I grew up watching this film many, many times. It wasn’t until over a decade later that I started to learn it was at least considered mediocre if not outright bad–possibly even the worst in Spielberg’s career. I continue to find this relatively confusing, but I tend to find things like that confusing, so perhaps that’s not a big deal.
Peter Banning (Robin Williams) is a businessman with no time for children, imagination or anything but his job–the antithesis of the Peter Pan who appears in his daughter Maggie (Amber Scott), and not suited to the benevolent nature of his former caretaker Granny Wendy (Maggie Smith). His son Jack (Charlie Korsmo–see also Warren Beatty’s Dick Tracy) is the most offended by this, leading his wife Moira (Caroline Goodall) to encourage him to relax and loosen up when they vacation in England to celebrate Wendy’s life. Jack and Maggie are kidnapped during the banquet associated with this celebration and Wendy–surely you’ve noticed the names by now–must attempt to remind Peter of who he really is–Peter Pan. The appearance of Tinkerbell (Julia Roberts) does little to jog his memory, even when she carries him all the way to Neverland. Peter must then learn who he was, how he was, what he was, and what he could do in order to rescue his children from the clutches of his old nemesis Captain James Hook (Dustin Hoffman).
It’s funny that I never realized as a youngster that this film is two and a half hours long (or close enough to it). I just filed it under “movies” and would pull down the VHS and watch it periodically when the mood struck. The thing I always enjoyed most about the film was the costuming and production design. They are absolutely breathtaking–the image of the fully realized Captain Hook’s ship, the monstrous, dusty stuffed crocodile that holds a clock in the center of town, the ocean floor surrounding the island of Neverland bearing a compass as if it were a map, the intricate treehouses of the Lost Boys–they’re all unbelievable. Beyond that I also found the strange fascination with multi-coloured and bright soupy puddings interesting–used to catch Peter when the Lost Boys attempt to teach him flight again, as the splotchy “wounds” of their non-lethal arrows, the imagined foods they throw at each other. Something was weirdly fascinating about that. And I definitely wished I had hair like Rufio (Dante Basco, who is unfortunately forever “the guy who played Rufio” for me), and that neat fluffy red and black suit, especially the armoured version he wears to the final showdown between the pirates and Lost Boys.
Robin is very much into his role (as he usually is) and manages it quite well, easily bouncing between the hard-nosed, stern business-like father of the beginning of the movie who causes the family rupture (oh, there you are, Mr. Spielberg!) that leads to all of these events, and the confused, self-diagnosed “insanity” of the beginning of his trip into a world he previously dismissed as fantasy. The two kids, while Amber especially is a bit, er, precocious, are enthusiastic and well-directed enough that we can accept them as both actual children and the children of these two parents. Dustin Hoffman absolutely loses himself in Hook, to the point that even though his role was ingrained in my memory by the time I knew who he was, I still had some difficulty believing it was him, and he’s only aided by the full-on natural Cockney of Bob Hoskins as his right hand man Smee.
I have little doubt that much of my amusement with this film is derived primarily from nostalgia, but I don’t think this invalidates my opinion (makes it unhelpful, maybe!) but definitely colours it unavoidably.