Come Away (2020) Review

AN OVERSTUFFED AND PREPLEXING

ORIGIN TALE OF SORTS


 

The stories of both Peter Pan and Alice in Wonderland have been beloved tales for generations to hear about; conjuring up imaginative fantasies of courageous adventures in Neverland and bizarre wonders in Wonderland. Throughout the years, the tales written by author / playwright J.M. Barrie and author Lewis Carroll have enchanted young and old readers / viewers within their various adaptations made from their stories that either follows the adventure of Alice in the magical world Wonderland or the Darling siblings’ adventures with Peter Pan in Neverland. As to be expected, Hollywood (both on the small and big screen) has taken an interest in these two children’s tales; cultivating a plethora of various TV / film adaptations throughout the years, including animated films, cartoon shows, live-action movies, with some notable ones coming from Disney Studios (i.e., 1951’s Alice in Wonderland 1953’s Peter Pan respectfully). Now, Relativity Media and director Brenda Chapman present a unique film that merges the tales of Peter Pan and Alice in Wonderland in prequel narrative with the movie Come Away. Does the film enchant viewers with its wonderous take on Barrie / Carroll’s stories or is it a fantasy hodgepodge mess of a feature?

THE STORY


In the English countryside, the Littleton siblings, including curious Alice (Keira Chansa), her mischievous brother Peter (Jordan A. Nash), and their brilliant older brother David (Reece Yates) let their unbridled imaginations run wild; spending the days on countless adventures beneath the forest backdrop of their home. Encouraged by their parents, Jack (David Oyelowo) and Rose (Angelina Jolie), the Littleton kids’ have fun in make-believe tea parties and fighting off against pirates. However, their imaginative age of innocence comes to an abrupt end when tragedy strikes the Littleton family; causing the family to shatter and to fall prey to despair. With a numbness growing and a heavy financial burden upon the Littleton, Peter, eager to prove himself, journey with Alice to London, where they try to sell a treasured family heirloom to the sinister pawnshop owner known as C.J. (David Gyasi). What awaits Alice and Peter is a self-discovery journey about themselves, with Alice dreaming of a wonderous land and Red Queen, while her brother wishes for a magical land of pirates and Lost Boys that dwell there.

THE GOOD / THE BAD


Like many growing up, the fairy-like tales of Peter Pan and Alice in Wonderland are some of my favorite childhood stories. Both tales showcase plenty of wonderment and child-like wonder within their narratives that I personally display the right amount of escapism and adventure from anyone. I mean…who didn’t want to go to Wonderland or Neverland during their childhood. I certainly did. As mentioned above, there has been plenty of TV shows / film adaptations made from either Peter Pan or Alice in Wonderland throughout the years. Of course, some of my personal favorite ones would the two animated Disney films (as to be expected), but there were others that I grew to like, including the TV shows Once Upon a Time and Peter Pan and the Pirates. In the literary, there were two YA children’s novels that take a new spin on these classics with the releases of “The Looking Glass Wars” trilogy by Frank Beddor and the “Peter and the Starcatchers” series by Dave Barry. Both of which I would highly recommend. Nevertheless, regardless of which version of the tale you remember the most, the tales of both Peter Pan and Alice in Wonderland will continue to enchant viewers within its adventurous / wonderment stories.

This brings me back around to talking about Come Away, a 2020 fantasy drama film that sets to examine both Peter Pan and Alice in Wonderland narratives in a prequel storyline. In all honesty, I really didn’t hear much about this particular movie as it kind of went “under my movie radar” for quite some time. I think the first time I heard about the project was when the movie’s trailer appeared online a few months back (from the time of writing this review) with a scheduled US release date for November 13th, 2020….on digital streaming services. From the trailer alone, the movie did look quite interesting. The movie kind of reminded me of Finding Neverland and Tolkien; both of which really did like. So, I was interested in seeing the movie, but I forgot to post the film’s movie trailer on my blog (my bad). That being said, since I work retail (currently), the holiday season consumed my attention and I kind of pushed seeing this movie and few weeks after its November 13th release date, which was released digitally on streaming services. So, I finally had the chance to sit down and watch Come Away….and what did I think of it? Well, it was only okay. While the intent is there and some of imaginative parts definitely work, Come Away is an overstuffed film offers a lot of half-baked ideas. It’s not a terrible movie, but it definitely could’ve been better with a better narrative.

