Much of my first watching of Peter Pan Live! was spent thinking about the film Hook (1991). Every time something bored or bothered me in the 2014 live version, every time they got something “wrong,” I thought about all the things that Hook got right. But Hook is such an underrated, under-appreciated film.
Critics never seemed to like it and even Spielberg himself, at one time said that he regretted the way the film turned out (only rethinking it after Robin Williams passed, saying that he was glad he made the film because it allowed him to meet Robin). I never understood why it got such a bad wrap. In my opinion Hook is a fantastic film and a fabulous adaptation of J. M. Barrie’s Peter Pan. It is still one of the best.
Hook was first released in 1991 and was directed by Steven Spielberg. It stars Robin Williams as Peter Banning/Pan, Maggie Smith as Lady Wendy, Dustin Hoffman as Captain Hook, Bob Hoskins as Smee (my favorite Smee), and Dante Basco as Rufio. Along with Charlie Korsmo as Jack, Amber Scott as Maggie, and Caroline Goodall as Moira, Wendy’s granddaughter.
Now after having seen Pan (2015), I have even more respect and admiration for Hook, but I don’t need to compare Hook with it or anything else. It stands strong on its own, even after all these years and here is why:
1) It is one of a kind.
I cannot think of another adaptation like it, where we see the continuing story of Peter Pan in such a way, that we see what would happen if Peter allowed himself to feel; if each time he took Wendy or her daughter, and so on, to realize what a woman could be to him other than a mother. He allows himself to discover love and give into it and sacrifice his eternal youth.
It is amazing what one little query could become. One of the writers, James V. Hart claims that the inspiration for his version was his son asking him, “What would happen if Peter Pan did grow up?”
Plus, it is much more fun to think that Peter Pan could be real. The idea that Lady Wendy told her stories and their neighbor was J. M. Barrie, who loved her stories so much that he wrote them down in the book we all know. The idea that Peter could easily exist in our own universe is pretty sweet.
2) It is great for kids and adults.
I was only 6 years-old when the film was first released and love it for its juvenile jokes, e.g. Peter getting hit in the junk by the lost boys’ padded sticky arrows and the name-calling battle between Rufio and Peter. (Plus I had a huge crush on Rufio, possibly still do as I follow Dante Basco’s work—especially Avatar: The Last Airbender. Hell, yes, ZUKO). I also enjoyed the colorful sets and props, e.g. the food and the pool of color that Peter falls into when shot out of a giant slingshot to help him remember how to fly.
Now as an adult, when I watch it, I appreciate all the thought and work that went into it. The plot, the characters and all the ways it honors and builds off the original play/book. Some things are overlooked, or not touched upon, like Neverland being asleep or lethargic without Peter there, but who is to say what happens to Neverland when Peter abandons it and grows up. It does seem a very different place when he returns. The pirates have become landlubbers in a town built around their marooned pirate ship and the lost boys have created an elaborate tree fort.
Plus, I get more of the word play and the adult jokes—e.g. Peter calling Tink a Freudian Hallucination and when the fishmonger in the Pirate town calls out “Fresh Fish! We kept the eyes in so they’ll see you through the week.” Fabulous, and such a hidden gem.
Both the kid and the adult in me love the story and adventure.
3) It still brings all the feels.
My heart still skips a beat and tear comes to my eyes when Pockets finds the Peter they knew inside the older Peter. I love Pockets so very much. He is such a little peewee, but he has the biggest heart and never wavered in his support for Peter. (Honestly, I think that Pockets should have been left in charge at the end because of this.)
Even after all this time, I cannot get over the feast scene! When the lost boys lay out a “feast”, Peter finds nothing in the bowls, it baffles him. How could these boys be happy pretending they are eating? When he makes-believe just to start a food fight, it suddenly becomes real. Which plays on the fact that in the past sometimes the boys went without because to Peter make-believe can be too real, but takes it to a new level. Even if you don’t see the multi-layers of it, it always makes me laugh and brings such joy into my heart. I can’t help but smile!
And we cannot forget the joy that comes as we follow Peter as he remembers himself and rescues his kids—and then the heartbreak when the realization hits that he has to leave Neverland and the lost boys again. As a kid, I did not want him to leave because I didn’t want him to be an adult again, because that sounded like the worst thing. This may still be true, in a sense, but now I don’t want to see him leave without the lost boys. Especially knowing what wonderful things Wendy has done for lost boys throughout her years, and I feel that they are missing out on so much by not having a chance to grow up.
Although as a child I thought Moira’s reaction for finding her kids returned safely to her was really awkward, as an adult I can fully understand the gravity of the situation even though I do not have kids of my own. It’s heartbreaking and heartwarming all at the same time, and I actually cried with her this time!
Oh, and that moment when you realize that Wendy still wishes she could have been Peter’s girl. His one and only.
