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(2003) (Jeremy Sumpter, Jason Isaacs) (PG)

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Action/Adventure: A girl and her two brothers travel from their English home to Neverland where they help Peter Pan, a boy who will never grow up, battle his archenemy, Captain Hook.
It's long ago and Wendy Darling (RACHEL HURD-WOOD) is a young girl sharing her London home with her two younger brothers, John (HARRY NEWELL) and Michael (FREDDIE POPPLEWELL). Her pushy Aunt Millicent (LYNN REDGRAVE) doesn't think that or Wendy's desire to be a novelist is proper or fitting for a young woman. Thus, she informs Wendy's parents (JASON ISAACS & OLIVIA WILLIAMS) that Wendy should have her own room. That and other events eventually cause her father to tell Wendy that it's time for her to grow up.

Then, on the last night of sharing the room with her brothers, a figure suddenly appears at the window and then inside. It's Peter Pan (JEREMY SUMPTER), a boy who's never grown up and can't control his own shadow. After Wendy helps him capture it, he invites her and her brothers to return with him to Neverland where they'll never have to worry about adults or related issues again.

Despite Peter's fairy friend, Tinker Bell (LUDIVINE SAGNIER), being jealous of Wendy, Peter enables her and her brothers to fly and soon they're off for Neverland. There, they meet the Lost Boys - Slightly (THEODORE CHESTER), Nibs (HARRY EDEN), the Twins (LACHLAN AND PATRICK GOOCH), Curly (GEORGE MacKAY) and Tootles (RUPERT SIMONIAN), as well as Tiger Lily (CARSEN GRAY), an Indian.

Their arrival causes a change for the better in the weather and signals Captain Hook (JASON ISAACS) and his crew of pirates, including the likes of Smee (RICHARD BRIERS) and Cookson (BRUCE SPENCE), that their archenemy, Peter Pan has arrived. Ever since a huge crocodile bit off the Captain's hand, Hook has wanted his revenge on Peter.

From that point on and while trying to persuade both Tinker Bell and Wendy to help him, Hook sets out to capture and kill Peter at any and all costs.

OUR TAKE: 7.5 out of 10
When it comes to a certain childhood classic tale, many of us recall Mary Martin and Cathy Rigby (among others) in the title role, while many kids have obviously seen the animated protagonist in Disney's version.

Yet, the latest rendition of "Peter Pan" is being touted as the first modern day, live-action version to feature a flesh and blood boy in the lead role. Whatever the distinction, this take on J.M. Barrie's classic early 20th century tale is the best of the bunch and arguably one of the top family friendly films of the year.

That is, as long as the little ones don't mind a truly scary (and enormous) crocodile, some creepy-looking mermaids and a menacing Captain Hook who has no qualms discarding his less than worthy crewmembers with a gunshot or two (albeit in a decidedly PG fashion).

Yes, this isn't a sanitized version like Disney's cartoon, but instead is a more faithful adaptation of Barrie's original, dark and occasionally scary work. As written and directed by P.J. Hogan ("My Best Friend's Wedding," "Muriel's Wedding"), the film near perfectly mixes such dark moments with decent bits of comedy and plenty of fantasy and fantastical elements.

I have to admit that when I first heard about this latest remake and saw the early promos for it, I didn't have high hopes. After all, I was still in shock following Robert Benigni's "Pinocchio." I also remember Steven Spielberg's over the top if entertaining take on the material and simply didn't think we needed yet another version. I'm glad I was wrong, as this is one of the more delightful and charming films of the year that hooked me (pun fully intended) from start to finish.

As narrated by Saffron Burrows ("Enigma," "Timecode) who voices the adult Wendy looking back at the tale in hindsight, the film starts off on slightly shaky ground. As we see the main characters in the Darling household, things are slightly played to an exaggerated level, including some family dog material that's a bit too cutesy (although kids will obviously love it). Once Pan and his mischievous companions (his shadow and the pixie Tinker Bell) show up, however, the film attains the correct tone and holds it from that point on.

Since so much has been written on the subject, there's little reason to delve into all of the symbolic elements regarding lost childhood and dreams, growing up and the like. Suffice it to say, it's all there and on various levels, but thankfully isn't obvious or distracting -- to either kids or adults -- to any noticeable degree.

What is obvious is that the film excels from a technical standpoint. The production design by Roger Ford ("The Quiet American," "Babe") is nothing short of superb, the special effects -- while not flashy in a "look at me, I'm state of the art" fashion -- are good and convey the right sense of wonder and fantasy, while cinematographer Donald M. McAlpine's ("The Time Machine," "Moulin Rouge!") camerawork is terrific.

Visuals will only take you so far, however, and ultimately don't amount to much if there's not a good story to support them. There is, of course, Barrie's terrific plot that's completely engaging. If you don't find yourself experiencing goose pimples during the famous "I do believe in fairies" rescue moment you're a diehard cynic, fuddy-duddy or have been brainwashed by that other over-hyped fantasy film. Trust me, this is the real deal.

The performances are also quite good. Jeremy Sumpter ("Local Boys," "Frailty") perfectly captures the spirit, essence and physicality of Peter Pan, while Rachel Hurd-Wood (making her feature debut) holds her own and then some playing opposite him as Wendy.

Olivia Williams ("Rushmore," "The Postman") doesn't have a huge part but is good as the mother, while Harry Newell and Freddie Popplewell (both making their feature debuts) play her other children. The likes of Ludivine Sagnier ("Swimming Pool," "8 Women"), Richard Briers ("Love's Labours's Lost," "Hamlet") and Lynn Redgrave ("Spider," "The Next Best Thing") are fine in their supporting roles.

It's Jason Isaacs ("Black Hawk Down," "The Patriot"), though, who steals the show. Following the tradition (and symbolism) of the stage play, he embodies both the kids' father and the evil Captain Hook. Although he occasionally wanders into the camp category that Dustin Hoffman chewed up in "Hook," he's terrific and quite memorable in the part.

Who would have imagined that 2003 would be the year of the pirate at the movies, especially when all of them initially looked questionable at best? Joining "Sinbad: Legend of the Seven Seas" and "Pirates of the Caribbean," "Peter Pan" is one fantastical, charming and infectiously entertaining ride on the high seas. The film comes highly recommended and rates as a 7.5 out of 10.

Reviewed December 11, 2003 / Posted December 25, 2003

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