The Book: 1911 (originally published as Peter and Wendy based on the 1904 play Peter Pan, or The Boy Who Wouldn’t Grow Up)
Written by J.M. Barrie (Hodder & Stoughton)
The Film: 2003
Directed by P.J. Hogan (Columbia Tristar)
Peter Pan is one of my favourite classic children’s books and it is a book I have read several times, both for pleasure and as part of my studies. I’ve also seen the play performed, which is an experience I highly recommend! There are several film adaptations of this classic story in existence, but (despite my love for all things Disney) I’ve settled on the live-action version directed by P.J. Hogan as I find it to be closest to the actual text.
I really liked how true this film was to the text. Yes, it’s a bit corny and ridiculous at times but I feel it really captures the whimsy and magic of the story. Peter Pan is the tale of a boy who doesn’t want to grow up so he stays young in a place made from a child’s imagination, Neverland. The Neverland that appears in the film is really what makes this movie for me. From the clouds and trees to the creatures that inhabit this mystical isle, it is a beautifully imagined place. I especially love the fairy hollow and the mermaids are absolutely incredible (and perfectly creepy). It’s always interesting to see a fantastical setting brought to life.
For a children’s book about children who want to stay children, it is ironically the adults in the film that really stand out for me. Jason Isaacs (one of my all-time favourite actors) was a marvelous choice for Captain Hook/ George Darling. It is remarkable how he can play both the cowardly father and the sinister captain side by side. This characterization of the father as the villain is a wonderful commentary about how Wendy views her father. It is also a testament to the sheer genius of J.M. Barrie as Hook and Mr. Darling were one in the same in the original play. Having the two characters played by one actor adds a level to the story that can easily be missed in the book. And, of course, Olivia Williams makes a beautiful Mrs. Darling.
There is so much to love in the story of Peter Pan: fairies, pirates, a dog for a nurse and a ticking crocodile. The metaphors that abound in the book are incredible (and to be honest, they make me quite jealous). A few of these metaphors—like the ticking crocodile—carry into the film, but can a film really capture the brilliance of Barrie’s writing? Perhaps. Perhaps not. Where I feel film cannot compete with the book is in voice. In the book, the narrative voice almost becomes a character itself with its intrusive comments and observations about the Darling children. This voice, for me, is what truly makes the book a work to be appreciated. Somewhere in all the movie magic this voice is lost.
While this film is a great adaptation—and a much welcome adaptation compared to the jokey, tra-la-la Disney version—it is still the book I turn to when I want to escape “the real world.” Because I know if I head second star to the right and straight on ‘til morning, I will find a place where my imagination can soar on the wind’s back, a place where I will never grow up.
What is your favourite way to experience Peter Pan? Tell me in comments.
“Popcorn and a Book” is a bi-weekly meme I host where I will compare one book with its adapted film, looking at the content, the way it has been visualized, the experience, etc. If you would like to participate in this meme, please visit the “Popcorn and a Book” main page for details.