes, late at night, we take them out and admire them. But it gets harder and harder to close the drawer... and he does. And that is why he is brave," answered their mother. It is this fear of putting away one's dreams when they grow up that makes some choose not to. What's the deal with Peter's constant forgetfulness? Is it a short span attention common to kids? And does Captain Hook's ever present fear (aside from the crocodile) of never, ever recapturing his youth drive his anger against Peter? Unwilling to face the fact that he's already "Old... Alone... Done for"? This fear, it seems, is personified by the large crocodile and sound of the ticking clock it swallowed (also note the presence of clocks everywhere in Neverland). Did the Captain find out, too late, that he could have chosen not to grow up if he wanted too? Despite his crew's tough facade, their ability to weather the toughest storms, inside they too looked for the affections of a mother (Mr. Barrie wished for the same all his life). But though, each and every boy could wish they could remain the same age as Peter Pan and play forever, a willingness to be trapped in such a situation could only result in tragic results. "I think it is your biggest pretend," countered Wendy. She almost wished for the same, but knowing in her heart of hearts, it wasn't meant to be. If old people face the sad possibility of being forgotten, so does those who persist in staying behind. Their father's breaking the wall of formality in the end signifies the departure from the past where embracing one's childhood past holds the key to being the adult kids could look forward to becoming.

* Click the link to read J.M. Barrie's classic, The Adventures of Peter Pan, in its entirety.
** Check out also the review in Hollywood Jesus for more insightful reactions to this great movie.

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