HOW PETER BECAME PAN (SORT OF)
Peter Pan. Captain Hook. Tinkerbell. The Lost Boys. Neverland. All of these are iconic staples in the beloved children’s book Peter Pan. Written by Scottish writer J.M. Barrie, Peter Pan or known as “The Boy Who Wouldn’t Grow Up” was originally written as a play in 1904 and then became a novel some years later (with Barrie revising the story several times before its publication date). Though it’s been over a century, Barrie’s Peter Pan is still being retold to kids everywhere and has become classic tale in children literature. Along with the original story, Peter Pan has also transcended into different media facets, adapting the celebrated adventure to be told in cartoons, TV programs, feature films, and other written works by other authors. Thus, it would seem that almost every corner of Peter Pan’s adventures in Neverland has been already told. Now, direct Joe Wright and Warner Bros. Pictures release a prequel cinematic story to the timeless Peter Pan with the movie Pan. Does this origin tale of the iconic character stay true to the cherish story or is it a visual flop and far cry from Barrie’s description?
Left at the doorstep of an orphanage as a baby by his mother (Amanda Seyfried), Peter (Levi Miller) is raised in a depressing boys home that’s run by cruel nuns. Holding onto the hope that his mother will one day return to claim him, Peter is instead confronted with a world of danger and magic when pirates in a flying ship come and kidnap several of the orphans, including Peter, whisking them off to the realm of Neverland. Peter and the others soon become slave labors, working for feared pirate Blackbeard (Hugh Jackman), toiling in the mines of Neverland in search of nuggets of fairy dust, which acts as an elixir of agelness in Neverland. Meeting fellow prisoner James Hook (Garrett Hedlund), Peters finds an ally to escape with as the pair take flight to meet the Natives, with the warrior princess Tiger Lilly (Rooney Mara) joining the fight. Within time, Peter soon discovers his destiny, a prophecy that was written down long ago, as he, Hook and Tiger Lily journey to the mythical Fairy Kingdom in search Peter’s mother and to overthrow Blackbeard, who seeks to claim the fabled kingdom for his own and live forever.
THE GOOD / THE BAD
Since I first saw the teaser trailer for the movie (last year), I was super ecstatic to see Pan when it came out in theaters. In truth, I’ve actually never read J.M. Barrie’s Peter Pan (its true) as the closest thing I’ve read is the fictional prequel novels / play “Peter and the Starcatchers” (which is great by the way). And yet, I’ve seen a lot of the adaptations of Peter Pan (cartoons, TV programs, and movies) to understand the iconic tale of “the boy who wouldn’t grow up” and its given source material. Anyway, back to Pan, the trailers for the movie instantly got me hooked into seeing the movie, filling my eyes with eye-catching colors and childish flights of fancy. When I found out that Pan was to be delayed (moving from July 24th to October 9th), I was slightly upset that I had to wait a little bit longer to see this movie. After finally watching the movie, however, I felt a little bit let down from my inherit excitement. Pan partially captures the spirit of the Peter Pan mythos, but fails to capture an excellent and entertaining origin story to Barrie’s classic fairy tale.
Director Joe Wright, who previously directed such film as Atonement, Pride & Prejudice (2005 version), and Anna Karenina, tackles Pan with a notion of wonderment and child-like fantasy; a fitting choice for such tale as Peter Pan. Unfortunately, Wright (and screenplay writer Jason Fuchs) efforts to re-imagine the Peter Pan mythos falls short as an origin / prequel story, watering down the allure and fascination in watching this movie (I personally felt that way). The usage of having Peter being the “Chosen One” or “Savior” for Neverland, while okay in general, unfolds in a very straightforward and formulaic manner, offering the overly familiar standard highlights (twist and turns) in a narration that’s commonly found in most children fantasy stories. Wright and Fuchs also try to interject their own mythmaking into the Peter Pan mythology, but ends up convoluting the fairy tale mythos with motives and explanations that are vague, to say the least, and ultimately create gaps and plot holes in the film’s own narration.
This being a prequel adventure, there are plenty of “nods and winks” to the original Peter Pan with characters saying famous lines from the story and foreshadowing events to come. However, my biggiest pet peeve is that Pan feels incomplete as a proper story. Since the movie acts as an intended prequel to Barrie’s Peter Pan, the movie ends at one particular point and leaves room for a follow-up sequel film to be produced and continue its narration. I literally felt cheated by this as I thought the movie would showcase certain things and would literally end at the beginning of the classic Peter Pan story. Unfortunately, Pan, as a movie, only tells part of the tale as if the movie was created under the assumption of being planned as a trilogy or series, which is very disappointing.
