2003's Peter Pan was a flop. Built and filmed on a large budget, the movie opened to only $11 million on its way to an extremely disappointing $48 million. Apparently, there was just too much going on for parents to have time to take their kids to see this imaginative and entertaining rendition of J.M. Barrie's classic tale.
The first live-action Peter Pan to be made in a long time, this one actually stars a boy as the title character. Jeremy Sumpter is a perfect fit, with the charm of handsome adolescence and a boyish grin. He's not overpowering as an actor - nor are any of the young cast - but he works effectively, giggling and laughing as he plays swords with his arch nemesis Captain Hook (played well by Jason Isaacs).
This version of Peter Pan is very imaginative and visually impressive, with much thanks to director P.J. Hogan. These are not graphics that will win an Academy Award, but they are intentionally dreamlike - the kids, for example, can sit on clouds. Compared to Stephen Spielberg's Hook, the only other modern day Pan movie (albeit a sequel), the world seems much more alive and rich, though Spielberg took more care in showing the funnier aspects of Never-Never Land.
Peter Pan is a surprisingly character-driven film, apparently closer to Barrie's original work (which I am not familiar with). The relationship between Peter and Wendy is explored thoroughly, though not with any obvious sexual overtones that some of the critics suggested when this film was released theatrically.
All of this comes at a price, though. While the film is visually intriguing and the character of Peter, Wendy and Hook are developed to a great extent, the rest of the characters are put on the backburner. Smee (Richard Briers), who has always been Hook's comical sidekick, isn't used to his full potential. Other pirates are able to pull off a joke here and there, but none are really all that established. In fact, none of the Lost Boys are, either, and what results is a well-done film that isn't nearly as funny as it could - and should - be.
This version of Peter Pan will hopefully find long life on the video shelves, as it is a good movie that people of all ages can enjoy. Some more humor would have been nice, but as is it is still one of the most overlooked films of 2003.
Review by Erik Samdahl unless otherwise indicated.
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