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To see it will be an awfully big adventure.
on April 24, 2001
The subtitle to the play "Peter Pan" is "The Boy Who Would Not Grow Up". Spielberg's sequel could well be called "The Man Who Grew Up Too Much". The story of Peter Pan is reversed, as are many roles. Robin Williams has the easy task of playing the thoughtless parent, the moderate task of playing the grownup Peter Pan, and the incredibly difficult task of making the transition between the two believable.
Dustin's Hoffman's Capt. Hook knows, as do all of us who remember his soliloquy, that no little children love him. His concern with how he will be remembered, and with Good Form, ring quite true to the original. The character is suave, urbane, vicious, captivating, and ultimately tragic.
At first I was annoyed at the modern elements in Never-Never-Land, but I soon realized that they had to be there, as Never-Never-Land was always a compilation of everything Lost Boys found exciting. In the twenties, that included Red Indians, but if they were lost in the 1980s, well then, baseball and skateboards should be included. The original play was Edwardian, but the movie makes no sense unless it's updated.
The role-reversal and eventual re-reversal is fascinating. In the play, the same actor always plays both Hook and the thoughtless and cruel father, Mr. Darling. But here, Peter is the uncaring father and a corporate pirate, while Hook takes the children to Never-Never-Land. The lost boys are, at first, quarrelsome and threatening, while the pirates are a happy adventuresome lot, even sentimental in the lullaby sequence. But while the Lost Boys help Peter recover himself (and to recover their own innocence), Hook's attempt to win over Peter's kids is, in the end, a failure, and we are brought full circle. The final scene of the helpless Hook surrounded by Peter and his boys parallels the earlier scene of the helpless Peter Banning surrounded by Hook and his pirates. ("Somebody lend me a hand." "I already have.")
The movie has one major flaw - most people don't know the Peter Pan legend well enough to really understand it. Seeing the play "Peter Pan" won't help much, either, because there's a lot in the storybook "Peter and Wendy", and in the play's stage directions, that enhances the understanding of the movie Hook. In a scene usually cut from the play, Peter sacrifices himself for Wendy, and thinks he is about to drown. His line is "To die will be an awfully big adventure." Later, when Wendy and the Lost Boys are leaving Never-Land, Peter is left alone, slumped in his chair. The stage directions state that at this point, if Peter only understood a little more, he would say, "To live would be an awfully big adventure." Hook is the story of how Peter finally learns that to live is, indeed, an awfully big adventure. Along the way, he must also discover what a Happy Thought for a grown-up is, and that a man with no childhood is as incomplete as a boy who would not grow up.
The pretend-food that was always Peter's favorite kind of meal is used to excellent effect. I found the first moment when Peter's adult façade started to break down surprisingly believable. He is in an insult contest, and losing badly, until he finds the intersection between his grownup life and the childish contest. He wins with the biggest, most impressive insult, ending with "... don't mess with me, man, I'm a lawyer."
Maggie Smith's Wendy fills in the roles of both Wendy and Mrs. Darling from the play. Her concern with the night-lights is especially fulfilling. We are also re-introduced to Tootles, who was the Lost Boy who always missed the adventure, and so he does again. Several times in the movie, the first time I saw it, I mouthed the dialogue along with the actors, because I knew that after Hook said, "Prepare to die", Peter had to reply, "Dark and sinister man, have at thee." There's a brief appearance of Michael's bear and John's top hat, which they took with them to Never-Never-Land so many years ago. Lisa and Nana return (Nana IX, really), and many other details make it a wonderful reunion. Bob Hoskins's Smee and Julia Roberts's Tinkerbell are true to the original, and yes, she says The Line She Had to Say.
Yes, Peter Pan grew up. But he didn't do it when he became a lawyer; he did it in Hook.