Sunday, April 30, 2017

Peter Pan (2003)

Year 9, Day 120 - 4/30/17 - Movie #2,615

BEFORE: Before I begin tonight, a shout-out to Steven Mnuchin, who was one of the producers listed on "Pan" - as it turns out, the producer or executive producer of quite a few films that I've watched over the last 2 years.  Sometimes I think producers and EPs just don't get as much credit as they deserve - damn directors hogging the spotlight.  In 2015 I watched 3 films produced by Mnuchin - "The Lego Movie", "This Is Where I Leave You" and "Winter's Tale".  He produced 8 more films I watched in calendar 2016 - "Batman v. Superman", "The Man from U.N.C.L.E.", "Edge of Tomorrow", "American Sniper", "Inherent Vice", "Vacation", "Get Hard" and "Run All Night".  And 8 more films in just the first 4 months of 2017: "The Intern", "How to Be Single", "Suicide Squad", "Midnight Special", "Black Mass", "In the Heart of the Sea", "Mad Max: Fury Road" and "Pan".  Whew, that's a track record any producer would kill for - but wait, you say, I've heard that name before.  Yes, it's been in the news because he joined Trump's cabinet as the Secretary of the Treasury - why anyone would throw away a promising Hollywood career like that is beyond me.

An optimist might say, "But hey, most of those films seem quite successful, maybe he's the guy that should be in charge of our country's economy..."  But a pessimist might say, "Yeah, but running a country probably is a lot more complicated than financing a movie - and anyway, the shady accounting practices of Hollywood films could probably do more harm than good in Washington."  I guess we'll all find out together.  And I've still got three Mnuchin-produced films to watch: "The Legend of Tarzan", "Keanu" and "Our Brand Is Crisis".

The characters of Peter Pan, Captain Hook and others carry over from "Pan".  I suppose, in retrospect, I probably could have worked out some actor linking, like maybe if I'd put "Australia" at the end of the Hugh Jackman chain, Bruce Spence would have carried over - but that would have split up the 2 Peter Pan films, and that's what I didn't want to do.  Relying on my new rule was a better plan.

THE PLOT: The Darling children receive a visit from Peter Pan, who takes them to Never Never Land, where an ongoing war with the evil pirate Captain Hook is taking place.

AFTER: No doubt, the difficult dilemma that any filmmaker faces when making a modern adaptation of a literary classic revolves around questions over what gets kept and what gets jettisoned.  Everyone says they want to be "faithful" to the original, but is that really the best way to go?  Are there certain things that resonated with readers or audiences in, say, 1906 that no longer have that appeal?  What's the best tone to strike that will maintain the spirit of the old story, but also put today's kids' asses in the seats?

This 2003 adaptation stayed about as true to the original J.M. Barrie story as it could, only adding one new character, an Aunt Millicent so that the Darling family could have a naysayer, someone who points out that Wendy's turning into a young woman, while the parents can still maintain that they are all merely children.  Because that's what "Peter Pan" is really about, at its essence, the story of a teen's sexual awakening.  Yep, here's the part where I ruin "Peter Pan" for you, just as I ruined "Moby Dick" and several of Shakespeare's plays.  (Don't listen to me if you're still in high school and you still need to get a good grade from your English teacher...)

Certain conventions came about when "Peter Pan" got adapted into a stage play, and one of those was the dual role of Mr. Darling and Captain Hook, played by the same actor.  Perhaps this was a cost-cutting move, because Mr. Darling isn't generally seen once the kids go to Never Land, and with the help of a costume change they could put that actor to better use, keeping him busy in the middle part of the play, then using him again as the father when the kids return.  But there's a deeper meaning that results from the dual role (which this film maintains) because of the Elektra complex, the female version of the Oedipus complex, in which a young girl feels some sort of attraction to her own father, before breaking from him (usually in her teens) and forming an adult romance with another male.

So if Captain Hook is the fantasy-world equivalent of Mr. Darling, it's a game-changer.  You'd expect any father of a teen girl to be naturally protective of her, and to be suspicious of teen boys as rivals for her affection.  So, logically, if Captain Hook kidnaps Wendy to keep her away from Peter Pan, let's say, it's done out of some strange combination of malice and protection, and there's a love triangle of sorts that's formed between the three.  Perhaps a father might have a tough time dealing with the fact that his daughter is growing up and becoming sexually active, and take his frustration out on her suitor, who he might perceive as an immature, wild ruffian - and that's Peter Pan.

A different convention came about when "Peter Pan" was turned into a musical, and that's when Peter was traditionally played by a woman, because the composer wrote Peter's songs for an alto part, which would be nearly impossible for a man to sing.  So for decades some androgyny was injected into the role, with everyone from Mary Martin to Sandy Duncan to Cathy Rigby playing this teen boy, and if you ask me, this added nothing but unnecessary confusion to the story.  Finally logic prevailed over silly conventions, and finally in the new Millennium, Peter Pan can be played by boys, in non-musical productions.  (It's a bullshit convention, anyway, I mean, you can always change the key that any song is sung in.  The right male actor could have pulled it off, but Broadway wouldn't have that.).

So kudos to this film adaptation for figuring out what conventions to keep, and which ones to abandon, in order to get the story back to its essence.  The only annoying things about this adaptation were the horrible, overblown pantomiming done by Tinker Bell and the annoying moony grinning done by Wendy.  The emoting could have been dialed back a bit.

Starring Jeremy Sumpter, Jason Isaacs (last seen in "Fury"), Rachel Hurd-Wood, Olivia Williams (last seen in "Maps to the Stars"), Lynn Redgrave (last seen in "Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Sex"), Richard Briers (last seen in "Cockneys vs. Zombies"), Geoffrey Palmer (last seen in "The Pink Panther 2"), Harry Newell, Freddie Popplewell, Ludivine Sagnier, Carsen Gray, Bruce Spence (last seen in "Australia"), Theodore Chester, Rupert Simonian, George MacKay, Harry Eden, and the voice of Saffron Burrows (last seen in "Frida")

RATING: 5 out of 10 sleeping children

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