There are tons of Peter Pan adaptations, but this underrated version is the best

All the children grow up except one. And nearly 20 years since this adaptation was released, PJ Hogan’s film Peter Pan still captivates the younger in all of us.

Since its inception, first as a play in 1904 and then as a novel in 1911, JM Barrie’s story has had many iterations on screen. From the 1953 Disney animation to retellings from the point of view of Wendy, Tinkerbell, and even an adult Pan, it’s Hogan’s 2003 live-action film that is arguably its most underrated edit. Equally gratifying, Finding Neverland (2004), which followed shortly after, brought Barrie’s influences and inspiration to life.

With so many versions of Peter’s story, most of us are now familiar with the story, but: On a snowy night in London, while Mr. Darling (Jason Isaacs) and Mrs. Darling (Olivia Williams) attend a lavish party, Peter Pan (Jeremy Sumpter) is on a mission to rescue his shadow from Darling’s nursery. With his fairy Tinkerbell in tow, he meets Wendy (Rachel Hurd-Wood), the eldest of the Darling children, who soon becomes enchanted by Peter’s tales of the lost boys, pirates and the promise that he will learn to fly. Faced with the prospect of soon becoming a woman and teaching with her meticulous Aunt Millicent, Wendy wakes up her brothers, Michael and John. Together they fly out of the nursery window, “second from the right, and straight on until tomorrow”, to a place where children never grow up: Neverland.

Leaping through soft pink clouds, Neverland blooms with life when Peter Pan returns with his new recruits, but his arrival rekindles his long struggle with Captain Hook (also Isaacs) and his crew. The Darling kids will soon have to deal with the villains of their bedtime stories, their sword skills honed in nursery fights.

Re-watching this 2003 film, you’d expect the special effects to look outdated, but Tinkerbell’s fairy dust, Pan’s shadow (sometimes playfully independent of its master), and ticking crocodiles remain as real as you can get on screen. The dialogue is rhythmic and erratic, and the twinkle in the eyes of the entire cast only adds to the lasting quality.

Jeremy Sumpter as Peter Pan.
‘A standout performance’… Jeremy Sumpter as Peter Pan. Photo: Universal Studios

Isaacs, known for his wickedness as Lucius Malfoy in the Harry Potter films, also serves as an uptight Mr Darling and the commanding Captain Hook. A bank teller hoping to climb the ladder, Mr Darling struggles to master the art of talking, while Hook hopes to master everything (before chants of “old, alone, done for” force him to step down). to take).

And at just 13 years old, Jeremy Sumpter as Peter Pan gives a standout performance, navigating the love, jealousy, sadness and joy that come with never growing up. His chemistry with Hurd-Wood as Wendy makes their innocent love story feel authentic, and his response with Isaacs as Hook shows a talent beyond his age.

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When I saw Peter Pan growing up in Australia as a child, Darling’s household was almost as magical as Neverland. Why would you want to leave? Snow fell on the streets of Edwardian London, Mrs. Darling’s aura was enchanting, and the children had a dashing Saint Bernard, Nana, as their nurse, tempting them to take a bath.

Elevated to a soundtrack by composer James Newton Howard, this adaptation combines the horrors of a children’s adventure story, from sinister mermaids to poisoned medicine, with enough comedic twist to put a smile on your face. This Peter Pan is goosebump-inducing good – so much so that you might sing yourself at the end “I really believe in fairies, I do, I do”.

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