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New 'Peter Pan' may Hook you

There isn't much suspense in the retelling of this familiar story, but one performance is captivating: Jason Isaacs as a dandyish, jeering Captain Hook.

PHILIP BOOTH
Published December 25, 2003

A new version of Peter Pan, the classic J.M. Barrie children's tale penned nearly 100 years ago, has made its way to the big screen. Its arrival, surprisingly, is accompanied by virtually no hype and little evidence of a Disneyesque blitz of merchandising tie-ins; there's not much chance of potential viewers being overexposed to the movie before stepping foot in theaters.

That's good news. More: The film, directed by P.J. Hogan (My Best Friend's Wedding) and featuring an international cast, is handsomely photographed and benefits from well-employed digital effects. Fairy dust has never looked quite so potent, nor has flying around the London night sky seemed quite so magical.

The bad news: This Peter Pan never really takes off. Hogan, who shares screenwriting credit with Michael Goldenberg (Contact), fails to create much suspense over the fate of the boy who won't grow up and his friends.

These characters go through the paces, but there's little at risk: There's not much doubt that the title character will triumph over his enemies, and that Wendy Darling (newcomer Rachel Hurd-Wood) and her brothers will make it safely home. Wasn't it all just a dream, anyway?

Hogan's version of the narrative, which takes several liberties with the original, starts at a familiar point. Wendy, not a girl, not yet a woman, is telling adventure stories to younger siblings John (Harry Newell) and Michael (Freddie Popplewell), when Peter Pan (Jeremy Sumpter, Frailty) makes his entrance, dressed in leaves and vines like a jungle boy and hovering near the ceiling like a junior vampire.

The back story: Aunt Millicent, a newly created character played by Lynn Redgrave, is worried that bumbling bank clerk Mr. Darling (Jason Isaacs, The Patriot) and his wife (Olivia Williams) are allowing their daughter to turn into a tomboy, play-acting with her brothers and paying too little attention to the social graces befitting her age and gender.

Still, there's time for one last childish romp. So Wendy, succumbing to the charming flirtations of Peter, agrees to follow her exotic visitor to Neverland, with John and Michael in tow.

There, they encounter the usual suspects, including fairy Tinkerbell (Ludivine Sagnier, Swimming Pool), a tiny, sarcastic ball of jealousy; a band of rambunctious Lost Boys; the Indian Tribe; dewy, dangerous mermaids; and a gigantic, hungry crocodile.

Isaacs chews the scenery in his other role, as a Captain Hook who's dandyish and fey, cut from the same cloth as Johnny Depp's swashbuckler in Pirates of the Caribbean. The newfangled villain is a bit of a leering, jeering creep, with a special hook for every occasion.

Peter and Wendy make a cute couple, even if their wide-eyed, dreamy love scenes are somewhat reminiscent of those in The Blue Lagoon (minus the nudity and sex, of course).

But Hook is the one deserving of more screen time: Give this villain his own movie.

Peter Pan

Grade: B-

Director: P.J. Hogan

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

Screenplay: P.J. Hogan, Michael Goldenberg, based on the play by J.M. Barrie

Rating: PG; nothing objectionable

Running time: 113 min.

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