Visually speaking, Pan has some creative and colorful imagery. Similar to other feature films like The Wizard of Oz and The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, the movie’s color palate at the beginning is darker with muted shades, giving off an appearance of dull and drab world of reality. This, of course, changes when Pan switches gears to the adventures in Neverland, which is awashed with very loud and vibrant colors that are depicted in its various locales, creatures, and costume apparel. Even the musical score, composed by musician John Powell, has that fantasy / swashbuckling adventure feel to it.
However, during the third act’s big battle, Pan dilutes itself by going overboard (and I mean “way overboard”) in its visual effect shots. There’s so much usage of CG that its doesn’t gel well with the live-action components (characters and set pieces) on-screen. I kind of felt like I was watching a lengthy video game “cut-scene” rather than a feature film. And (to be more honest), the film’s CG shots overall all are “average” and nothing really to rave about.
Much like Disney’s recent live-screen adaptation of Cinderella, the art of subtlety is thrown to the wayside as Pan is presented with theatrically bold and larger-than-life performances and the principal cast seems to know that. Relatively newcomer Levi Miller plays Barrie’s iconic character Peter, but a different iteration. In the beginning of the movie, Miller express’s a little bit of his character’s classic persona of being mischievous (which is a fun to watch), but completely changes when he arrives in Neverland, channeling the stereotypical reluctant “chosen one” architype. As a whole, Miller does a serviceable job, but his character of Peter just doesn’t feel like the Peter Pan we’ve all come to know from this timeless tale. Garrett Hedlund does a good job as young James Hook, who’s more of like a Hans Solo gunslinger of Neverland. Though his performance is fine, his character is merely a classic rendition of the self-concerning and wise-cracking sidekick from fantasy / adventure stories.
As for Blackbeard, the central villain in Pan, the character is merely almost unmistakable illusion to Captain Hook that’s just been tweaked here and there. Granted, actor Hugh Jackman relishes the opportunity to play such a character, chewing his scenes with theatrical grandness that’s sometimes good and sometimes not. However, the character of Blackbeard just seems too stereotypical and just comes across as a older clone of Captain Hook and doesn’t bring new to the Peter Pan mythology (even his evil machinations to harvest Neverland’s fairy dust is never fully explained).
Rooney Mara’s Tiger Lily is another interesting character in Pan. I personally didn’t felt bothered that Mara played Tiger Lily, a character that many believed should’ve been played by a Native American. While Mara’s acting is good, her character is oddly unbalanced, dressing her up as warrior princess that aides Peter in his quest, while sharing a quasi-romantic love interest with the young dashing James Hook.
As a side note, it’s interesting that natives of Neverland are a cultural melting pot of multi-ethnic individuals, rather than just simply Native Americans. It certainly helps discern the movie from other Peter Pan adaptations, but its only superficial one that’s more for visual attention than insightful depth. The only two notable side characters worth noting is Adeel Akhtar as Mr. Sam ‘Smee’ Smiegel, who, like Hedlund’s Hook, is not a pirate in the film, but still delivers over-the-top yet satisfying performance similarly to Game of Thrones alum Nono Anozie’s Bishop, Blackbeard’s second in-command.
As much as I was hyped to see this movie, I feel that Pan fails to ignite at being either a standalone fantasy adventure or as an imaginative prequel to the iconic Peter Pan. Director Joe Wright’s cinematic origin story is a stylish and family friendly feature that unfortunately get lost in its own tale with a barrage of heavy visual effects, unimpressionable characters, an overtly complicated mythmaking to J.M. Barrie’s beloved story, and an overall bland and incomplete narration. While there are plenty of nods to the famous story and some colorful imagery to the proceedings, the movie itself just simply can’t finds its mark. Personally, there are far better film adaptions of Peter Pan out there to watch, whether P.J. Hogan’s more traditional live-action approach in 2003’s Peter Pan or Stephen Spielberg’s continuation to the original Peter Pan story in 1991’s Hook. As it stands, Pan doesn’t have enough fairy dust to take flight in the cinematic world of movies.