Inspired by the life of James Barrie, author of the children's classic Peter Pan, the film, set in London in 1904, is an imagining of Barrie's (Johnny Depp) creative journey to bring Peter Pan to life, from his first inspiration for the story up until the play's premiere at the Duke of York's Theatre - a night that will change not only Barrie's own life, but the lives of everyone close to him. In the process, he naively befriends a widow (Kate Winslet), her boys - including the pivotal, grief driven little Peter (Freddie Highmore) - and her protective, steely mother (Julie Christie), while his marriage to Mary (Radha Mitchell) breaks up, and his producer (Dustin Hoffman) despairs of his flippancy.
Review by Louise Keller:
Uplifting and joyous, Finding Neverland is a magical story about the power of our imagination. The journey we take is an emotional one; the rewards allow our hearts to soar high above the clouds. Like Big Fish and The Neverending Story, this is a film that reminds us that life, coloured by our perceptions, is what we make it; all we have to do is believe.
Marc Foster (Monster's Ball) brings us J.M. Barrie's view of life, a wonderland filled with colours, flowers, pirates, fairies, light and hope. While this may not be a faithful account of the life of Peter Pan's creator, the character-driven narrative not only sweeps us away by its avalanche of emotions, but leaves us with new resonance to the story of the boy who never grows up. The camera peeps under doors, and looks at life from the perspective of the complex, brilliant writer who lives in his own, unique reality.
As creative innovator, Johnny Depps' James can turn a dog into a dancing bear in the twinkling of an eye, or become a facially scarred pirate setting sail on the high seas. Playing make-believe with an impressionable audience of young boys is second nature to him, and Depp shines as brightly as Tinkerbell in this role. 'Young boys should never be sent to bed,' says James. 'They wake up a day older.' But as a husband, with a wife who lives in another reality, life is forced. There's a lovely scene when James and Radha Mitchell's Mary (Mitchell, terrific) bid goodnight to each other before entering their separate bedrooms. Mary's doorway is in shadow; James' door opens into a world of blue skies, rainbows and adventure. Kate Winslet is lovely as the free-spirited Sylvia; I guarantee there will not be a dry-eye in the house when James finally takes her to Neverland. Freddie Highmore is exceptional as the young, sensitive Peter; his emotional journey is one to which we can all relate. But all the youngsters are excellent and it's a nice touch that Dustin Hoffman, who played Hook in the 1991 film, portrays James' long-suffering agent, tolerating his client's eccentricities knowingly.
Great care has been taken with every detail - from the pace, the tone, the music, the production design. We are involved from the very beginning, when the carriages rumble over the cobbled streets as we join patrons dressed up to the nines for the pleasantries and anticipation of an opening night at the theatre. I never wanted the film to end. Finding Neverland is like sprinkling pixie dust on the soul. Innocence, silliness and joy can live forever in our imaginations.
Review by Andrew L. Urban:
Although fictional and unsupported by facts, this fantasy about the emotional and artistic journey of James Barrie from plodding playwright to the fantasy maestro who invented and depicted Peter Pan's highly escapist fantasy, Neverland, is full of truth. Truth about the human condition. And mostly because it's all writ in pain.
Johnny Depp disappears under the Barrie guise, complete with a beautiful Scottish accent and sensitivity toughened by some sort of internal drive. It's a fabulous characterisation, and I take back (almost) everything I said about Depp's phoney pirate in Jerry Bruckheimer's award winning Caribbean adventure...
A warm, generous yet sharply observed film in some respects, Finding Neverland takes an emotional trip through some key moments - as fantasised by the filmmakers - in a rather ordinary life. The magic of the film lies in its devotion to the spirit of Barrie's realisation that the fantasy button is the liberator of tormented souls. So we have a film in which the actual events, while important, do not weigh down the emotional importance of finding Neverland as a balm for the rigours and heartaches, the tragedies and losses of most human lives. This is what touches us; it's a genuine emotional hit.
Kate Winslet is the durable put-upon widow with a terrible secret illness, and Dustin Hoffman is engaging as he underplays the producer. But it is Julie Christie as the flinty grandmother and Freddie Highmore as the damaged Peter who steal the show. Their emotional impact is enough to make a grown man cry, and there are scenes with each of them that etch into our cinematic memory bank for long term reference.
You don't need to know or like Peter Pan to get a buzz out of this film, you just have to be part of the human race.
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FINDING NEVERLAND (PG)
CAST: Johnny Depp, Kate Winslet, Julie Christie, Nick Roud, Radha Mitchell, Joe Prospero, Freddie Highmore, Dustin Hoffman
PRODUCER: Nellie Bellflower, Richard N. Gladstein
DIRECTOR: Marc Forster
SCRIPT: David Magee (play by Allan Knee)
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Roberto Schaefer
EDITOR: Matt Chesse
MUSIC: Jan A.P. Kaczmarek
PRODUCTION DESIGN: Gemma Jackson
RUNNING TIME: 101 minutes
AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: BVI
AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: January 1, 2005
VIDEO DISTRIBUTOR: BVHE
VIDEO RELEASE: June 8, 2005