Pan Parent Review
Despite all the intrigue, these plotlines fail to keep the promise of reimagining this familiar story. Instead, the production elements feel like borrowed clichés.
Peter Pan is a famous character with an oft-told tale. But this 2015 screen version assures us that we are about to experience a story we have not heard before: One where friends begin as enemies, and enemies begin as friends.
Twelve years after Peter (Levi Miller) was left as an infant on the doorstep of a home for boys, England becomes engulfed in WWII and London endures persistent German air raids. Within the walls of the institution the orphans are under attack from Mother Barnabas (Kathy Burke) as well. This dictator of a Nun uses wartime rationing as a way to misappropriate funds while fabricating excuses for the disappearance of some of the children under her care. Although the mischievous Peter is suspicious of her actions, even he can hardly imagine the full nastiness of the verbally abusive woman until he himself is yanked out of bed in the middle of the night. Along with many of his fellows, Peter is pulled aboard a flying ship that sails through the air, and (after an extended scene where the boat exchanges cannon balls with Nazi bombers) arrives at an island floating in the clouds.
As it turns out, Peter has just exchanged one kind of servitude for another, because Neverland is ruled over by an even more deplorable despot named Blackbeard (Hugh Jackman). Here the eccentric pirate forces those he’s kidnaped to mine large rock pits looking for fairy dust, an increasingly scare commodity. Those who don’t comply with his wishes are threatened with his merciless justice. Peter’s feistiness soon has him facing the wrath of his captor, and he is sentenced to execution by walking the plank. Only two things save him from falling to his death: A mysterious power that prevents him from hitting the ground and the unexpected friendship of another laborer named James Hook (Garrett Hedlund).
The first not only saves his life, but also makes Blackbeard suspicious that Peter may be the fulfillment of a prophesy about a human with the power of flight who will lead a rebellion against the his powerful rule. Hook, the second miracle, invites the youngster to join his escape plan, with the mercenary motive of believing he, Peter and tag-along Smie (Adeel Akhtar) will stand a better chance of success if they include the “boy who can fly”.
Once the trio breaks out of Blackbeard’s grasp, another conflict arises. Hook wants to return to Earth while Peter desires to find his mother whom he has reason to believe is connected to Neverland’s extinct Fairy Kingdom. And opportunist Smie just wants to go with whoever seems the most likely to insure his freedom. No matter what destination they chose, the squabbling group must pass through the enemy territory of the Tribal Natives. They must also avoid being spotted by monstrous birds of prey and the marauding pirates Blackbeard has sent out to hunt down Peter.
Despite all the intrigue, these plotlines fail to keep the promise of reimagining this familiar story. Instead, the production elements feel like borrowed clichés. Scenes from the London period (which go on much longer than necessary) are just like the bad orphanages described in Oliver, The Rescuers, Annie and the institution that schooled Matilda. (It is not a flattering portrayal of Nuns either.) Peter’s secret parentage makes him a Messiah figure (so does Harry Potter’s). Hook’s character is a dead ringer for the lovable scoundrel Hans Solo of the Star Wars saga. A quest for immortality is thrown in (reminiscent of Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides). And music is used as a quirky anachronism (like in A Knight’s Tale), however its inclusion is more strange than charming.
This rendition does try to mollify some of the political incorrectness of the “savages” portrayed in Disney’s animation, by presenting a multi-ethnic cast of characters adorned in tribal costumes that seem inspired by traditional African dress, yet created out of made-in-China embellishments. It’s difficult to tell whether or not this is an improvement. The message has been enhanced as well, and focuses on finding the confidence to have faith in one’s self. Yet the depictions of untrustworthy adults remain the same.
Still, parents’ biggest concern will likely be the frequent battles, sword fights, weapons use, explosions and murderous threats. While most of the deaths and injury are bloodless and implied rather than shown, this swashbuckling action is better suited for older children and teens. Unfortunately, this group will likely also be old enough to recognize that even with a big budget and amazing special effects, the magic is somehow missing. Instead of something new, the retelling of this fairytale that began with skepticism about its potential sadly sees that potential end in skepticism.Directed by Joe Wright. Starring Hugh Jackman, Levi Miller, Jimmy Vee, Rooney Mara. Running time: 111 minutes. Theatrical release October 9, 2015. Updated May 12, 2016
Get details on profanity, sex and violence in Pan here.
Pan Parents Guide
At one point in the story, Hook excuses his behavior by telling Peter: “I lied – it’s called being a grown up”. Does being an adult justify being dishonest with children? Are their some truths kids should be protected from? Are their other ways of explaining difficult concepts to youngsters?
What are Tiger Lily’s (played by Rooney Mara) motives for engaging in war? What things does she hope to gain or protect? How are her feelings different than Hook’s? Why is Peter more inclined to listen to her, rather than Hook, when they both council him to believe in himself?
Peter is afraid that he is not the boy of the prophecy, and confesses his fears to Tiger Lily by saying: “What if I fail?” She counters with: “What if you fail to try?” What do you think her question implies? How might you use her advice in your life?
Peter Pan was written as a play by J.M. Barrie. Upon his death he donated all the royalties from the story to the Great Ormond Street Hospital. So every time you pay to see or hear anything related to Peter Pan, you are making a donation to help sick children.