Peter Pan (2003)

The time is right to rekindle our relationship with J.M. Barrie’s perpetually adolescent adventurer, Peter Pan. By now, you’ve probably forgotten Disney’s 50-year-old animated adaptation of Barrie’s work, and many of us are still trying to purge Steven Spielberg’s hollow update Hook from our minds. We adults need a refresher course, and a new generation of whimsy-challenged kids needs a proper introduction to the happy-go-lucky joys of Pan...
...Though it goes against everything he stands for, this rejuvenated Pan actually shows signs of growth and maturity. Special effects advancements help Peter and his cohorts pop off the screen. Cinematographer Donald McAlpine expands the rich color palette he utilized in such vivid films as Moulin Rogue and Romeo + Juliet. And director P.J. Hogan slips in subplots of unrequited love, develops pangs of loneliness, and mixes fleeting flights of happiness with his heroism.

Despite the changes, Pan’s story stays the same. Young Wendy Darling (Rachel Hurd-Wood) is on the verge of becoming a “young lady,” though all she wants to do is reenact courageous adventures with her brothers, John (Harry Newell) and Michael (Freddie Popplewell). A late-night visitor to their London flat presents the trio with the deal of a lifetime: Follow him to Never Never Land and they’ll never have to worry about growing up.

Not since Richard Donner’s The Goonies has a film captured the audacious spirit of youth in one swashbuckling adventure. Hogan’s purely magical Pan enjoys an infinite supply of imagination. Casting is its primary strength. Hurd-Wood makes a delightful Wendy, feasting on her first tastes of romance and exploration. Roguish Jeremy Sumpter perfects a carefree lilt that’s ideal for the untroubled Pan.

Ah, but Peter really isn’t so lighthearted, is he? Pan has issues, and Hogan gets to the root of this boy’s problems. Pan deftly explores Peter’s co-dependent relationship with his archenemy, Captain Hook. And Sumpter gets more than a few chances to address Peter’s overwhelming desire to shut out grown-up thoughts, feelings and responsibilities.

A tremendous ensemble contributes to the Never Land community, from Hook’s comically incompetent crew to the not-so-innocent Lost Boys – each more endearing than the next. Ludivine Sagnier, last seen sans clothing in the racy import Swimming Pool, hams it up as Peter’s jealous cohort, Tinkerbell. Richard Biers makes a fine Smee. And in a dual role, Jason Isaacs triumphs as spineless pushover George Darling and the maliciously mischievous Hook.

If cheerful children were granted $80 million dollars, a bevy of cameras, and access to a seasoned crew, P.J. Hogan’s engaging daydream would be the version of Pan they’d envision. The rousing fantasy is smart, stylish, and humorous. It’s made with the loving care and grand storytelling brushstrokes that kids use when staging makeshift plays in their backyard. What a gift to give a child this Christmas.