IFE Film Review logo

Pixie dust cannot save Pan origin story from itself

IFE Film review logo bannerEver since Walt Disney broke the mold with the classic animated version in 1953, live-action versions of Peter Pan have been a fairly dicey proposition onscreen. Spielberg’s revisionist Hook in 1991 had its moments, but it also had Julia Roberts in a fright wig as Tinkerbell and Dustin Hoffman chomping the scenery as a snarling, buffoonish Captain Hook. And though Jason Isaacs dialed down the theatrics to play a much more palatable Hook in P.J. Hogan’s 2003’s Peter Pan, the rest of the film was so garish and over-the-top crazy that it actually hurt my eyes to watch. Seriously, try sitting through that madness sometime. It’s impossible!

Of course, there have also been scores of lower-budget “reimaginings” of the timeless tale of the boy who could fly – why the story needs to be “reimagined” at all being, apparently, beside the point. In my opinion, the best live-action Pan film to date is 2004’s Oscar-winning Finding Neverland. But since that’s technically more about Pan’s author, J.M. Barrie, it doesn’t really count. So, what die-hard Pan fans (like myself) have been left with are a handful of muddled, revisionist takes of the story and half a dozen animated Disney sequels and spin-offs featuring Tinkerbell and Jake and the Neverland Pirates. Not exactly the pixie dust we hoped for.

So, when I heard that Warner Bros. was dumping loads of cash into a splashy, big-budget Peter Pan origin story starring Oscar-nominees Hugh Jackman and Rooney Mara, my inner child leapt out of bed to fetch my shadow anew. Unfortunately, I should have stayed in bed because this Pan might just be the worst of the lot.

Directed by the hugely overrated UK helmer Joe Wright (Pride & Prejudice, Atonement) from a garbled, tin-eared script by Jason Fuchs (Ice Age: Continental Drift) Pan opens with an infant Peter being abandoned by his mother (Amanda Seyfried) on the doorsteps of an orphanage in pre-WWII London. It’s a promising start. In fact, the first 20 minutes of the film fly by as we get to know the pre-Neverland Peter, played to wide-eyed perfection by newcomer Levi Miller. Unlike previous live-action Pan’s who tend to be either terribly annoying or sort of bland and bloodless onscreen, Miller plays Peter as a real boy with depth and movie star wattage to burn. And though his early scenes in the orphanage are fun and a nighttime sequence where RAF fighters chase a floating pirate ship over the rooftops of London is truly spectacular, somewhere around the 23 minute mark the entire enterprise goes, quite frankly, to shit.


To say that Pan takes a nosedive into mind-numbing mediocrity is too good for this bloated, big-budget bomb. Pan isn’t just bad, it’s so bad that it’s not even fun to watch. And the fact that Wright and company flagrantly steal whole sequences from better films directed by much more talented directors (are your ears burning yet, Baz Luhrmann and James Cameron?) only makes the entire endeavor that much worse. I mean, really, if you’re going to fail on an epic scale like this, at least have the balls to fail with your own ideas.

And while Garrett Hedlund’s bizarre performance as a young Hook and Hugh Jackman’s equally off-putting turn as Blackbeard the Pirate are bad, the hardest casting choice to swallow is the very Anglo Rooney Mara as Tiger Lily. The sad truth is that there are exactly two iconic roles for Native American actresses in Hollywood: Pocahontas and Tiger Lily. They might not be great parts, but they are, or at least they should be, generally played by a woman of color. The fact that Mara recently snatched up a Golden Raspberry Award nomination for Worst Supporting Actress (to compliment her recent Oscar nod for Carol) for her turn as Tiger Lily says it all. Worst casting decision ever.

That said, I know that true Peter Pan completists will still want to see this film. So, if you insist on checking it out the next time you fly, watch it for Miller. When all the preening, overproduced noise and chaos of Pan melts away and Miller takes flight on his own for the first time, one is reminded, for just a flickering moment, of just how truly magical Peter Pan can be. And even if you have to wade through a lot of crap to get there, I can’t imagine a better place to watch Pan’s “inaugural flight” than from a window seat at 30,000 feet.

Now playing on select Japan Airlines, Air Canada and American Airlines flights worldwide, Pan is also available on Amazon Video and iTunes.