If you have children of any age above seven or eight, or if you are yourself still a child, do yourself a favour. Beg or borrow this Peter Pan.
This 2003 live-action movie from Australian director P.J. Hogan (Muriel's Wedding) not only beats the 1953 Disney cartoon into a cocked hat, but instantly becomes a children's classic movie. I'd put it on par with such classics as The Secret Garden in the versions by directors Agnieszka Holland (1993) and Fred Wilcox (1949), the Disney/Hayley Mills movies Pollyanna and The Parent Trap, as well as the pirate saga Treasure Island. There are a few other titles which should go into this grouping, but that's just to give you an idea of how highly I regard this Peter Pan.
This is a children's movie for adults. It's very true to the original J.M. Barrie tale about the boy who refused to grow up. And while children will revel in its lyrical beauty and bloodthirsty adventure, there are some darker psychological levels which only adults will be able to really draw out - which is just as well for the children...
The film is stunningly photographed. I've seen it on the big-screen as well as on DVD, and somehow the careful framing of each scene becomes more apparent on DVD - we're able to fully appreciate just how carefully each scene is visually composed and balanced.
The combination of live-action and computer-generated imagery (CGI) gives it a fairy-tale appearance, especially in the scenes where the Darling children learn how to fly, and are seen soaring through the cloud-wrapped skies over London. It's just totally luscious.
Great casting really brings the Peter Pan tale to life. Jason Isaacs plays a double role, as the young Darling children's father, and as the villainous Captain Hook. He plays Hook in a larger-than-life way reminiscent of Kevin Kline in the movie version of The Pirates of Penzance.
The Darling mother is played with sweet sincerity by Olivia Williams, who you might remember as Jane Fairfax in the 1997 television adaptation (the best to date) of Jane Austen's Emma.
Richard (The Good Life) Briers plays Hook's deputy Smee with kindly cruelty, and you'll enjoy sighting Bruce Spence as the sailor Cookson.
But the film belongs to the children, led by a boisterous Jeremy Sumpter as Peter Pan, and the very pretty Rachel Hurd-Wood as Wendy (a name which J.M. Barrie in fact invented).
Apart from Jeremy Sumpter's Peter Pan, all the children and adults speak in totally appropriate English accents for this very English story. Jeremy is American. And this isn't a problem in the movie - the difference in fact seems to add to his other-world quality. It's hard to imagine a more perfect Peter Pan, with his lithe athleticism and irrepressible cheekiness.
Tinker-Bell (Tinks to her friends) is inspired casting. She is played by the French actress Ludivine Sagnier, who is wearing a bit more clothing than in The Swimming Pool, but is equally unpredictable and delectable. She is the consummate meeting-point between live-action and CGI, as she flies around trailing her clouds of fairy dust. And, true to the original story, this is no lovey-dovey soppy fairy. In fact, this fairy is a right bitch.
Peter Pan was only a modest success at the box-office. I predict it will have a long and forever-young life on DVD.
We have a choice of Dolby Digital 5.1 or DTS 5.1.
Using my Pioneer 655A player, I found that you could not switch between these two options during play; your choice had to be selected before the start of the program.
Both tracks featured wonderful effects, with good use of surround. It's a punchy soundtrack with great atmospherics and depth, but with constant clarity of dialogue. The Dolby Digital soundtrack has the greatest oomph and warmth, but the DTS wins with a silkier, slightly softer sound that seems somehow more transparent.