It takes a certain degree of hubris to sign on to a “Peter Pan” movie at this point.
J.M. Barrie's play/book/beloved cultural icons are enormously malleable as a story, and there are plenty of fans of the Walt Disney animated version as well as Steven Spielberg's “Hook” and even P.J. Hogan's “Peter Pan.” All of those films tackle different parts of the iconography in different ways, and there have been some heavy hitters involved.
The Disney film is one of their best features, especially if you're just considering the old school Disney films, and I think it's one of the moments where the Disney animators got everything right. They'd made enough movies in a row by that point to have developed a shorthand, and a style, and a confidence. “Peter Pan” may have some unfortunate moments in terms of cultural sensitivity, but I would argue that the entire world of Neverland should feel like the way children view the world, in big broad strokes. Stylization is fine; insensitivity is not.
And while I know there are many of you who will fervently argue for “Hook,” I also understand it's not your fault. You imprinted on it. I would love to do a screening of the film where we could stop it and talk after some of the sequences. I think there's some great stuff early in the movie, and the entire scene when Peter comes home and finds the chaos in Hook's wake is beautifully staged. There are a couple of elegant pieces, and a whooooooole lot of ham. Ham squared. The movie's got such a great premise, and it goes big and phony and plastic instead of honest. I remember when the script for the film was not a Steven Spielberg movie, but was instead a Nick Castle movie. Castle wrote something that played more like a character driven trip to Neverland, while “Hook” is pitched as a big adventure but never even remotely introduces the idea of peril or danger. Captain Hook is not a threat. There's no doubt what will happen. When they deliver the Big Moral, it's basically a spotlight dance by Williams.
I will say this… Robin Williams as the grown-up Peter Pan was a casting decision that is all-time-great on paper. I was a huge fan of Williams on film from the time he appeared in “Garp” and “Popeye,” and the sadness that he cut his comedy with over time was part of what made him special. Williams was obviously a great actor from the first time he took center stage in “Mork and Mindy.” The material was silly, but Williams gave every scene everything he had. I wish “Hook” was a movie that deserved Robin Williams at his best, because it never figures out what to do once he changes.
Peter Pan is a Trickster, right? Perpetually tormenting Captain Hook, driving him crazy and spanking him both physically and in terms of morale, Pan enjoys the constant battle. He never truly wants to beat Captain Hook. He wants to keep playing with him as long as he possibly can. I think one of the reasons it's hard to do correctly in live-action is because of the kind of character Peter Pan represents. He's got to be lighter than air, able to dance away from trouble and flip his nose at it. I think P.J. Hogan got a lot of that right in “Peter Pan” when he took his shot, and Jeremy Sumpter did strong work opposite an equally strong Rachel Hurd-Wood and an equally strong Jason Isaac. For whatever reason, “Peter Pan” did not connect to a larger audience, leaving it clear for someone else to take yet another shot at it.
When the first trailer for “Pan” came out, it got a fairly muted response, and I thought it was interesting but not spectacular. This new trailer for “Pan” is a very different thing, though. There's much more of the movie finished now, it looks like, and the visual style is almost completely different. There's way more going on, visually, and it looks like Wright is aiming to create his own highly stylized take on Neverland. It's bright. There's plenty of color. There are some big choices being made by Hugh Jackman and Garrett Hedlund, and I'm interested. It certainly looks like they're swinging for greatness with it in scale.
“Pan” arrives in theaters October 9, 2015.