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REVIEW: PAN – Finding Never(never go there)land

Over the years, we’ve seen many interpretations of author J.M. Barrie’s character Peter Pan. Though Walt Disney’s animated classic PETER PAN remains the gold standard on the silver screen, other cinematic explorations include P.J. Hogan’s live-action film from 2003 and creative spins on the mythology like Steven Spielberg’s HOOK, Mark Forrester’s FINDING NEVERLAND, and Disney’s THE PIRATE FAIRY. There’s always a clever way to tell the origin story. It’s just too bad director Joe Wright’s PAN doesn’t ever find it.

In the opening, we’re told by the narrator that this is a story we’ve never heard before – but we definitely have. It’s an even lazier version of the cliché-riddled, generic “chosen one” storyline that’s been recycled time and time again. We’re also told this is a story of “friends becoming enemies/ enemies becoming friends” – a line direct from FAMILY GUY and, incidentally, something that doesn’t actually happen in this incarnation. Anyways, a prophecy has declared a boy who can fly will save the world of Neverland from tyranny. That boy would be Peter (Levi Miller), a dyslexic twelve-year-old Londoner who believes his mom (Amanda Seyfried) will one day return to the orphanage where she abandoned him. When his fellow orphans begin disappearing in the middle of the night, our headstrong hero suspects something is wrong. Sure enough, it is! Space pirate Blackbeard (Hugh Jackman) has been kidnapping real world children to work in Neverland’s mines, farming elusive pixie crystals he then grinds into dust and huffs. But he needs more of that booger sugar for immortality. Seriously, he’s like Tony Montana by way of Baz Luhrmann , leading sing-a-longs of “Smells Like Teen Spirit” and “Blitzkrieg Bop.”  Peter hooks up with a Han Solo-esque hustler, James Hook (Garret Hedlund), to break out of Blackbeard’s clutches and traverse jungles inhabited by strange creatures, giant birds, and Tiger Lily (Rooney Mara) and her tribe.

Aline Bonetto’s practical production design is exquisite. Unfortunately it’s easily dwarfed by noticeably fake computer-rendered backgrounds that make scale and scope seem far less epic. Jacqueline Durran’s costumes do most of the film’s heavy lifting with their beautifully intricate details and period and cultural inspirations. Even in 3-D – which typically can dull edges – the costumes are one of the few things that come to life, feeling like they are the sole source of imagination and fantasy. Everything else pales in comparison. They upstage the film’s weaker ingredients – ostentatious performances, terrible dialogue, rote scenarios.

Hoping to dazzle the audience, no-stakes CGI-heavy action set pieces are accompanied by John Powell’s overbearing score. They act as a one-two punch, brutally beating audiences over the head every twenty minutes or so, jarring us awake from the dull dramatics of Jason Fuchs’ problematic script. There’s also a weird dichotomy that appears mid-way through; Peter Pan is the boy who never grew up, however, here he is forced to grow up, at least emotionally, learning about what happened to his mom and answering his call to action.

While this skews mostly young, dipping into cartoonish territory mostly whenever Sam “Smee” Smiegel (Adeel Akhtar) is around, there’s a lot that may be too dark for younger audiences – yet not dark enough for older ones. Kids walk Blackbeard’s plank, tumbling to their unseen albeit understood deaths below. The memory tree’s animation, while refreshing and tactile, tips slightly too far into scary territory. The romance that brews between Tiger Lily and Hook, seemingly inspired by Han Solo and Princess Leia, never develops into anything other than clunky.

This is a missed opportunity to approach Barrie’s source material with the same wide-eyed optimism, ingenuity and whimsy as his adventurous creation. With a visionary director like Wright giving this project wings, it’s simply shocking it never takes flight. Tangibly missing is a sprinkle of pixie dust to make this adventure soar.

2 out of 5

PAN opens on October 9.


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