Too fraught to fly

New Neverland a politically correct theme park

Published: Dec 27 2013, 01:01:am

Wednesday, 11 December, 1991.
HOOK. Written by Jim V. Hart and Malia Scotch Marmo, based on a story by Hart and Nick Castle. Inspired by the characters created by Sir James M. Barrie. Music by John Williams. Directed by Steven Spielberg. Running time: 142 minutes. Rated General with the B.C. Classifier's warning "occasional coarse language."
I  remember you  being a lot  bigger.
    — Peter Pan to Capt. Hook

IT'S NOT A QUESTION of size. By almost any measure, Hook is the year-end's big picture.
    A Christmas confection from mega-movie maker Steven (1941) Spielberg, it has the biggest stars, the largest sets and the most elaborate special effects that money can buy. The names of 90 (!) stuntpersons appear in the credits.
    Originally conceived as a live action remake of the 1953 animated feature Peter Pan, it evolved into a Brobdingnagian sequel. In this version, the boy who wouldn't grow up, has.
    The story of a man who's lost touch with the child he once was, it's no small matter. Running two hours and 22 minutes, it's nearly twice as long as the 76-minute Disney cartoon adaptation of James M. Barrie's story.
    The question is one of expectations.
    A decade ago, director Spielberg established himself as Hollywood's reigning magician. With films such as Close Encounters of the Third Kind, E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial and Raiders of the Lost Ark, he displayed a special genius for turning out popcorn pictures that could touch the heart and stir the soul.
    In a way, he's become a victim of his own success, because anything less seems like a betrayal. And Hook is less.
    Spielberg's least magical fantasy since Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom (1984), it is a huge, lumbering vehicle for some disappointingly lightweight emotional baggage.
    Hook introduces us to Peter Banning (Robin Williams), your typical Southern California mergers-and-acquisitions attorney. A man on the move, he never has enough time for his children, seven-year-old Maggie (Amber Scott) and 11-year-old Jack (Charlie Korsmo).
    Together with his British-born wife Moira (Caroline Goodall), their kids and a cellular phone, Banning flies (in a 747) to London for a visit with Granny Wendy (Maggie Smith). Once a neighbour of the writer J.M. Barrie, the 92 year-old woman claims to be the original Wendy Darling.
    That night, in a scene reminiscent of 1982's Poltergeist, the Banning kids are stolen from the nursery. The kidnap note is signed "Jas. Hook."
    Taking Banning aside, Granny not only insists that "the stories are true," but that he is the actual "boy" who flew into her nursery all those years ago in search of his shadow. Later, her story is corroborated by the arrival of the fairy Tinkerbell (Julia Roberts) who urges Banning/Pan to return with her to Neverland and rescue his children from Captain Hook (Dustin Hoffman).
    A consummate movie manipulator, Spielberg pushes all the buttons. This time, though, many of them short circuit, as we recall other recent films that have made the same points less ponderously.
    That dads should spend more time with their offspring is a worthy message, and Ron Howard said it quite entertainingly in Parenthood (1989). That imagination enriches our lives is handled with more, well, imagination in the films of Terry (Brazil) Gilliam.
    In Hook, Spielberg creates some masterful moments, evokes some warm memories and jerks a few tears. It's okay, even good.
    But it falls far short of great. In place of Neverland, he offers us an expensive state-of-the-art theme park.
    A politically correct screenplay offers a racially mixed selection of Lost Boys, and omits entirely the Red Indians of the original. The tale remains a Freudian minefield, though, a carryover from Barrie, exacerbated by a scene in which Tinkerbell declares her woman's love for Peter.
    Big without being better, Hook ends up being the story of a film-maker who's lost touch with his own magic.

The above is a restored version of a Province review by Michael Walsh originally published in 1991. For additional information on this archived material, please visit my FAQ.

Afterword: Magic, when it comes, is a wonderful thing. Magic, unfortunately, is never guaranteed. By loading Hook with big name performers, Spielberg was gambling that all the star-gazing would not prevent his flight of fancy from taking off. Afterward, he could take some comfort from the fact that it made money, and was nominated for five Oscars. He would just have to accept that few people found it magical (or even memorable), and it didn't win any of those Academy Awards. While Pan's fans may have been disappointed by Hook, they have recently been challenged by a new, dark portrayal of Barrie's lost boy in the ABC television series Once Upon a Time. The show, which enjoys a congenial relationship with the Disney organization, is set in a world populated by characters from the studio's classic cartoon features. Now in its third season, it added Peter Pan (played by Robbie Kay) to the mix in late September 2013. In the show's continuing narrative, Neverland is not a nice place, nor is Pan a nice person. Kay's portrayal, however, generated a magic that Robin Williams couldn't manage.