When I was very young, the first version of Peter Pan I remember having seen was the annual televised production of the Broadway Musical starring Mary Martin. It was delightful in its own limited way because after all, when Mary as Peter took to the skies you could definitely see the wires. Not to mention that Peter's shadow looked suspiciously like female hosiery sewn together in the shape of a boy.
Some years later, when it was first released on video, I finally was able to enjoy the animated Disney version of J.M. Barrie's classic story. The songs, the animation, the characters were all first rate and I loved it.
Later, I caught a special showing of the Cathy Rigby’s production of Peter Pan. She was full of spunk and energy, and certainly had the physical frame for the role not to mention scads of athletic ability. And, it was getting more and more difficult to see the wires, but that could be attributed to my failing eyesight. But at the age of sixty Cathy is still flying high so send me tickets will you? No word on dates in the California area where I live but if you can you should go. Here are the dates (2011). (If you let the video below play, I believe you can see the whole show. It’ll automatically switch from one part to the next and well worth your while.) But see the show live if you possibly can. Undoubtedly it may be your last chance.
Later, Stephen Spielberg tried his hand at it, bringing us Robin Williams as a grown up Peter Pan, Dustin Hoffman as Captain Hook and even Julia Roberts as Tinkerbelle. Spielberg called his film Hook, and it's the first time that particular character was ever given star billing. I love Julia Roberts, but the beam of light used for Tinkerbelle in the Broadway production gave a better performance. Of course, being a Spielberg film you couldn't see the wires but surprisingly Spielberg somehow forgot to make his film either interesting, entertaining, or magical. I'd rather have had the magic and seen the wires. We’ll just chalk up the whole film as a bad idea from the get go. The question is, just how many versions of the story does one need? Please don't despair, as it turns out, the 2003 version may just be the best of them all.
In one of the more humorous bits in the film when Peter loses his shadow, the shadow takes on a life of its own and it sure isn't unused panty hose. When Peter Pan flies, he does so unimpeded by any laws of gravity, twirling, bouncing, and floating, in a whimsical way that not unlike Superman, will convince you that with the help of good thoughts and fairy dust, a boy can indeed fly. With each movement, Tinkerbelle emits a shining sparkling cloud of fairy dust that fills the screen like a thousand Independence Day Sparklers. When Peter, Wendy, John, and Michael first arrive in Neverland, they land on puffy pinkish clouds, which are quickly bombarded by Captain Hook and his cannons.
Much of the success of Peter Pan also has to go to the young actors portraying Peter and Wendy. Jeremy Sumpter, who shined in Bill Paxton's haunting film Frailty, brings Peter to life like no one else has. For most of the film he is as he should be, the carefree rascal who sees fighting Hook and his crew as the ultimate in playground merriment.
Most of the adult actors are no slouches either. Jason Isaacs does a duo role as both Mr. Darling and Captain Hook. How good is he? I didn't realize he was playing both roles until referencing the credits on IMDb. As Mr. Darling, the timid banker, he reminded me a lot of David Tomlinson's Mr. Banks in Mary Poppins. His Hook is as dastardly a hook that has ever taken to the screen. Let's just say that when this Hookdoes away with someone, they pretty much stay dead and you won't see that kind of ruthlessness in the Disney animated film.
And what about Tinkerbelle? I certainly can't leave her out. She is played with a lot of panache by an actress named Ludivine Sagnier. She does it with a lot of spunk, a little sass, and a ton of energy. She will quickly make you completely forget the atrocity Julia Roberts made of the same role in Spielberg's Hook.
One may come to the conclusion that perhaps I am going overboard in my praise. Yet, whether you are young or just young at heart, or wish you could fly away from your troubles to the wonderful place called Neverland, there is something in Peter Pan for even the most cynical film-goer. For an hour and fifty three minutes, it certainly made me feel younger than my years, and when a film does that I have no choice but to give it my grade and it's an A sprinkled with a healthy dose of fairy dust.