Come Away is directed by Brenda Chapman, whose previous directorial works includes The Prince of Egypt and Brave. Given her background in children’s entertainment (i.e., directing script, story supervisor), Chapman seems like a suitable choice to helm this particular theatrical movie project; approaching Come Away with a sense of imaginative wonder that clashes with the harsh reality of the real world. Chapman certainly makes the feature feel inviting; framing the feature with great touch of family drama that’s inviting for kids and adults in something that’s close reminiscent to Finding Neverland, especially since both movies act as origins narrative to the Peter Pan (one being the more realistic version how J.M. Barrie inspired to write Peter Pan and the other a creative take on the prequel tale to Peter Pan). In this regard, Chapman manages to cultivate a fantasy family drama that has plenty of heart and imaginative strokes throughout. Speaking of imagination, Come Away is at its best when Chapman focuses the camera lens on the imaginative adventures that Alice, Peter, and David go on; incorporating a certain type of creative fun that’s reminiscent to youthful childhood antics that come alive. Thus, short sequences pieces of them fighting pirates, swordplay, and the Red Queen definitely are show of the feature’s highlights.

In the film’s presentation, Come Away is a great and well-crafted film that definitely “looks and feel” like beautiful, despite the film’s negative points (more on that below). The attention to detail throughout the film’s backdrop setting is quaint and charming to see; capturing a lovely setting of the English countryside and a gloomy bustling street life of London. To me, it almost has a “storybook” quality. Thus, the film’s “behind the scenes” team, including Luciana Arrighi (production designs), Liz Ainley and Kate Sullivan (set decorations), Louise Stjernsward (costume designs), and Jules O’Loughlin (cinematography), for their well-made / well-designed set-pieces, attire, and camera angles that make the film charming. Additionally, the film’s score, which was composed by John Debney, melodically charged with some beautiful pieces that certainly reflect the Littleton family’s emotion journey in the film, including tender character dialogue moments to adventurous child-like wonders.

Unfortunately, Come Away comes up short and ends up being a perplexing and confusing endeavor that has a hard time in struggling to balance whimsical nature and heartfelt drama. How so? Well, for starters, the narrative story of Come Away is quite overstuffed; cramming a lot of pieces into the cinematic tale that ultimately don’t pan out. Yes, I do like how the film incorporates a lot of nuances from the two stories, but the movie ultimately takes on more of a bite that it can chew, which results in a lot crammed ideas that don’t really pan out the correct way. This really boils down to the feature’s script handling, which was penned by Marissa Kate Goodhill. Goodhill’s script is too busy in what it wants to say and show than really conflict with Chapman’s direction for the film and the time constraints that’s the feature holds, with Come Away having a runtime of 94 minutes (one hour and thirty-four minutes). Again, this makes the project have a feeling of having half-baked ideas presented in the narrative that either ultimately pan out correctly or feels underdeveloped from the get-go. If Come Away was presented as a mini-series / limited series, the story could’ve been much better and could’ve benefited in expanding its materials (both storytelling elements and character development). Speaking of the narrative, both the script and direction of the film has some wonky ideas on how to handle such nuances from Peter Pan and Alice in Wonderland. It’s quite clear that the aspects of Peter Pan are much stronger and better represented in the story of Come Away than it does with the elements of Alice in Wonderland. Thus, the nuances of Alice in Wonderland are pretty much shortchanged, which is disappointing.

This also spills into Chapman’s direction for the movie, which is also a bit wonky at various points throughout the movie. While her attention to detail and heartfelt moments are well-placed, her direction can be a little bit misplaced, especially when examining the film’s emotional tones and balance. What do I mean? Well, the movie can’t really find a proper target audience. Some elements lighthearted fun, while others are a bit sad and macabre. So….is the film for kids? Or Adults? It’s really hard to find and results in the movie that really struggles to cater to its viewers; resulting in a feature that has an identity crisis. Additionally, the film’s ending seems rather rushed, especially when the film itself is about to get to some of the “juicer” bits of Peter Pan and Alice in Wonderland, with Come Away abruptly ending in a way that, while conclusive, feels like a bit of a disappointment. Chapman also struggles in demonstrating those character-built moments in the movie due to the effects of the overstuffed script handling for the project. Ultimately, Come Away has a good story to tell, but frame work and how its executed hampers from reaching a charming Finding Neverland aspect of which the movie desperately wants to achieve (i.e. a balance of heartfelt storytelling and character drama).

