Pan, Warner Brothers’ new retelling of J.M. Barrie’s classic fairy tale, came out this weekend, and I was fortunate enough to catch it on opening day.
In this Joe Wright-directed version, a 12-year-old Peter (Levi Miller), is living in miserable conditions in a London orphanage. When he finds himself abducted by flying pirates, he embarks on the journey to Neverland where he meets the not-yet-a-pirate James Hook (Garrett Hedlund), tribal warrior Tiger Lily (Rooney Mara), and the pirate leader Blackbeard (Hugh Jackman). Yes, that Blackbeard. While forced to work in a mine looking for rare pixie dust bits left over from what is said to be an extinct race of fairies, he discovers his legacy as the island’s potential savior as well as his ability to fly.
The film was originally intended for summer release, but pushed back to fall so not to have to compete with other summer blockbusters. That pretty much means it was already a sour apple for most critics who haven’t been too kind to the film on its opening weekend. It was by no means the best Peter Pan story ever told, but I personally found it to be a great escape into fantasy, despite myself, and worth making the trip to the theater to see with the whole family.
Here are three reasons why I think Pan is worth checking out on the big screen:
It was PG. This seems like a small point, but you almost never see this anymore. Every family movie has to push that envelope just far enough to get at PG-13, but this film proved it doesn’t take an abundance of moderate swearing, racy situations, or mildly graphic violence to be exciting. There were plenty of laughs, some pretty scary scenes, and even a rude moment or two within the rating guidelines. This was refreshing in a film of this scale, and I’d like to see more of it.
The “natives” weren’t based on Native Americans. It was a nice change of pace to see a completely original tribe that seemed to arise when a group of people from different cultures came together to create their own isolated island society. The “generic Indian” stereotypes were replaced with a diverse group of people bonded by a single desire to protect their island’s best kept secret, regardless of where they came from before. It was done in a way where it didn’t have that pandering “global community” diversity push that can feel contrived and forced.
It spun a fun tale. Simple as that. One reason I go to movies is for the sheer escape from reality, and this was a fantastic voyage into another world. It might not have been in alignment with Barrie’s original story. Not even close. But, was it a good story? Yes, it was. There were a few elements that seemed a little familiar. The boy who can’t read until he returns to the place he truly belongs. The villain who needs the occasional “rejuvenation” process to stay young. I’ve seen these little plot devices in other stories, but that didn’t mean this still wasn’t an engaging ride the kept me entertained. The costuming was like traveling along with a gypsy circus, and the actors, especially an extravagantly scene-chewing Jackman, looked like they were genuinely having a ball.
When my six-year-old and 13-year-old daughter, a group of older teen boys behind us, and a pack grandparents and their toddlers in front of us can all have a good time together, that’s saying something.
Plus, Spitfires in a World War II-style dog fight among a flying pirate ship over the rooftops of London was pretty darn entertaining. Wow!
Now, just because I enjoyed this crazy trip into the Neverland doesn’t mean I didn’t feel this latest retelling was with out flaws. It had plenty, to be sure. Most notably, it was pock-marked with plot holes that you could have driven a truck…well, a pirate ship…through. If I address any of these, I would be giving away some spoilers, so I’ll be a little careful here.
- How exactly did the nuns come into cahoots with a certain band of pirates?
- There was a bit of a time-traveler element (Nirvana and Ramones?). This gave hints to present day pop culture. Why? How? What happened? There was obviously some sort of hijacked circus or something.
- What happened to Smee later on?
Another problem with this film was actually one I enjoyed…it was all over the place. Wright wanted to make sure he got as many visuals in as possible, and it did get a little cluttered at times. It’s like writing an epic story you don’t want to see any part cut from…but sometimes you have to put your babies under the knife for trimming. He might have done well to cut a little here and there.
Also, don’t bother going the extra mile for the 3D version. I’ve gotten more and more so I don’t feel you even need 3D to make a film visually impressive, and it’s getting so this aspect is starting to detract from films. We opted for the 2D version, and don’t feel we missed a thing. Frankly, the movement and the action in this roller coaster of the film was so rapid, I think this had the potential to leave some 3D viewers a bit queasy. I fear this would have been the case for me, as it was just too much like being on a test pilot simulator.
Enough with the 3D, already! Leave this device for theme parks, and concentrate on telling a good story. One of the biggest complaints I’ve seen from other critics regarding this film is that the story of Peter Pan has been done to death. Do we really need another Peter Pan retelling? Of course not. That doesn’t mean we should stop celebrating this classic piece of make believe. This is what makes it so appealing. Everyone wants to tell the story.
Barrie’s Peter Pan, Captain Hook, Tiger Lily, and other characters are so timeless, they will forever be the focus of new stage plays, storybooks, cartoon series, and motion pictures.
This latest effort won’t be the last we see of a Pan or Hook origin story in modern pop culture.
I’m certainly not the one who’s going to tell the world to stop sharing this tale for new generations, even if the efforts seem somewhat adolescent, over-the-top, or just a little bit off.
This was a beautiful movie, warts and all, and as someone who has seen and read most versions of the Peter Pan story, I will always be a sucker for taking that trip to Neverland with different storytellers.
Putting an end to Peter Pan and the stories people want to tell about him would be too much like, well, “growing up,” and, oh, Peter, we can’t have that now, can we?