*****SPIELBERGIAN SPOILERS AHEAD!!*****
In December of 1991, I remember going to see “Hook” about a week or so after it’d opened. I was not the greatest fan of J.M. Barrie’s Peter Pan stories, though I was familiar enough with the 1953 Disney animated feature, which I saw as a kid. As a fan of director/producer Steven Spielberg’s other films (“JAWS,” “Close Encounters of the Third Kind”), I was looking forward to this long-gestated take on the classic children’s story. The James V. Hart (“Contact”) & Nick Castle (“The Last Starfighter”) script was to be a sequel to Barrie’s tale and the cartoon. The film would see a middle-aged Peter Banning (the late, great Robin Williams) living as a stressed-out corporate trader with a wife and kids in San Francisco, until Peter’s long forgotten past in the presumed-mythical Neverland catches up with him…
That was 30 years ago, and I remember enjoying the movie well enough at the time, but, like leaving Neverland, I’ve since had a strange amnesia about “Hook”. I’d seen it on TV once or twice since, and I own the DVD, but I’d forgotten more than I remembered. So, for this review, I broke out my 7 ft. collapsible screen and digital projector to give the movie every chance of impressing me once again. It was time to return to that “second star to the right and straight on till morning…”
The opening scene takes place as corporate mergers lawyer Peter Banning (Robin Williams) is attending (but not present at) a grade school play starring his young daughter Maggie (Amber Scott). Much to the annoyance of his wife Moira (Caroline Goodall) and son Jack (Charlie Cosmo), Peter takes a call during the performance. Little Maggie is, of course, starring as “Wendy” (as her own grandma) in a production of “Peter and Wendy” (huge foreshadowing…). Peter is attending but barely present, as his mind is focused on the merger ahead. Things go from bad to worse when Peter misses his son’s big baseball game the following afternoon. Realizing his dad didn’t show, a heartbroken Jack strikes out. Later on, the family takes a direct Pan-Am (!) flight from San Francisco to London to spend the holidays with grandma Wendy Darling (Maggie Smith), who claims to be the living inspiration for the character of Wendy in J.M. Barrie’s classic children’s stories. A lifelong philanthropist, Wendy is having a new hospital wing for orphans dedicated in her name… a cause near and dear to her heart, as we learn. During the flight, Peter’s kids express growing resentment of their eternally distracted father….
Note: Peter’s constant use of his cellphone took place a few years before ruing public events with cellphones was commonplace (as it is today), and usually just wealthy or important people had such pocket-sized annoyances. The early 1990s was when tech companies began to make them small enough to fit in coat pockets. Cellphones of the ’80s were massive, brick-like monstrosities.
The Bannings arrive at Maggie’s London home, the very house which served as an inspiration for Barrie’s novels. They are greeted by an elderly eccentric named “Tootles” (Arthur Malet), who claims to have “lost his marbles.” Given his behavior, no one doubts it. The Darling home is decorated for the holidays, and Moira instantly relishes the memories of growing up in the old house—the very house where she first met and fell in love with young orphan Peter. Grandma Wendy is dismayed to hear that corporate mergers lawyer “Peter has become a pirate” (one of the best lines of the movie). In fact, Peter is still yammering on the phone trying to finalize the details of a $5 billion merger. An angered Moira yanks Peter’s phone out of his hand and tosses it from an open window, to Peter’s incredulity. As Jack and Maggie settle into their large guest room (the very room where grandma Wendy claims her adventures began), Peter expresses his resentment at leaving important business behind by miserly micromanaging his kids’ behavior. As Peter, Moira and Wendy leave for her honorary dinner, winter winds blow fiercely outside, as Tootles becomes increasingly agitated about the presence of “Hook!”
Note: The movie is laden with spoilers about Wendy and Peter’s true origins, as we see paintings, books, and window locks with polished silver “hook” latches everywhere. We even see murals of Peter and Captain Hook’s past adventures at Neverland in the guest bedroom. The movie’s foreshadowing is anything but subtle. I wonder why Wendy would want reminders of their most dreaded foe all over the house? It’s a bit odd, to say the least…
At the dedication dinner, a nervous Peter addresses the crowd of former (now successful) orphans gathered to honor Wendy Darling and the new orphanage wing. Peter tells a few rusty lawyer jokes just before the crowd rises to their feet in spontaneous applause for Wendy, who then spills her drink and nearly collapses (she feels a tremor in the force). Rushing the anxious elderly woman home, Peter and Moira are horrified to find that the house has been ransacked and the children are both missing. Grandma Wendy discovers a dramatic ransom note…hand written by none other than Captain James Hook.
