Peter Panned

As my blog is typically posted on a Tuesday that will be a day late to honor Memorial Day. But it's never too late to remember what the holiday is actually about. No, it's not Burgers and Hotdogs on the Barbie Day, or Beach Kickoff Day, or even Flight Cancellation Day. Rather, it's intended to honor Americans who gave their ultimate in past wars. My late grandmother always called it Decoration Day. That was, in fact, its original name — a day when Americans traditionally decorated the graves of their fallen veterans.

But on to the main subject. Disney's revenues have been tottering more than a little of late. Having gobbled up a big chunk of Hollywood in the past few years (entire studios and major money franchises) the Mouse House looked to be set for a major roll. Yes, the Covid-19 lockdowns crippled the movie theater business for a couple of years, but to counter lockdown claustrophobia many consumers increased their streaming consumption. Streaming services, including Disney's own Disney+, went into overdrive.

But that couldn't last forever. When Covid finally became less of a threat (though it may always be with us, much like the common cold), and out-of-the-house activities resumed, many folks cancelled some of their financially burdensome streaming subscriptions. It didn't help that much of the newest streamed content from Disney+ (and others), was less than compelling to many consumers. Streaming revenues have now dropped significantly. Nor will the ongoing writers' strike help restore both quality and quantity.

Case in point: Disney's new film, Peter Pan & Wendy. It's the latest Disney attempt to re-make one of its classic animated films as live action. The Peter Pan story goes back to the early 1900s, beginning with Scottish writer J.M. Barrie's novel The Little White Bird. Only a slice of this novel introduced the Peter Pan character, but this later morphed, in several stages, into an entire Pan ethos. The story has been performed on stage and TV in both straight drama and musical form, often with a woman playing the part of Peter (something of a traditional theater casting trope; it's likely easier to find a good female actor to navigate the roll than a sub-teen boy).

But the story is now best known for its many filmed versions, starting with Walt Disney's animated Peter Pan in 1953. Disney first planned to produce the film in the late '30s, but WWII intervened. I don't recall seeing the 1953 animated Disney version. I suspect I did, but feel no urgency to revisit it.

After a long dry spell we've now seen a string of live action, non-Disney Peter Pan films including Hook (1991), Peter Pan (2003), Pan (2015), and now Disney's own, sort-of remake Peter Pan and Wendy. There was even an offshoot of the story, Finding Neverland (2004, starring Kate Winslet and a remarkably well-scrubbed Johnny Depp, the latter not as a pirate (!) but rather the author J.M. Barry as he adapts his story into a play.

Of those other Peter Pan films, all of them live action, I don't recall much about Hook. It starred Robin Williams in a variation of the classic story in which a grown Peter (Williams) returns to Neverland to recapture his inner boy. Unfortunately, Hook is one of the few clunkers on director Steven Spielberg's resume.

I've seen Pan, another variation of sorts on the classic plot (it's a prequel to the familiar story). In HDR it does offer a few scenes that can be helpful for judging clipping in a video display, and had more action than Peter Pan films usually provide. But I recall it as very much a mixed bag.

I have no plans to see Peter Pan & Wendy. Disney's new live action version actually changes the lost boys story into the "lost boys and girls"! Not that there's anything wrong with that, but it's definitely a Woke spin on J.M. Barrie's story.

Apart from the animated original, all of the above have been by critics. But if you have an itch for a genuinely good Peter Pan film, don't miss the 2003 version. I can recommend it without reservation to anyone of any age. Among its solid cast is Jason Isaacs as both a standout Captain Hook and Wendy and her brothers' father, Mr. Darling (a traditional casting practice in live films and on stage). There are clever bits throughout, including Lynn Redgrave as the Darling children's grandmother, reading a book early-on in the story that, if you look closely, is H.G. Wells' War of the Worlds, an appropriate choice as the story takes place in the late Victorian era.

There's also a subtle romance here. Wendy senses it, though Peter never fully comprehends his strange feelings (nor will few viewers under the age of 10). As the two "dance" in one of the film's best scenes, Peter sees it as just having fun. While Wendy reluctantly agrees, she senses there's more to it. Later, when Wendy gives Peter a "thimble" it gives him the strength for the final confrontation with Hook. Because of this Peter-Wendy connection, the film's conclusion is more moving than you might otherwise expect.

The SDR Blu-ray's video presentation is superb, including some solid CGI work, particularly on the trips to Neverland and back and on Hook's nemesis, a gigantic crocodile. And the audio, while only rarely aggressive, is clear and crisp. Also notable is one of James Newton Howard's best and most memorable scores.

TowerTone's picture

Can't hear James Newton Howard's name without thinking of Reg's "Blue Moves" album (his last great one to me...) or "Hook" without thinking of Dustin Hoffman before Robin Williams. I didn't care for it but my kids loved it so....guess it hit some of the demographics (back when they mattered!!)

MatthewWeflen's picture

Ugh. If I never heard the word "woke" again it would be too soon.

It's a shame that you're a part of this baloney, too, and bringing in into your A/V journalism, Mr. Norton. Can't we at least get a break from the culture wars on a consumer electronics site?

Thomas J. Norton's picture
My "Woke" comment was very definitely intended as tongue-in-cheek, though perhaps not cleverly phrased. In any case, that's one reason I have no plans to see the film, along with what appear to be its poor reviews.

Disney's live action remakes of its classic animated films have generally been poorly received critically, though relatively successful financially (which is why they continue to make them!). The only good one, for me, was Cinderella, with a perfectly cast Lily James in the title roll and Cate Blanchette as the evil stepmother.

HaskellHintz's picture

The childhood film with its live-action version brings together equally famous characters. Childhood things like suika game leave an indelible mark.

Ehto's picture

I wasn’t a fan of the latest Peter Pan movie. I believe it never lived up to the greatness of Peter Pan’s legacy. For our next movie night in the office at Gutter Cleaning Stoke-on-trent, we will be watching the original animated version.