Family Movie Review: Pan (PG)

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Pan ChesapeakeFamilyMovieReviewKernel Rating (out of 5): whole popcorn kernalwhole popcorn kernalwhole popcorn kernal

MPAA Rating: PG        Length: 111 minutes

Age Appropriate For: 10+. The film is an origin story for Peter Pan, set during World War II, and includes some bombing and explosion scenes; a lot of hand-to-hand violence and number of character deaths, including children and members of Neverland’s native tribe, who explode into bursts of color when killed; some flirting between young adult characters; jokes about flatulence; and the use of a substance that resembles doing drugs.

‘Pan’ provides a backstory to the eternally popular children’s character that brings him new enemies, new friends, and new motivations. Some of these changes are beautiful and creative, but they’re imbalanced with forced and silly choices, too.

By Roxana Hadadi

What else is there to know about Peter Pan? This latest film adaptation, “Pan,” does its own thing, mashing up modern influences and pop culture with an origin story that sets Peter in World War II and in a Neverland run not by Captain Hook, but by another evil pirate out to kill all fairies and enslave children. Some of these changes are inspired, but more of them feel forced, resulting in a film uncertain of its own audience.

“Pan” is a kid’s movie in the way “Hook” was a kid’s movie, in that it focused on a children’s character but out of traditional context. In “Hook,” Peter grew up and forgot who he was until he was summoned back to Neverland by Captain Hook’s kidnapping of his children. In “Pan,” it’s World War II Britain, and evil nuns are hoarding food, neglecting the orphans in their care, and eventually selling them off to the pirate Blackbeard (Hugh Jackman, of “Me and Earl and the Dying Girl”), an interplanetary marauder who is bringing the Industrial Revolution to Neverland. See? Not your typical Pan backstory.

Peter (Levi Miller) is a thorn in the side of the nuns for ages and still convinced that his mother, Mary (Amanda Seyfried, of “Epic”), will one day return to the orphanage for him; “Don’t doubt yourself; you’re extraordinary, more than you can imagine,” she wrote in her last letter to him. But one night, Peter is stolen from his bed by a clown hanging from a pirate ship suspended in the sky, and then he’s in Neverland, a slave with thousands of other boys, tasked with digging for fairy dust.

Blackbeard is obsessed with the stuff, and he’s destroyed the natural beauty and resources of Neverland looking for it. “You are home, creators of a new society, a land of opportunity” is the stuff Blackbeard tells his pirates and his slaves, but Peter is having none of it — and neither is his new friend, Hook (Garrett Hedlund, of “Unbroken”), who has been in Neverland since “forever.” And when it’s revealed that Peter can unexpectedly fly, Blackbeard is terrified — the natives of Neverland have a prophecy that a young boy who can fly will be the pirate’s downfall, and if that boy is Peter, he’ll need to be destroyed before he can lead an uprising.

Peter isn’t particularly interested in leading said uprising, but when he and Hook escape from Blackbeard, they run straight into Neverland’s natives, led by the warrior princess Tiger Lily (Rooney Mara, of “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo”). She tells Peter that if he helps them, they’ll take him to his mother — supposedly still alive in the secret fairy kingdom. And with all those pieces in place, it becomes a battle between Peter and Blackbeard for the future of Neverland, with implications that go further than either of them.

“Pan” gets a lot of joy out of taking up the typical Peter Pan backstory, shaking it vigorously, and reimagining the pieces, so much is made of Hook being a friend instead of an enemy, of Peter being a “lost boy” once he and Hook crash land a stolen pirate ship into Neverland’s forests, of Hook and friend Smee (Adeel Akhtar, of “The Dictator”) having an alliance with each other. But those winks to the audience feel forced every time, and there are other would-be “edgy” choices that stick out as well, like Blackbeard’s pirates singing songs by Nirvana and the Ramones.

It often feels like director Joe Wright wanted to go full steampunk crossed with “Moulin Rouge” and just make the film as anachronistic as possible, but was forced to only keep a few elements from that vision. As a result, “Pan” isn’t really a movie for young kids — there is a lot of violence and themes about industry vs. nature that they might not understand — but it also has subplots that will spark good conversation for older children and teens, like the film’s focus on female strength and leadership and its warnings against environmental abuse.

There are good performances here (especially Jackman, who sells his scene-chewing with relish, and Hedlund, doing his best Harrison Ford impression), misguided choices (casting the white Mara as a “native” princess), and inspired imagery (a chase between a fighter pilot and a pirate ship is thrilling), but it doesn’t all come together quite right. “Pan” certainly gets points for originality, but as a cohesive film, it doesn’t hold like it should.

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