Note: Nice bit of reverse-casting to feature the brilliant, innovative standup comic genius Robin Williams (1951-2014) nervously telling stale lawyer jokes to an unamused crowd. It’s like having LeBron James getting his ass kicked by middle schoolers in a game of driveway basketball. Robin Williams tragically committed suicide on August 11th, 2014, and the world lost one of the brightest, funniest, most talented human beings I’d ever seen in my lifetime on that sad day. Robin Williams’ death was a loss to the world of entertainment and to comedy itself. His passing pained me deeply, and I’d never even met the man.
After a perfunctory visit by a Scotland Yard inspector (Phil Collins), the family is given false hope that the whole affair might just be an elaborate prank, given the family’s literary history. Left with nothing but despair, Grandma Wendy takes Peter aside to tell him the truth of his origins. Peter thinks the old woman has lost her mind when she tries to convince him that he really is Peter Pan, and that she was Wendy. Refuting Peter’s long held assumption that she found him as an illiterate orphan on her doorstep, she tells him that the former pixie used to visit her every year, as she got older and older… eventually falling in love with her granddaughter Moira and forsaking his own immortality. For Peter, who’s still in grief over the kidnappings of his children, it’s too much. Wendy insists that it’s all true, and that Peter must somehow return to Neverland to get his children back.
Lying down in the children’s room, Peter is visited by a flying glowing creature that he reflexively attempts to swat, calling it “the firefly from hell.” Eventually, the being reveals herself to be the one and only Tinker Bell (Julia Roberts). Tinker Bell tells a disbelieving Peter that his kids are being held by Captain Hook on his pirate ship at Neverland. Peter is about the dismiss the whole fantastical visitation as a hallucination brought on by grief, but Tinker Bell shakes him out of his melancholia and insists that he come with her.
Note: Julia Roberts was insanely popular in 1991. She was Hollywood’s ‘It Girl’ at that time, appearing in multiple hit movies such as “Flatliners,” “Sleeping With the Enemy,” “Dying Young” and others. While she does a credible job as Tinker Bell, I can’t shake the feeling she was cast largely for her star power, and not because she had any natural predisposition for the role. If one were looking for a Tinker Bell type, say ten years ago? Someone more like “Mama Mia” costar Amanda Seyfried would’ve been perfect for the role.
Sprinkling Peter with some of her glowing fairy dust, the stronger-than-she-looks Tinker Bell hoists Peter up into a blanket and flies him off to Neverland herself, passing over the iconic Westminster Bridge. Some of Tink’s excess fairy dust falls on a pair of oblivious lovers, who slowly begin to levitate. Tink and Peter fly on towards that “second star to the right, and straight on till morning.”
Note: Barrie’s famous line, “second star to the right, and straight on till morning” was also famously cited in the final scene of another fantasy adventure of 1991: “Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country”.
Tink and Peter fly off into outer space toward what appears to be another dimension out among the stars. Slipping effortlessly through a cloud layer into the alternate-universe of Neverland, we see that the island is a curious blend of multiple environments; tropical paradise, seaside shantytown, winter wonderland and exotic rainforest. Tink and Peter land near the pirate shantytown off the coast of the island, where Hook is keeping Peter’s children.
Note: The whole tone of the movie walks a line that is, as Tinker Bell describes “that place between sleep and awake, the place where you can still remember dreaming.” The movie creates a universe where perhaps all fables and myths have roots in reality, like the holiday worlds seen in “The Nightmare Before Christmas.” Despite a barrage of ILM optical effects and gorgeously realized sets, you have to willingly suspend a lot of disbelief for a movie like “Hook” to work—a task much easier for kids, of course.
In the pirates’ shantytown, we see a flotilla of ships docked close together, near a shoreline public square, which features (as the town’s centerpiece) a clock tower made from a giant crocodile—the very beast which cost Captain James Hook his left hand. In this clock tower, time moves strangely; in fact, Peter soon realizes that none of the clocks in Neverland seem to work right. Still dressed in his tuxedo from Wendy’s dedication dinner, Peter is immediately roughed up by some of the surly locals. Once again, Tink swoops in to save the day, kicking the bullies’ collective asses, and even managing to improvise a quick disguise for Peter using an eyepatch, tricorn hat, cane and discretely concealing blanket. A desperate Peter throws himself into the role of pirate, screwing his face into an ‘argh’ grimace and feigning a peg-legged walk.
