The Peter Pan stories have inspired fresh looks before, including Steven Spielberg’s ‘Hook’, with Robin Williams as the boy who did grow up, and ‘Finding Neverland’, which saw Johnny Depp play the author JM Barrie. Now ‘Atonement’ director Joe Wright, embarking on his first family film, gives us a boisterous ‘origins’ spin, imagining how and why Peter became Pan. Some characters are the same (although this takes place before the Darling family enters the scene); but the story is new, with a special focus on who Peter’s parents were and why they abandoned him at a grim orphanage in 1930s London. This ‘Pan’ is loud, colourful, busy and full of ideas. Not all those ideas work in sync – but most are bold and some are winningly eccentric.
‘Pan’ bridges a dark 1940s wartime London with a colourful Neverland conceived on a grand, anarchic scale. It’s in this fantasy world that we meet the main players beyond Pan himself (lively newcomer Levi Miller). There’s child-nabbing pirate Blackbeard (Hugh Jackman), a twisted, theatrical, unpredictable grand dame of a villain introduced to a blast of Nirvana’s ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’. There’s James Hook (Garrett Hedlund), not yet ‘Captain’ (keep up), who comes over as a young Indiana Jones and is annoyingly energetic. And there’s Tiger Lily (Rooney Mara), quiet, forceful, surely destined to be a hit with young girls. This Tiger Lily also offers another view of the film’s title: she heads a distinctly twenty-first-century pan-national tribe, a conglomerate of races and colours – just one way in which Wright sheds the Victorian skin of Barrie’s creation.
There’s also a not-so-subtle messiah message bubbling underneath the movie's frenetic surface: Peter’s long-lost mother is, yes, Mary (Amanda Seyfried in flashbacks), and there’s talk of ‘love between a fairy prince and a human girl’. Wright throws a lot of ideas at ‘Pan’, and not all of them stick, but it makes for a refreshingly imaginative experience, and one not afraid of inspiring a little fear in younger audiences alongside the scattergun wonder.