Peter Pan (2003)

Starring: Jason Isaacs, Jeremy Sumpter, Rachel Hurd-Wood, Olivia Williams, Lynn Redgrave, Richard Briars, Ludivine Sagnier

Directed by: PJ Hogan

Rating: 1 2 3 and a half

Mr and Mrs Darling await the return of the children

When I was a girl I was a little bit in love with Peter Pan, and always figured there was more to his relationship with Wendy than JM Barrie was letting on. Well, in this version of the classic children's tale we are left in no doubt as to the truth of the matter: both are beautiful children on the verge of adolescence, falling in love for the very first time. Although Peter of course, being a boy, and like all boys, refusing to grow up, can't possibly admit to such a girlie thing. Pshaw.

Last time I saw Peter Pan, he was played by Bonnie Langford. Quite why this is traditional I don't know, but let's just say it's a relief to see the part played by a real boy, Jeremy Sumpter, a golden-haired wonder destined to break a few hearts before he's very much older I'd dare say. Move over Harry Potter, you have a rival for your pre-teen girlie fans.

Jason Isaacs as Captain Hook threatens Wendy

And speaking of Harry Potter, Jason (Lucius Malfoy) Isaacs is devilishly handsome as the dastardly Captain Hook, with the ever endearing Richard Briars as his hapless sidekick Smee. He snarls and sneers and murders and plots, he wears fantastically flamboyant outfits and even has a range of different hooks to choose from... and it has to be said it's nice to see a real man in Neverland: there are only so many hyperactive kids a girl can take on a Tuesday evening, after all. Just don't ask how he came to be captain of a pirate ship but can't even kill a small flying boy...

Isaacs' performance as Mr Darling, however, is at the opposite end of the scale: myopic and repressed, he stutters ineptly through life like a Victorian Frank Spencer, without exercising any effective control over his unruly offspring. It's probably not just Wendy who dreams that by night he is transformed into the evil, child catching despot Hook.

Plaudits must also go to the beautiful Olivia Williams as Mrs Darling, everybody's dream mother as she sweeps into the nursery in a long satin dress to kiss the kids goodnight, and Lynn Redgrave as the slightly hysterical Aunt Millicent. French starlet Ludivine Sagnier is mostly enchanting and only a little bit annoying as nippy fairy Tinkerbell. and the huge St Bernard dog who plays Nana is very well cast too!

The setting of the film is charming, if a little artificial, and although some of the flying scenes are rather pants (surely blue screen technology has evolved beyond fuzzy lines round people?) masterpieces such as Hook's ship and the seriously enormous ticking crocodile more than make up for this.

Peter Pan with the Lost Boys

Neverland itself is a Technicolor delight, not a million miles away from Dorothy's Oz: pink fluffy candyfloss clouds drift in an azure sky whilst enormous flowers explode into blooms the size of plates; fairies waltz in hollow trees, picture book Red Indians whoop and dance round pointed teepees and sinister mermaids lurk on the shore. And here I think is where the film crosses over from being a kiddy flick (that at times reminded me somewhat of The Goonies) to having something to say to adults, the extreme artifice of Neverland underlining the fact that there is more to life than being a child and having fun all the time, that this is merely a transitory stage of our existence.

At the end of the film, Wendy and brothers John and Michael must return to their parents, to real life, to grow up. Because, as Wendy comes to realise, there is more to growing up than working in an office and worrying about bills. The magic - and there is real magic in this film, particularly in the scene I was dreading, when everybody must affirm that they believe in fairies in order to bring Tinkerbell back to life - doesn't stop just because we grow up, because love is a kind of magic, and love never leaves us.

So all together now: 'I do believe in fairies, I do, I do.'

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