Revisiting Spielberg’s Neverland.
DIRECTED BY STEVEN SPIELBERG
Steven Spielberg always seemed like the right guy to take on a modern-day adaptation of J.M. Barrie’s Peter Pan, insofar as there was ever a craving for such an odd project. After all, who has made more resonant films about wide-eyed children and distant dads—or more films about them, period? And who better to help Spielberg realize the project than the manic Robin Williams? Perfect as the fit seemed on paper, Hook didn’t come out so well, landing as an uncanny doppelgänger of both the source text and Spielberg’s earlier work about children. It’s still one of the weaker works in the director’s increasingly spotty CV.
That doesn’t mean it’s not interesting. Williams stars as Peter Banning (seriously), a corporate lawyer and all-around poor parent to Jack (Charlie Korsmo, who between this and What About Bob? made himself into the ’90s archetype of a kid with a a lousy dad) and Maggie (Amber Scott, never seen again). The family dynamic changes when the young ones are mysteriously whisked off in the night to an odd place called Neverland by a certain Captain Hook (Dustin Hoffman on stilts). With the help of old friends Tinkerbell (Julia Roberts), nearly aged out of her pixie charms but just as tiny as before, and Wendy (Maggie Smith), now a matron who runs a local orphanage for all manner of Lost Boys, amnesiac Banning remembers his youth as Peter Pan and sets off on a rescue mission.
There’s an awful lot of potential in this strange brew of adaptation, sequel, and homage—especially in the gloriously uncomfortable first exchange between Roberts and Williams, probably the most asexual box office leads of the decade aside from Tom Hanks. Their awkward flirtation in a nursery has a gothic sort of ruined beauty to it: the faded fairie and the rumpled man-child, brought together in an ageless no-place. Smith’s Wendy is no less fascinating. Does she still love her young idol Peter, does she resent his amnesia, or has it all been neatly sublimated into motherly doting? These are strange questions for a family film.
Where Hook goes wrong, besides the unsatisfactory payoffs granted to both women—this is a Spielberg movie, after all—is in its tasteless pandering to a middle-aged man’s idea of youth culture in the Neverland scenes. The Lost Boys skate around in the forest on boards modified to look like miniature pirate ships, and ringleader Rufio sports a red-streaked hairdo right out of a suburban dad’s nightmare about his kid going punk. You could say that’s a perfect explanation of what this film is—a parent’s fever dream of wayward youth—but it doesn’t make Banning/Pan-the-elder’s initiation into the Boys’ hip way of life any less stilted. Go for the weird sexual tension, then, but nap through the culture clash.