Plus, mad props to John Williams for his soundtrack scores and Industrial Light and Magic (ILM) for their amazing work on the fantastical world of Neverland! Together they brought the film to life and man, they make the feels so much stronger!
4) It can turn a hater into a fan.
I say this from experience, because I was not a fan of Disney’s version of Peter Pan, and although I liked the Mary Martin televised stage production, I thought it was silly at times. Generally, Peter Pan was not one of my favorite kids stories, but I loved Hook. I watched it again and again, and after all that time I actually got turned on to the lore and story. I’m not sure I would have given it a second chance without this film.
While in the regular story both Peter and Wendy can seem annoying or off-putting, this story is more complex and changes the way we view Peter Pan, from a magical dream boy to solid, tangible, and believable character—a real person.
The original story gave me no hope when it came to growing up—as if we are all doomed to become sad bloated codfish that was Peter Banning. Stuck inside a whirlwind of so-called “success” shuffled into cubicles, having all the life and fun drained from us slowly and somehow without our knowledge. It scared the living expletives out of me. This film however turns it around, and shows that even if one scenario is that we become sad bland adults, there are other scenarios. Peter is able to turn it around and learn that being a father and just life itself can be a huge adventure. Tootles as well gives an example of someone who never lost Neverland in his heart, and was a kid, in a way, even in his old age.
5) You can play spot the star cameo!
Can you find these stars?
- David Crosby (Singer – Known from Crosby, Stills and Nash)
- Phil Collins (Yes, that Phil Collins from Genesis)
- Gwyneth Paltrow
And for extra points:
- Glenn Close
- George Lucas & Carrie Fisher
*Spoilers for where those cameos appear, If you really want to play the game, skip ahead!*
- David Crosby is a Pirate in the crowd. You can spot him when he yells, “Long live the Hook” or during the fight scene when he gets a plank to the nuts.
- Phil Collins is Inspector Good, who is the head investigator for the kids’ kidnapping case in London. He responds aptly to Tootles who says, “I’ve forgotten how to fly” with “One does.”
- Gwyneth Paltrow plays young Wendy, when Peter first comes for her and again when he returned for her.
- Glenn Close plays a male pirate! You won’t recognize her unless you are looking for her. She plays Gutless, the pirate who bet against Hook and who gets put in the “Boo Box” for it.
- George Lucas and Carrie Fisher are the kissing couple on the bridge who begin to float when Tinker Bell flies over them with Peter. It’s one you can’t spot unless you know it ahead of time, but kudos for trying.
*End of spoilers*
6) Because it highly honors the story on which it is based, you can play spot the reference/nod!
- Some quotes, references, and nods to the original are easy to spot like:
- When the children are left in their beds before being abducted and when they return to their beds is such a reflection of the original story. It is lovely
- “By Hook or by Crook” —Moira
- “Strike Peter, Strike True” —Hook (originally said by Tootles)
- “Peter, you’ve become a pirate” —Lady Wendy
Still, there are some that are almost glazed over and might take a better knowledge of the original story or many viewings, for example:
- Lady Wendy tells the children she will show them where she and their father stood to blow out the stars.
- Tink’s full expression of wanting to be something more to Peter that isn’t a mother. I absolutely love the line “This is the biggest feeling I have ever ever felt, this is the biggest feeling I have ever had. And this is the first time I’m big enough to have it.” It harks back to fairies being so small that they can only experience one feeling at a time.
- Plus! That Dress! Ever since I was a little girl I have wanted her gorgeous ball gown.
- AND! After everything with Tink, I was thinking the only thing she was missing was the line “You Silly Ass” but as she tells Peter to go save his family, when he stood in confusion, she blew fairy dust on him and said that great line!
- How many do you think you can spot? I’ve watched it multiple times and I’m not sure I have caught them all just yet.
Extra highlights to pile on top of all this goodness
- Lady Wendy giving Peter a “scudge”—which shows how much Peter has changed from never being touched.
- Neverland makes people forget. The more time adult Peter spent in Neverland, especially once he remembered who he really was, he started to forget why he was there, and who was waiting for him back in our world. This also happened to Jack, who was being brainwashed and only at times like when the pirates accidentally were chanting, “RUN HOME, JACK,” did he think for a second what that meant. Maggie, however, much like Wendy, never forgets and always wants to go home. As you may know, girls are too smart to fall out of their prams, and they are far too smart to forget who they are and where they came from.
- Hook and the infamous ticking Croc. Though the tables have turned in this adaptation, Hook has to hide the fact that he is worse for wear. He may not have aged, but the stress has taken its toll. I can only assume that between the end of the story we knew and this one, he had to fight his way out of the croc, kill the croc to turn him into the town clock, then of course commandeer all the other clocks and stop them from ticking. We do get a glimpse of how it still wears on him psychologically, when one of the clocks begins ticking again.