Note: The shantytown evokes the spirit of what would’ve been the single most amazing interactive pirate city attraction at Disneyland—if only it existed. The shantytown has ships, shops and watering holes; a fully realized pirate community built entirely on a massive indoor soundstage! It is sprinkled with references, both subtle and overt, to the works of J.M. Barrie and to the various adaptations of his works. It’s the universe of the Peter Pan stories and the 1953 cartoon made concrete—an incredible feat of production design (credited to Oscar nominee Elliot Scott).
Meanwhile, aboard the pirate shantytown’s luxuriously-appointed flagship, Sea Devil, Captain Hook (Dustin Hoffman) and his henchman Smee (Bob Hoskins) begin their day by exiting their ship and formally declaring the capture of Peter Pan’s children; this act ensures a much-wanted war between good and evil for the pugnacious locals, who are always spoiling for a fight. As Hook uses the children as bait to draw out his former adversary, Peter can take no more. Removing his disguise, he pleads directly to Hook for the return of his children, threatening the disbelieving pirate captain with legal action if he fails to hand them over. Dismayed at the mortal (and corpulent) state of his old foe, Hook wonders why Peter doesn’t just fly up and rescue them. Dangling the children from a thick net at the end of a tall mast, Hook taunts the out-of-shape Peter by telling him he can take his children home…if only he scales the tall mast and touches them. Hook laughs uproariously when Peter whispers that he “has a problem with heights.” With Hook insistent on the terms, a terrified Peter begins to climb—his crying kids pleading for him to rescue them. Reaching the top of the mast, Peter is unable to make the necessary leap to touch them. As Peter ashamedly climbs down onto the deck, Hook has his hands bound before pushing the pathetic man off the ship’s plank. Hook is disappointed when he realizes the rematch he’s dreamed of won’t be happening. Tink herself intervenes and then makes a bargain with Hook; if he gives her three days to get Peter into fighting shape, he can have his war. Hook agrees.
Note: The scene of Hook literally reaching out to his children and failing to connect with them, is of course, a rich metaphor for the current state of his relationship with them. By acting only as provider and disciplinarian, he doesn’t yet know (or understand) how to reach and connect with them. Once again, Peter’s own foibles, fears and hangups cloud his perspective on what needs to be done. He’s a biological parent, yes, but not yet a true father. Whereas “Peter Pan” was an ode to childhood, “Hook” is an ode to parenting.
A bound Peter lands in the ocean and is doomed to drown before he’s rescued by several mermaids, who “kiss” him with air enough to survive until he is dragged ashore by Tinker Bell.
Note: The mermaid sequence is one of the few scenes in this otherwise beautifully-furnished movie that looks downright chintzy. The multihued mermaid wig seams are all very visible, and the obvious water tank where it was filmed looks like a sparsely decorated swimming pool at a cheap, seaside family hotel in Florida. For all the money lavished on this production ($70 million in 1991 dollars), it’s a shame they could’ve have sprung a few more bucks for some second-unit underwater work in the Bahamas (see: 1984’s “Splash”). I guess hiring so much big-name talent for the movie (Robin Williams, Dustin Hoffman, Julia Roberts, etc) had to exact a price somewhere.
Once ashore, the disoriented Peter (whose glasses never fell off of his face) is then introduced to the Lost Boys, who are unrecognizable to him. There are new ‘Boys’ added to their ranks, including new leader Rufio (Dante Basco), who doesn’t believe the out-of-shape, middle-aged lawyer standing before him is their former leader. With nowhere else to turn, a humbled Peter begs for the Boys’ help. Reluctantly, the Lost Boys agree to help get Peter in fighting shape within the three allotted days.
Note: In a movie overflowing with primarily caucasian actors, it was refreshing to see some much-needed diversity in the casting of this next generation of Lost Boys, including Asian, black and other faces besides white Anglo-American kids. These updated Lost Boys also have skateboards and new slang, which alludes to newly orphaned/missing kids (presumably from modern times) joining the ranks of this immortal tribe. A frustrated Peter describes the rambunctious kids as a “Lord of the Flies preschool”—a line that, like several others in the film, sounds like a Robin Williams’ improvisation.
