“Aw, who guffed?!” exclaims a young Peter (sans the Pan) early in this prequel, an example of the endearing English-ness of its first act – although accents are laid on so thick, I wondered if younger viewers may need subtitles at times. Opening in a Blitz-era orphanage, the latest effort from director Joe Wright (Atonement, Hanna) revels in some old fashioned cheeky boys versus nasty nuns business as it opens, played largely for laughs, and with the friendship of two youngsters holding centre stage.
Before too long, fantastical pirate elements creep in, and the film’s journey to – and through – a previously-unseen Neverland begins. A series of interesting artistic choices unfold, some hitting the mark while others go wide, sometimes distractingly so.
An animated “memory tree” amazes, colourful costumes worn by a multi-racial, multi-accented cast dazzle, and gunfire turns victims into clouds of brightly-coloured smoke. All these end up on the positive side of the ledger – along with Peter boldly gesticulating with “the fingers” at an unhappy recipient in a crowd-pleasing moment. As Peter, newcomer Levi Miller impresses, as does an unsurprisingly over-the-top turn from Hugh Jackman as villainous pirate Blackbeard.
But then there are the diegetic renditions of Smells Like Teen Spirit and Blitzkrieg Bop, performed as pirate singalongs by young workers in enormous mines visually lifted from Mad Max: Fury Road by way of Temple of Doom. Clever references to future events rub shoulders with the none-too-subtle, and a cowboy-like Hook looks to have more in common with a second-rate Han Solo than the evil figure he’s to eventually become.
By taking chances, though – including some wonderfully classical elements among the modern special effects sheen – even Pan’s failures help to distinguish it from typical Hollywood kids cash-in fare.
‘Pan’ Movie Times (Also in 3D)
Other Cool ‘Peter Pan’ Films: Peter Pan (1953), Hook, Finding Neverland