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Peter Pan (December 23/03)

It's hard to pinpoint exactly where Peter Pan goes horribly wrong, but somewhere along the line, the film becomes the antithesis of the delightful Disney cartoon. Where that movie was peppered with a sort of innocence and merriment, director P.J. Hogan's adaptation of J.M. Barrie's play is dark, dreary, and terminally dull.

Part of the problem lies in the casting of Peter, who's played here by Jeremy Sumpter. He's not a bad actor, really; he's clearly got a modicum of skill and talent, and seems fairly natural in front of the camera. But he brings all the wrong attributes to Peter, a boy who's meant to be the embodiment of fun (the first time we see him, he's watching Wendy sleep. Is he supposed to be a pervert?) In Sumpter's hands, Peter becomes a smug and obnoxious little jerk - one that will no doubt please children but anger adults to no end. There's absolutely nothing innocent about this Peter Pan; he's a leering and repulsive twerp.

The story is a familiar one, with the Darling children whisked off to Neverland by Peter Pan and Tinkerbell (Ludivine Sagnier). Wendy (Rachel Hurd-Wood), John (Harry Newell), and Michael (Freddie Popplewell) find themselves having a grand old time upon their arrival, but the inevitable appearance of Captain Hook (Jason Isaacs) puts a damper on their fun. Along with his trusty sidekick, Smee (Richard Briers), Hook spares no expense in tracking down Peter - but often finds himself under attack from the nasty crocodile that ate his hand.

Hogan has turned what should have been a light and breezy romp into a dull and ultimately bland children's movie. The drab production design is certainly a key factor in the film's banality; instead of the expected bright colors, Peter Pan is awash in muted tones and unpleasant darkness. Oddly enough, it's Neverland that's the most disagreeable - with the early 1900s London chock full of just the sort of quirky visuals that should've been a big part of Peter's world. There's absolutely no denying that the film is well made - it's clear that a lot of work has gone into creating these elaborate sets - but as envisioned by Hogan, Neverland isn't the kind of place that we want to be trapped in for well over an hour.

It's possible that kids may enjoy Peter Pan, but really, the original is so much more effective on virtually every level. Though some of the early scenes hold some promise - particularly Isaacs' dual role as Wendy's small-talk impaired father - but the majority of the film is nothing less than a thundering bore.

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