Back aboard the Sea Devil, Hook is feeling a bit of melancholy. Seeking attention, Hook feigns a suicidal state by reaching for his revolver and holding it to his head. Half-pleadingly, he cries out for Smee’s intervention, which he receives, of course, since the whole act was little more than a ploy for sympathy. Trying to comfort his boss, Smee suggests that the best revenge against Peter might be to turn his own children against him. This would be especially easy to accomplish, given how profoundly Peter has disappointed his kids of late. Hook agrees, but not before reclaiming Smee’s idea as his, of course.
Note: The feigned suicide bit is a moment that could’ve easily ended up on the cutting room floor, as far as I’m concerned. It’s overly long, and not terribly funny. In fact, suicide (or even the threat of it) isn’t funny at all—especially in light of star Robin Williams taking his own life some 23 years after the film was made. I’m not in favor of revising art by censorship years after the fact, but this scene has no real value as far as I’m concerned, other than offering a weak motive for Smee to come up with a revenge plan.
Note: In regards to Dustin Hoffman’s casting of Captain James Hook: I’ve been a huge fan of Hoffman’s for many years, particularly his work in “The Graduate” (1967), “Tootsie” (1982) and, of course, my all-time favorite movie of his, “Midnight Cowboy” (1969). All of that said, I can’t shake the feeling that (much like Julia Roberts), Hoffman was cast as Hook more for his star power than for being genuinely suited for the role. However, Hoffman being an actor’s actor, he completely threw himself into the role (even if his British accent is a teensy bit dodgy at times). This miscast-yet-still-successful performance reminded me of the similarly miscast-but-workable performance of Tom Cruise in “Interview With The Vampire.” Hoffman costarred with Cruise in the 1988 film “Rain Man” (for which Hoffman won an Oscar). The actor would later revisit the world of author J.M. Barrie in the 2004 bio-drama “Finding Neverland” (where he didn’t play Hook).
As the Lost Boys do their best to get Peter into fighting shape, their physical fitness routines amount to nothing short of torture for the forty-something lawyer. As Rufio retrains him in the art of the duel, the young leader begins to feel threatened by Peter’s adult presence. Several of the Lost Boys begin to accept Peter, and defect from Rufio’s ranks. That evening, an exhausted Peter sits down with Tink and the Lost Boys for a dinner of imaginary food, which—like everything else in Neverland—only becomes real if you believe in it. As the boys chow down on invisible grub, the tension between Rufio and Peter erupts into a trash-talk face-off, where each tries to outdo the other’s insults. Peter has the advantage of an educated adult’s vocabulary, which leaves a threatened Rufio sputtering. Adding insult to injury, Peter flings imaginary food at Rufio, who is instantly splattered with what looks like a blob of brightly colored cake frosting. Before long, a raucous food fight breaks the tension. Peter, the Lost Boys and Tinker Bell all bond over the colorful, delicious chaos…
Note: It’s during the food fight where we finally see the anal-retentive Peter finally begin to loosen up and embrace the fantasy environment in which he’s surrounded.
Aboard the Sea Devil, Jack and Maggie want to go home, as the little girl sings a lullaby that her mother Moira used to sing to her (“When You’re Alone”). Maggie’s soulful singing echoes into the night skies over Neverland, and even Peter hears it while resting in his hammock amongst the Lost Boy treehouses. Hearing his daughter’s lonesome voice gives Peter the motivation to try even harder to rediscover his magical abilities.
Note: Then six-year old Amber Scott sang the Oscar-nominated song, “When You’re Alone”, with music by John Williams and lyrics by Leslie Bricusse. Scott had a similar quality to “E.T.” child star Drew Barrymore (who was also six when she costarred in Spielberg’s “E.T”), though Scott (unlike Barrymore) has since left acting to pursue other interests. Composer Leslie Bricusse also famously wrote the the songs for another children’s classic, “Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory” (1971); his song “The Candy Man” was later made famous by singer/actor/entertainer Sammy Davis Jr. as a hit single. Bricusse also composed songs for “Doctor Doolittle” (1967) and “Victor/Victoria” (1982). Speaking of music, “Hook” composer John Williams once again allied himself with longtime director-partner Steven Spielberg; a collaboration that dates back to 1975’s “JAWS”, and would continue with “Close Encounters of the Third Kind”(1977), “E.T.” (1982) and many others since. While I’m a huge fan of John Williams’ music (his soundtrack of “Star Wars” was the first album I ever purchased as a kid), his score for “Hook” is surprisingly generic. In a career flush with Oscar-wins and memorable themes, “Hook” is not among Williams’ best works.
