Peter Pan

Some stories, once told, just won't go away, and J.M. Barrie's Peter Pan is one of them. Staged around the world since its publication in 1904, it could have been filmed at the birth of cinema had its author not resisted letting go of the rights. Instead, the first filmed version of Peter Pan appeared on Christmas Day of 1924, featured a cast handpicked by Barrie, and is said to have left children weeping as they chanted their belief in fairies. In one form or another, they've been weeping and chanting ever since, as Peter Pan worked its way through Disney animation, live television, Steven Spielberg (Hook, but also E.T.), and other incarnations. Released on Christmas Day of 2003, this new filming of Peter Pan from Australian director P.J. Hogan (Muriel's Wedding) features special effects and fantastic sets that Barrie could only have imagined. But it's proof of Barrie's enduring appeal that all the window dressing just seems like a distraction from the story at the center. Not that the window dressing isn't worth talking about. Best known for his work on the Babe films, production designer Roger Ford drops Peter, Wendy, and the Lost Boys into a wonderland made up of equal parts Technicolor vibrancy and turn-of-the-century kitsch. It's tacky and beautiful, sometimes both at the same time. Occasionally flatfooted even as it sparkles, the film suffers when Hogan lets the scenery do the directing for him, but he's chosen a cast capable of shouldering the film's weight. Though Jeremy Sumpter is little more than a placeholder as Peter, newcomer Rachel Hurd-Wood (as Wendy) registers the quicksilver shifts of emotion that might be expected of a girl whisked from her room in the middle of the night, while Swimming Pool's Ludivine Sagnier makes a warm-blooded Tinker Bell. Jason Isaacs is similarly well-cast, both as a menacing but vulnerable Captain Hook and as Hurd-Wood's shy father. Hogan invites his grown-up viewers to entertain the symbolism of that dual role, and to peer beneath the surface of the familiar story. He lets an unmistakable but tasteful air of cusp-of-adulthood sensuality settle on his leads while making palpable the loss that comes with staying a child forever. When happy thoughts run out, there's a hard thump to follow.

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