It’s hard to believe, but this is the first time “Peter Pan” has been produced as a big-screen, live-action film with sound. A silent version was produced in 1924, and there have been various made-for-TV incarnations, not to mention Disney’s 1953 animated version, but not until now, in the era of special effects, has it all been assembled in a way that looks and sounds real.
I point out the film’s uniqueness because it’s ultimately irrelevant. Despite being a “first” in many ways, the film’s story is still intimately familiar to most people, and audiences will find they’ve been here before. P.J. Hogan’s lavish and ambitious retelling of the boy who wouldn’t grow up does justice to J.M. Barrie’s story, to be sure, but it’s hardly a definitive version. It will seem, after all, like just another remake, even though it’s technically not one.
Is there a different spin on it? Sure, a bit. It’s the first time an actual boy has played a live-action Peter Pan (not counting Robin Williams in “Hook,” because that Peter Pan was grown up), which makes it possible to examine the romantic underpinnings to Peter and Wendy’s relationship. (Hogan’s last two major films were “My Best Friend’s Wedding”  and “Muriel’s Wedding” , and screenwriter Michael Goldenberg wrote “Bed of Roses” , so it’s not surprising that romance should rear its head in their current collaboration.) Peter is played by 14-year-old Jeremy Sumpter, who just about gets the mix of adolescence and childhood right. As Wendy, 13-year-old Rachel Hurd-Wood similarly teeters between little-girlhood and teen-girlhood, just beginning to discover, quite innocently, the magic of love. I find Peter and Wendy’s relationship sweet, even a little tragic, and that’s an element generally forgotten when this story is staged.
John (Harry Newell) and Michael (Freddie Popplewell) Darling are along for the ride, too, as the bunch flies to Neverland, cavorts with the Lost Boys, and grapples with Captain Hook. Hook himself is the dashing Jason Isaacs, who conveys menace and humor with considerable effectiveness. His sidekick, Smee (Richard Briers), is a droll addition as well.
The film focuses on the magic of Neverland, with whimsical special effects and Donald McAlpine’s (“Moulin Rouge” , “The Time Machine” ) soaring cinematography. It is not a film for the ages, nor will it supplant Disney’s animated version or Mary Martin’s famed stage performance as the definitive presentation. But its marvelous visuals will certainly entertain the kiddies.
B- (1 hr., 45 min.; )