The following morning, Hook and Smee set about their plan to lure Jack and Maggie to the ‘dark side’. While the younger Maggie stubbornly refuses to yield to the pirate captain, Jack finds himself seduced by Hook’s attention and sympathies. Hook allows the boy to smash one of many silenced clocks in order to vent his rage against his dad for missing that all-important ball game. In fact, that missed ball game gives Hook the idea to stage a baseball game in the pirate town’s square. Recruiting locals for teams, one of which is named the Pirates (after the real-life Pittsburgh MLB team), Jack is finally allowed to replay that traumatic moment where his father’s desertion caused him to choke and miss. This time, Jack hits a home run—a home run that seems to defy the laws of gravity as it sails off into the sky…
Note: The sets for this movie are simply massive—the actors play their improvised pirate baseball game entirely within an indoor soundstage. Like Spielberg’s future “Jurassic Park,” the producers “spared no expense” to make this movie happen. Sadly, it underperformed at the box office, bringing in only $119 million globally against its $70 million production budget. While “Hook” has a few nagging issues here and there, I still think it’s a better movie than its unfairly maligned reputation suggests.
As a sullen Peter sits in his treehouse, desperately trying to find his “happy thought” in order to fly again, he is struck by Jack’s baseball. The knock on the noggin causes him to remember. Suddenly recalling his past as well as his present, Peter is given that happy thought that allows him to fly once again—seeing the birth of his son, Jack. Fatherhood–the ultimate happy thought (as I’ve said, this movie is a love letter to parenting). Soon, Peter is flying in the skies over Neverland, wearing his familiar pixie outfit, belt, dagger and tights. Peter Banning is now Peter Pan.
Note: The scene of Pan reacquiring the power of flight reminded me of “Superman: The Movie” (1978) when the young Clark Kent enters the Fortress of Solitude for the first time and is instructed by his late father Jor-El, allowing him to attain flight for the first time. Robin Williams was a former roommate of the late “Superman” star Christopher Reeve (1952-2004) when they attended Juilliard together. After Reeve’s tragic 1995 horse riding accident left him paralyzed, Williams was one of the first to see his old friend, and he did his best to cheer him up by jokingly posing as a Russian proctologist.
Soon, corporate mergers-lawyer Peter Banning begins to lose himself in his former identity of Peter Pan. Flying in to check up on a crying Tinker Bell, he tries to cheer her up by telling her to make a wish. She then explodes out of her tiny dollhouse and is standing full-size next to Peter in a shimmering Disney princess gown. She tearfully asks her longtime crush for a kiss, and he obliges—not with the thimble, but the lip-on-lip kind. With total recall restored, Peter remembers his original birth mother, Tinker Bell rescuing him as a baby when his carriage was lost, his time with the Lost Boys, and eventually falling in love with Wendy’s granddaughter, Moira. It was falling in love with teenaged Moira that ignited Peter’s desire to remain in the real world and become mortal again. Wendy then arranged for the illiterate, amnesiac 12-year old orphan to be adopted by wealthy American parents. Peter and Moira made a life for themselves in America, and Peter forgot all about his boyhood in Neverland. Now the veil between the two worlds is lifted, and Peter Pan/Banning are one and the same—a flying, devil-may-care adventurer who is also a responsible, bill-paying dad with two kids. Thanking Tinker Bell for helping him remember, Peter regrets that he can’t return her love, since his heart belongs to Moira. In an act of sacrifice, Tinker Bell tells Peter she will always love him, but that he needs to remember why he came to Neverland in the first place—to rescue his children. Off he goes…
Note: During the flashbacks, we see Peter Pan pay regular visits to Wendy at the Darling household, first as a young girl, then as a teenager, and finally as an old woman. The teenage Wendy is played by the then-teenaged Gwyneth Paltrow, who was about 17 or so during filming. At the time, Paltrow (daughter of actress Blythe Danner and TV producer/director Bruce Paltrow) wasn’t a name yet, but mainstream success soon followed with roles in “Emma” (1996), “Great Expectations” (1998) and her Oscar-winning turn in “Shakespeare in Love” (1998). She is better known among Marvel fans as “Pepper Potts” from the “Iron Man” and “Avengers” movies (and for her utterly useless “goop” product line…).