The cast in Come Away does a decent job in elevating some of those criticism points that I made above, but (unfortunately) none of them are really “wow” performances. That being said, none of them are terrible and / or bad acted…. there is just (like the movie itself) somewhere in between. The film’s main trio children characters (Alice, Peter, and David) take most of the center spotlight in the movie, with the young acting talents of actress Keira Chansa (National Theatre Live: Small Island and Faith) and actors Jordan A. Nash (Harlots and Aladdin) and Reece Yates (Les Miserable) providing to be capable in undertaking the bulk of the heavy-lifting for most of the feature’s runtime. Like all kid actors, their whimsical charm proves to be effective as well as some of the more tender / heartfelt moments, but neither Chansa nor Nash or Yates give quite that memorable performance to make them truly standout. Some of the character arcs are interesting (again, how the script shapes the Peter Pan / Alice narrative), but could’ve been easily expanded upon. On the flip side, I do like the idea that the film’s central characters are made up of acting talents of color rather than the traditional takes that Hollywood movies of past. So, for all of its tropes and faults that Come Away falls prey to, it’s quite clear that the movie is heading in the right direction in terms of diversity. And personally…. this didn’t bother me at all as I fully embrace this idea.

Behind them and almost anchoring the feature is the acting talents of their adult co-stars, with actress Angelina Jolie and actor David Oyelowo who play the parents of Alice, Peter, and David….Rose and Jack Littleton. Jolie, known for her roles in Maleficent, Changeling, and Girl, Interrupted, does a good job in capturing Rose, with plenty of heartfelt moments of a fragile mother, while Oyelowo, known for his roles in Selma, Queen of Katwe, and Star Wars Rebels, is equally effective as Jack, a man who is struggling to provide for his family and trying to keep an eye on his children. Together, both Jolie and Oyelowo help anchor the feature as the more “seasoned” or “big ticketed” stars for Come Away and certainly prove that point. However, the story doesn’t allow these two particular talents to make their respective character their own; rendering the characters of Rose and Jack rather dull and generic.

The other supporting important characters in Come Away are sort of rifts on the characters from Peter Pan or Alice in Wonderland, including actress Anna Chancellor (The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy and What a Girl Wants) as Rose’s sister Eleanor and actors David Gyasi (Maleficent: Mistress of Evil and Interstellar) as Jack’s brother CJ and Clarke Peters (The Wire and His Dark Materials) as Jack / CJ’s father Hatter. Naturally, these characters are supposed to be inspiration for the Pan / Alice characters (i.e., Eleanor = Red Queen, CJ = to Captain James Hook, and Hatter = Mad Hatter) and their character personas reflect that (albeit in the real world). However, these particular characters are rather flat beyond their initial setup and end up being rather flimsy, with neither Chapman’s direction nor Goodhill’s script offering them anything to play off of. The result are characters that are well-acted, but left with little to no substance, despite their importance to the narrative, and could’ve been easily expanded upon (as mentioned above). Kind of a big waste / missed opportunity to me.

The rest of the cast, including actress Gugu Mbatha-Raw (Belle and Beauty and the Beast) as the adult version of Alice, actress Jenny Galloway (Grange Hill and Weirdsister College) as Hannah O’Farrel, actor Derek Jacobi (Gladiator and Hamlet) as Mr. Brown, and actor Michael Caine (The Dark Knight and The Quiet American) as Charlie, are in minor supporting players in the film. While most of these characters are, more or less, limited by their screen-time and not really meant to be expanded upon in the film, these acting talents get the job done; making their past character actor / recognizable roles speak for themselves in the movie.

FINAL THOUGHTS


In a time of childhood wonder and harsh reality, two siblings embark upon two different paths that coincide with the origins of two beloved fairy tales in the movie Come Away. Director Brenda Chapman’s fantasy drama takes narrative strains of Peter Pan and Alice in Wonderland and produces a prequel of sorts to both; offering up an heartfelt take on the innocence of childhood in an age of growing up. Unfortunately, while some imaginative parts work as well as some of the feature’s presentation / production quality, and some decent acting, the majority of the film feels uneven and half-baked; overstuffing its narrative in a confusing way and too much of a melancholy way. Personally, this movie was somewhere between decent and okay. I get certainly get what the filmmakers were trying to convey in this movie and some of the element do work, but the film itself is a bit haphazard and mediocre at best. Thus, my recommendation opinion for this movie would probably be a “iffy choice” as some might like it, while other will feel befuddled by the time the feature reaches its ending. In the end, Come Away is a decent attempt to bridge the two fictional narratives of Peter Pan and Alice in Wonderland together, but gets lost within entanglement of weaving these origin tales with an overstuffed and perplexing story.

3.0 Out of 5 (Iffy Choice)

 

Released On: November 13th, 2020
Reviewed On: December 27th, 2020

Come Away  is 94 minutes long and is rated PG for strong thematic content, some violence, fantasy action, and unsettling images

One comment

  • It does sound like an interesting premise, but I can also see why it would end up confusing. It’s hard enough creating an engaging backstory for one classic tale, but two different ones would be a serious challenge.

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