- Wendy Moira Angela Darling is Wendy’s full birth name. The reason I point this out is because at the end of J. M. Barrie’s story her name stays the same despite having been married and with children. For us in present day, this is not a big deal, but for someone having lived in the early 20th century, it seems a very big deal.
- It seems a rather small thing at the end of the story, but it is emphasized in this film, as she is still considered a “Darling.” It might not mean a darn thing, but I like it anyhow.
Characters—which is to say the writing of the characters and the acting:
I have to say that so much of the cast was just amazing, and sadly overlooked and even considered a black mark in their career but I see it as the opposite.
- Dustin Hoffman as Hook. I feel like most people don’t give him enough credit for this role. It is a bit of an odd role, but Hook is an odd character and he really brought him to life. He created a part of Hook we never saw before and yet it fit with the already established character.
- Robin Williams, of course, as Peter Banning/Pan. Who better to play a whimsical and yet grown version of the embodiment of youth, fun, and freedom? He does a fantastic job creating two personalities; he is a very different person when he is stodgy and grown up and stressed out than when he remembers how to be light and fun. I love when he jumps up and puts his fists on his hips like you expect Peter Pan to do. He was able to encapsulate the role so well
- Maggie is a quintessential “Darling”. She has the sweet and innocent way about her that harks back to Wendy, especially when she sings a sweet but sad song that her mother sang to her and touches the hearts of all the pirates. She is the one thing that keeps Jack grounded and reminded of home, which is why Hook separates them.
- Jack is surely Peter’s son, in all aspects. He is like the child that Peter Pan once was, he’s playful and sarcastic and he gets a giggle out of riling up Hook when he fixes one of the broken clocks in his museum. He is also like John and Michael in the original story when he forgets that he has parents hoping for his return and he is tempted to become a pirate. Unlike John and Michael, Jack is desperate for a father’s love and has no connection to honoring king and country. Him becoming a pirate still holds true from the original story, as there are so many parallels between Peter and Captain Hook.
- Tootles is Tootles. That might not mean much to some people, but to those who know the character and how he was timid and often missed the adventures, you’ll understand how great that is! He doesn’t have much screen time, but they definitely made the most of him!
- Smee/Bob Hoskins—I cannot say for sure exactly what it is about Bob Hoskin’s Smee that makes me love him so much, but he fits the part to a tee. The way he is described as a pirate that the kids loved, and showing the more comical and fun side of piracy, and a man that is full of good form without evening knowing it—that is this Smee. He’s fun, he’s lovable, and his lines show that he is smarter than the average pirate—using words like “unfathomable” to blank faces, but still gullible and naïve—stumped by Hook’s usage of “epiphany.” He’s a teddy bear and all the girls love him, but he’s ineffably loyal and yet only after the loot and for himself.
- Maggie Smith as Lady Wendy. I don’t feel that I need to say much here—because it is fricking MAGGIE SMITH! She is always fantastic. However, it must be said that she was only 56 years old playing someone in their 90s, so good on her.
Goofs, weird things, and boo boos (because no picture is perfect):
- I can understand always having a dog named Nana, but why does Wendy still have a housekeeper named LIZA?
- Most of the times that Tink is on screen are weird and unnecessary. Sometimes when I watch this I can let Julia Roberts’ performance slide, and sometimes I just want her to drink poison (as Tink that is) and die. There are scenes with her I do like at all times, so she’s not all bad. (It would have been interesting to have seen Sherilyn Fenn—who I know from Twin Peaks—as she was considered for Tink.)
- The book says that Wendy’s granddaughter, whom is swept away by Peter, is named Margaret, not Moira. This is considered a mistake or goof by many, but I can overlook it because as we all have two grandmothers—she can have as many differently named granddaughters.
- The weightlifting contraption that is “lifting Lost Boys,” as Peter bench-presses the weight of the Lost Boys, they are going the opposite way as they should. It seems silly, but it always bothered me. It does not look right.
- The sudden costume change when Peter finds his happy thought seems strange and unnecessary—plus OMG those TIGHTS! I’m so glad that Hook makes a joke, because it needed to be made.
- How does Thud Butt remember Tootles if all the original Lost Boys left with Wendy to be adopted? Even Peter questions it, and there is no logical explanation except that they were both Lost Boys.
It has been 24 years since the film was released. I have watched it countless times since then at many different times in my life, and although I felt different things at different ages, one thing always came through, the fun and the happy. I’m always smiling at the end. It has a great message that bears repeating:
Getting older and growing up doesn’t mean absolutely that you become bored, sad, and serious (really had to hold myself back from quoting Pink Floyd). It is all about keeping the child inside alive and treating all life as an adventure.
My final thought is that this movie is truly BANGARANG!*
*According to Urban Dictionary, Bangarang means:
- Battle cry of the Lost Boys in the movie Hook.
- General exclamation meant to signify approval or amazement.
- Jamaican Slang defined as hubbub, uproar, disorder, or disturbance.