An avenging Peter flies down on Captain Hook, demanding the return of his kids. Hook revels in the challenge from his old foe (what a difference three days made!). The war is on. Peter and Hook duel, as the Lost Boys take on the pirates with non-lethal weaponry—they use mirrors to blind their opponents, before pelting them with eggs and marbles. As the pirates get their asses handed to them, they beat a retreat. As the newly-loyal Rufio rushes to Peter’s aid, Peter temporarily leaves the battle with Hook to free his children. Maggie welcomes her father back openly, while a more confused Jack finds himself torn between his real father and his newfound pirate surrogate. With Peter temporarily out of the game, Hook wolfishly takes on the younger opponent Rufio, whom he impales just as the young man briefly lowers his guard. Peter rushes back just in time for a dying Rufio to tell Peter he wished he had him for a father. Gasping his last, Peter’s former rival-turned-ally Rufio is dead.
Note: I’m not crying, you’re crying…
With renewed anger, Peter wails on Hook, eventually defeating the old pirate in the town square and even flinging his wig off. Revealed as a nearly bald and somewhat pathetic old man, Peter takes pity on the sad-faced monster. Rather than set a bad example by killing Hook in front of his kids and the Lost Boys (he’s still a dad), Peter offers Hook his dignity by accepting his surrender—making Hook promise to take his ship and leave Neverland forever. Hook, of course, has a spare knife in his leggings and immediately betrays Peter. The Lost Boys whip out loudly ticking clocks, which trigger trauma for Hook. Peter then cuts loose the large crocodile clock in the town square. The dead behemoth reptile seems to briefly return to life, as it falls mouth-first onto Hook. We hear the zombie-creature belch, just as the Lost Boys look inside of its now-inanimate jaws, where they find no trace of Captain Hook. The slain crocodile, which once ate Hook’s left hand, briefly returned to life to get its own revenge…
Note: The large full-scale crocodile clock tower seems to foreshadow the equally carnivorous Tyrannosaurus Rex we would see two years later in Spielberg’s “Jurassic Park”. That creature was also built as a full-scale animatronic prop, which was augmented by more versatile, computer-animated versions (creating a revolution in CGI effects). Unlike the T-Rex, the full-size crocodile in “Hook” isn’t made to look real, but rather surreal—like a mythic ‘golem-gator’ instead of a real creature.
Before leaving Neverland for the last time, Peter is given the task of appointing his successor. With Rufio gone, Peter elects the jovial Thud Butt (Raushan Hammond) to lead the Lost Boys. Thud Butt was able to roll himself into a human bowling ball during the attack on the pirates, showing both a um, unique skill as well as uncommon bravery. He takes Peter’s sword with glee. The Lost Boys are in good hands.
Note: Raushan Hammond has had a sporadic acting career after the film, eventually going on to direct the low-budget, independent 2011 feature film, “24 Hours In Las Vegas.”
Saying his goodbyes to the Lost Boys, Peter then turns his attention to his own kids, who now see their once-boring father in a whole new light. Peter asks Tinker Bell to sprinkle them with fairy dust and transport them back to London. Under her care, the kids fly away.
The following morning, we see Moira, back in London, having slept in a chair next to the children’s beds. Silently, the children float in through the open window. Seeing their worried mother asleep from sheer exhaustion, they want to kiss her in gratitude, but Maggie insists they let her sleep, because “She looks like an angel.” As they get into their beds, Moira stirs and sees them in the corner of her eye, thinking they’re grief hallucinations… until Wendy enters the room and sees them, too. The kids then dart out of bed and hug their overjoyed mother…
Note: Caroline Goodall, who plays Peter’s wife Moira, would also costar as Emilie Schindler, the wife of German industrialist Oskar Schindler (Liam Neeson) in director Steven Spielberg’s critically acclaimed, Oscar-winning Holocaust film “Schindler’s List” (1993). Contrary to myth, Caroline Goodall isn’t the sister or daughter of famed wildlife scientist/advocate Jane Goodall.
