Peter Pan (2003)

January 28, 2012 8 Min Read

Review by: Daniel Pulliam

Plot: What’s it about?

The story of “Peter Pan” will most likely be familiar to anyone reading this review. This updated version of the tale, directed by P.J. Hogan, sticks more closely with the source material than previous incarnations and, judging from the results, it’s a decision that served the film well. Almost from the opening frame, it’s clear that this is not your typical children’s fantasy fare. At first, the action seems almost cartoonish in its execution, with sweeping camera movement and exaggerated kinetics at nearly every opportunity. Instead of conveying the pretentious self-awareness usually associated with this technique, however, “Peter Pan” manages to evoke a sense of whimsical fancy right from the start. It takes a few scenes, in fact, to adjust to the sheer audacity of the production.

The color palette is equally impressive, with virtually every scene basked in deep, rich hues. This becomes most evident once the children reach Neverland, an almost comic book quality permeating through every frame. This serves a dual purpose, both of creating an environment that is appropriately other-worldly and of offsetting the liberal use of computer effects. In this context, the CGI only serves to supplement the story, not to exist for its own sake. A film which uses enhancements of this type to compliment a story rather than to create one is a real rarity these days, and it’s the greatest testimony to why this version of “Peter Pan” works so very well. With CGI extravaganzas emerging at an almost dizzying rate these days, it’s a real treat to see an effects film that reminds us that CGI itself isn’t the enemy when used to serve an engaging, emotional story.

The acting is terrific on all fronts. Everyone involved seems to be well aware that they’re working on something special. Jeremy Sumpter is a fitting choice for the lead role, projecting the perfect balance of childish glee and emotional epiphany. He creates a real sense of inner sorrow in Peter which, while always lacking in previous versions, enriches this experience immeasurably. Rachel Hurd-Wood makes a stunning debut here as Wendy Darling, the maturing object of Peter’s fledgling affections. And Jason Isaacs, in his dual role of Mr. Darling and Captain James Hook, makes his characters respectively civil and malicious. Worthy of note is this film’s development of Captain Hook as a sympathetic, three-dimensional villain without allowing him to overshadow our hero in the process.

“Peter Pan” is a lavish fantasy-adventure on nearly every level. It deserves repeated viewings, both from children and adults who haven’t yet lost faith in film’s ability to truly transport an audience to another world. As tempting as it may be to compare Hogan’s movie to Steven Spielberg’s own vision of the Pan legend, “Hook”, I found myself instead thinking of another, equally underrated Spielberg film. When I first went to see “A.I.: Artificial Intelligence”, I was astounded by how many moments of wonder there were throughout those two and a half hours of screen time. It rekindled my excitement at what an artist can really do in this medium with the right skills and material. In watching this version of Peter Pan, it is clear that P.J. Hogan posesses both. This movie may not make you believe in fairies, but it does something that may be even more important: it makes you want to. Sometimes a film can contain more heart than spectacle, and when it does, it can make us remember that the best have always come standard with their very own form of pixie dust – that all-too-endangered element of magic.

Video: How does it look?

Presented in anamorphic widescreen and measuring exactly 2.40:1 as intended, this disc looks very goodfor the most part. Black levels are rock solid and shadow detail is good, though there is a decidedsoftness to the transfer that prevents this disc from scoring a top rating for video. Edge enhancement is thankfully absent for a very film-like appearance even during brighter, high-contrast shots. The color palette is accurately and richly presented here (it almost seemsoversaturated at times, but I feel confident in saying this was an artistic choice and representsthe way the film was intended to be seen). I noticed no compression problems or artifacts todistract from the presentation.Overall, a solid transfer that should not disappoint fans of the film.

Audio: How does it sound?

The Dolby Digital 5.1 track included here is absolutely stellar. The film makes frequent, excellent use of the surrounds for a very enveloping soundstage. Dialogue is always clear and distinct (quite impressive given all that’s happening in the film at any given moment). James Howard’s score comes through in fine style, complimenting both the action and subtler sequences with equal precision. Your subwoofer will even get a workout on this track, with booming bass in multiple scenes, and most especially when Hook’s reptilian friend is onscreen. All in
all, a great track that should please anyone who loves an immersive aural experience.

Supplements: What are the extras?

Comprised of a series of short featurettes, the extras on this disc are somewhat disappointing. There’s a definite feel of quantity over quality in these supplements, with none of the short behind-the-scenes glances proving very satisfying. A “play all” feature is not even included, which proves to be quite annoying in the end. The featurettes are broken into five sections and are, on the whole, self-explanatory fluff pieces of merely mild interest. First is “The Pirates’ Ship”, which break down into four featurettes (“Board The Pirate Ship”, “Through The Eyes Of Captain Hook”, “The Pirates vs. The Lost Boys”, and “The Lost Pirate Song”). Next is “The Black Castle” with three featurettes (“Enter The Castle”, “Learning To Fly”, and “A Mermaids’ Tale”), “The Darling House” with four featurettes (“Alternate Ending”, “Mr. Darling In The Dog House”, “Me And My Shadow”, and “In The Doghouse With Nana), “The Neverland Forest” with four featurettes (“Explore The Forest”, “Tinkerbell: Behind The Fairy Dust”, “I Do Believe In Fairies,” and “Princess Tiger Lily”), and finally “The Home Under The Gorund” with four featurettes (“Dig Under The Home”, “The Legacy Of Pan”, “The Dutchess’ Outtakes”, and “Lost Boys On The Set”). It’s worth noting that, with the exception of “The Legacy Of Pan”, none of these featurettes run over five minutes in length. Also a disappointment (at least to me), is that neither of the film’s excellent theatrical trailers are included anywhere on the disc. Still, there’s more here than your average good movie after a disappointing theatrical run. Hopefully this film will finally find a much-deserved audience on DVD.

Disc Scores