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All children grow up – except one: Peter Pan (Jeremy Sumpter). When he whisks Wendy (Rachel Hurd-Wood) to Neverland with her brothers, they engage in a serious adventure – and adventures are what matter to the eternally young. But with adventure comes danger, and in Neverland, the biggest danger is the pirate Captain James Hook (Jason Isaac), Peter Pan’s eternal enemy. While Peter Pan revels in the fantasy world that supports fairies like Tinkerbell (Ludivine Sagnier), Wendy is torn by her family’s desire for her to grow up and deal with more than just adventure, none more so than her mother (Olivia Williams). And a mother is what every kid dearly wants . . . 

Review by Louise Keller:
A visually sumptuous adventure for the whole family, Peter Pan invites us into the magical world of Neverland, where fairy dust never settles and our hearts are young forever. Targeting the audience for which JM Barrie’s characters and story were intended, PJ Hogan has used imagination, splendiferous effects and a fabulous cast. The heart of the film rests in the young hands of 14 year old Jeremy Sumpter and 13 year-old Rachel Hurd-Wood as Peter Pan and Wendy, as they trip through the stars and galaxies journeying to the beautiful lands beyond the fluffy pink clouds. 

Sumpter looks like an angel with his blonde good looks, long dark lashes, husky voice, sprinkling of mischievous freckles and defiant crooked teeth, while Hurd-Wood’s natural vivacity and a heart-full of emotions firmly planted on her sleeve, is most appealing. Of course, the all-important Captain Hook’s role requires much credence, and in the experienced hands of Jason Isaacs (who also doubles as Mr Darling), we can be assured of a true theatrical performance. In fact, true to the essence of a children’s novel, much of the action is theatrical – very much as a child would envision it in his/her imagination. Of course, we are talking about a time when children were mostly seen and not heard. Besides, in this particular family, there is also a scene-stealing nurse on four paws (a divine St Bernard’s called Nana, who wears a frilly nanny’s bonnet). The fact that I crave for such a pet (one who climbs up the wall chasing shadows, transports children to the bathtub and strives at all times to watch over, love and protect its owners) is no doubt why I relished the Nana scenes so much. 

Olivia Williams has a heart-warming stillness as the very perfect Mrs Darling, and brings one of the film’s most moving moments as she finally discovers her little darlings have returned home. Lynn Redgrave’s extroverted and highly romantic Aunt Millicent (a character devised by PJ Hogan) brings some laughs, while the full support cast including the Lost Boys and Hook’s pirates never miss a beat. There are plenty of highlights and one of my favourite moments is when Peter Pan and Wendy dance through the air by a giant full moon, surrounded by the flickering wonders of brightly lit fireflies. I was a little annoyed by Ludivigne Sagnier’s Tinkerbell, who somehow never met my expectations for the impish little fairy, but the effects are wonderful. 

The film is filled with stunts that never seem like stunts – I suppose the magic of it all is to make us believe that all the wire-work and flying is absolutely real. Special mention goes to Roger Ford’s production design which is truly spectacular, and James Newton Howard’s score (blended with a touch of Beethoven and Hayden) is as fluid as the waves that rock Captain Hook’s vessel.

As Peter Pan and Wendy say their goodbyes, don’t be surprised if there’s a lump in your throat as the bridge that divides childhood and the land of grown ups becomes apparent, where feelings are more important than having fun and flying. Ah yes, a kiss is a powerful thing, but so are stories and the memories that never fade.

Review by Andrew L. Urban:
Don’t go taking your little kids and their friends to this Peter Pan expecting a tra-la-la trip through Neverland, with bland shows of happiness and joy and laughter abounding. Australia’s P.J. Hogan, who never intended his debut feature, Muriel’s Wedding to be a comedy, tinges this big budget fairy tale with his disappointed world view – and it gives the film more ballast than bulldust. Or even fairydust. Lest we forget, many children’s stories walk the dark edges of the human condition, from the wicked stepmother/ witch who tries to poison Snow White and then dispatches the woodsman to kill her, to the nasty old witch who eats children in Hansel and Gretel. It has taken an Australian to jolt a Hollywood studio’s children’s fable about fantasy into reality. Growing old, losing innocence, taking responsibility, loneliness, emotional barrenness…. 

Peter Pan hides these issues as well as any fairytale, beneath its outer layer of storytelling. It even parades storytelling as the secret ingredient in eternal happiness – only to dispose of it as a device by the time we get to The End. For all this, I am grateful to P.J. It’s not many Australians who can take comedy seriously, nor take fairytales seriously; and they don’t really work unless you do. As well, I am in awe of his masterful handling of a film whose special effects (the credits are crammed three deep and still run for about seven minutes) need to melt into the reality of performances and even stagecraft – when it comes to the nuts and bolts scenes in the Darling household. 

Adults may be saddened by the subtext, but kids – as evidenced by those at my media screening – love the film. If you need further confirmation that this is a film with a deep and ironic resonance about the fable of staying young forever, stay for the end credits, where you’ll see it is dedicated to Dodi Al Fayed, the son of executive producer Mohamed Al Fayed; Dodi was the man killed in the car crash with Princess Diana.

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CAST: Jason Isaacs, Jeremy Sumpter, Rachel Hurd-Wood, Ludivine Sagnier, Olivia Williams, Richard Briers, Harry Newell, Freddie Popplewell, Lynn Redgrave, Rupert Simonian

PRODUCER: Mohamed Al-Fayed, Lucy Fisher, Stephen Jones, Gail Lyon, Patrick McCormick, Jocelyn Moorhouse, Charles Newirth, Peter M. Tobyansen, Douglas Wick


SCRIPT: Michael Goldenberg, P.J. Hogan (book by J.M. Barrie)


EDITOR: Garth Craven, Michael Kahn, Paul Rubell

MUSIC: James Newton Howard


RUNNING TIME: 105 minutes


AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: December 26, 2003

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