Awakening in the snow outside of the Darling home, Peter is back in his tuxedo. She jumps up with a start–still in his Peter Pan persona. While he experienced three days in Neverland, apparently only a single night has passed in the real world. Peter then hears the ringing of his old cellphone, still buried in the snow. He digs it out, amazed that it still works (as am I, after a full night in the cold, buried in dirt and snow…). Peter answers the call, and tells his nervous assistant Brad that he can’t talk now, because he has to climb the side of the house to see if his kids are alright, because he ran out of fairy dust and can’t fly up (as you do, of course). Climbing the side of the house, Peter sees a street sweep who looks and sounds exactly like Smee—the suggestion being the amiable Smee somehow fled Neverland and escaped to London himself.
Note: One trait that both Peter Banning and Peter Pan have in common is their tendency to stand with their fists at their hips—superhero style. This is a subconscious trait of Peter’s that was carried over from his childhood in Neverland. It’s only after his adventures in “Hook” that Peter does this both knowingly and willfully.
Peter climbs back up into the children’s open window and reunites with his grateful family. Once again, his annoying cellphone rings—Peter then tosses the phone (and poor waiting Brad) out the window once again. In walks Tootles, and Peter hands the old man a bag containing his “lost marbles,” which Peter remembered to retrieve just before leaving Neverland. The delighted old man is immediately surrounded by pixie dust as he’s found his own ‘happy thought.’ In walks the Darling housekeeper, who screams at the sight of an airborne Tootles. The giddy old man takes off for Neverland, flying high over 1991 London…
Note: I hope old Tootles isn’t picked by the radar of the Royal Air Force.
Peter, Wendy, Moira, Maggie and Jack wondrously watch the old fly away away. Wondering if Peter is here to stay this time, Grandma Wendy asks Peter if his adventures are over? Peter replies, “Oh, no. To live… to live would be an awfully big adventure.”
Pre and Post-Peter Pans.
The character of Peter Pan first appeared as a young birdlike boy who could fly in J.M. Barrie’s “The Little White Bird.” Portions of that book were republished in “Peter Pan in Kensington Gardens.” It was eventually adapted for the stage as “Peter Pan; Or, The Boy Who Wouldn’t Grow Up” (1904) which was eventually adapted into a novel as “Peter and Wendy.” In 1924, it became a silent film, and of course, its most famed adaptation would be the 1953 Disney animated feature, “Peter Pan”; the version that most of my generation grew up with. For full disclosure, I’ve never read J.M. Barrie’s works, but of course, I’ve seen the animated feature film several times. That was my touchstone both for the story and the character of Peter Pan.
The 1953 animated movie has come under fire of late for its stereotypical depiction of Native Americans, specifically the featured song, “What Makes a Red Man Red?” They were called “Injuns” in the film, and their ‘red skin’ came about as a result of being kissed. Yikes. The 1950s was the era where both movies and TV shows about the Old West depicted Native Americans as either a menace to be wiped out by ‘good’ frontiersmen (i.e. white cowboys, like John Wayne) or the equally stereotypical ‘noble savage,’ who usually allied himself with a white man as a sidekick (“Tonto” in “The Lone Ranger”). “Peter Pan” doesn’t use such extreme examples, but it still depicts Native Americans as caricatures–a series of tropes, not human beings. While I’m not at all in favor of complete censorship as an alternative, I’m glad the animated feature is now prefaced with a warning for children who are brought up with more enlightened views on race. While the defense of “it was a different time” feels terribly inadequate, there is a grain of truth to the phrase “We didn’t know any better.” When I was a kid, media depicted race generally in broad stereotypes, with few exceptions. Only white characters were generally seen as having any complexity; everyone else was assigned a narrow set of racial parameters in which to function.
That said, the 1953 version of Peter Pan is a delight in so many other ways, and Tinker Bell would become an icon for Disney Studios, appearing on the intros for Sunday night’s “Wonderful World of Disney” (a staple of family TV viewing for many years). I once had the chance to meet the original model for the animated “Tinker Bell” character, model/actress Margaret Kerry, at WonderCon in Anaheim back in 2017, and she was a lovely woman. She told some interesting stories about creating Tinker Bell’s flight poses and body language (the cartoon character, unlike the version we see in “Hook,” was mute). I got a real kick out of seeing her introduce herself as “Tinker Bell” to young fans, some of whom reacted with genuine awe at meeting the woman behind the wings…
My wife and I also enjoyed the superlative 2003 live-action version, which starred Jeremy Sumpter as Peter, Rachel Hurd-Wood as Wendy and Jason Isaacs as a memorable Captain Hook. The film’s gorgeous production values are on a par with anything seen in “Hook.” 2003’s “Peter Pan” functions nicely as a handsome, literarily-faithful prequel to Spielberg’s less-disciplined, fantasy-extravaganza sequel. Well worth seeking out, particularly for Isaac’s icier Hook, a more malevolent characterization than Hoffman’s deliberately buffoonish version. As my wife correctly pointed out, Isaacs’ Captain James Hook was sexier, too.
Final Happy Thoughts for “Hook”…
After not seeing the film for so long, more things impressed me than didn’t. Many big-name cameos in the movie, too. Music legend Phil Collins as a Scotland Yard inspector. Glenn Close (in bearded pirate drag) and David Crosby (looking very much like himself) as pirates. I’m sure there were many other cameos that I’d missed, especially in the shantytown scenes. Gwyneth Paltrow’s role as a young Wendy Darling was quite believable; her eyes and general features were a decent match for Maggie Smith, who had to wear old age-makeup for “Hook.” In the film, the artifically-aged Smith (who was only in her 50s during filming) looks not too unlike her role as ‘Professor Minerva McGonagall’ in the “Harry Potter” movies (which perhaps owe a tiny debt to this film as well…).
While the main cast of the film is predictably filled with caucasian actors, the Lost Boys were a nice mix of diverse faces. Some talented kids in there as well, even if many of their roles are reduced to one-trait portrayals. Actor Dante Basco holds his own against Robin Williams (no easy task) as “Rufio,” and his death scene packs an emotional punch. Raushan Hammond as “Thud Butt” was a real scene stealer. These kids could easily mesh with the kids of “The Sandlot” or “The Goonies,” even if their rambunctious antics might give us older folks in the audience a screaming headache. Once again, this is a movie aimed primarily for kids, not oldsters like myself. We older folks can enjoy the literary allusions and admire the opulent production design. Kids can enjoy the bangarang.
Speaking of the opulent production design, the massive indoor pirate shantytown set is intricately detailed, yet it also maintains a certain theatrical surreality to it as well. It’s as if Disneyland reimagined its “Pirates of the Caribbean” ride as a fully interactive attraction and populated it with living cosplayers instead of animatronic robots. On the downside, it’s all a bit too much at times as well–an opulence overdose. Steven Spielberg layers his dreamlike Neverland with massive, dazzling sets and detailed appointments, but there’s a bit of sensory overload as well. The wild food fight and the endless swordplay go on a bit too long as well. While “Hook” is certainly not in the same dungeon as other big budget misfires like “Toys” (1992) or “Jupiter Ascending” (2015), the nagging criticisms that it is overlong and overproduced are valid. “Hook” sometimes drowns in its excesses. 15 or so minutes of flab trimmed here and there in editing would’ve made the film a lot tighter. Shorter is often sweeter, especially in a film so clearly aimed for a younger demographic.
Is “Hook” the big-budget disaster it’d been made out to be for the last few decades? Absolutely not. Yes, it’s an overproduced movie, and its almost syrupy sentiment is sometimes off-the-charts, but it’s also a great bonding movie for parents to enjoy with their kids. Whereas “Peter Pan” is an ode to eternal childhood, “Hook” is a big, splashy ode to parenting. You either buy the fantasy or you don’t.
Help Is Available.
In honor of the incredibly talented Robin Williams, and my own friend David (1967-1985), I’m listing the number of the National Suicide Prevention Hotline: 1-800-273-8255. If you’re not a big fan of phone calls, their website link is here: https://suicidepreventionlifeline.org. Please don’t struggle with this alone. Help is available.
“Hook” is currently streaming on Netflix, and can also be purchased on Blu-Ray/DVD via Amazon.com. To my readers, I once again wish you and all of your loved ones good health and strength during the current coronavirus pandemic. The current number of COVID-related deaths in the United States are just over 596,000 as of this writing. Meanwhile, several vaccines are readily available and inoculations are widespread (whew!), which is greatly slowing the US mortality rate. However, given a certain level of vaccine hesitancy, it may take a while longer for for herd immunity. Even vaccinated, it may still be possible to catch the coronavirus, though your chances of getting ill from it are slim-to-none. So, if you haven’t already done so, please get vaccinated as soon as possible (I myself have been fully vaccinated now for over two months now), and let us vaccinate our way out of the COVID pandemic.