At its core, Neverland is where the wonders of ones mind come to life. J.M. Barrie’s universally known story “Peter Pan” uses Neverland as its backdrop. A land of pure fantasy, where a child can escape from the cruel reality of the real world; in which one is dictated by school uniforms and social norms, into the exhilarating freedom of unbridled imagination. The hero of this paradise is Peter Pan: a boy who never grows up, a boy who rides the back of the wind, and lives without care of fear or authority. Peter Pan is the icon of youth, but in Hook, the 1991 film directed by Steven Spielberg, he grows up, becomes a man, and forgets who he is and what he stood for.
Hook introduces us to Peter Banning (played by Robin Williams), a man who struggles to balance his professional life with his family life. He sacrifices the chance to see his son’s final baseball game of the season because of business meetings, sending a surrogate to film the proceedings. Peter, albeit reluctantly, flies to London with his wife and two children, Maggie and Jack, to visit his extended family, and to give a presentation at an event honoring the woman who took him, as well as countless other orphans, in. This woman’s name is Wendy (played perfectly by Maggie Smith). Upon returning from an evening of, decidedly grown up and boring, events Maggie and Jack are discovered kidnapped, and a note, written in meticulous calligraphy upon browned parchment, is pinned to the door by a jewel encrusted dagger. The note demands Peter’s presence at the request of his children, and is signed by none other than Jas Hook. The remainder of the movie introduces us to fairies, lost boys, mermaids, pirates, sword fights, re-discovery of self, and the importance of where to allocate our love. The movie is not a call to the frivolity of childhood, but a call to life. After all, “To live would be an awfully big adventure.”
The film has many strengths aside from it’s story telling. The landscape in Neverland, for instance, ranges from snow to blazing heat in a matter of seconds. The majority of the film takes place in a land created by imagination. However, the adventure of the film is in the music. John Williams, one of the foremost masters in cinematic music composition, delivers a score that is absolutely perfect. One can, as I often find myself doing, listen to the soundtrack, and the film will play itself in front of your eyes. The music rages forth with all the bravado necessary to accompany a hero, who has just rediscovered his ability to fly, racing towards the pirate captain that kidnapped his children. Sword drawn Peter soars to the deck of the giant ship. When the infamous Captain Hook seems to gain the upper hand the notes seamlessly reposition themselves, now favoring the theme that plays whenever the heartless pirate parades on screen. With a rousing cry, Peter calls his Lost Boys to action, and again the music switches sides. John Williams does not just score a film, he scores the soundtrack to countless daydreams. If Neverland is the physical manifestation of imagination, then John Williams has given that manifestation a voice.
The breathtaking set pieces and awe inspiring soundtrack of this incredible world are all backdrops to the phenomenal actors that remove all pretenses of their true selves and firmly adjust the mask of adventurers to their persona. Dustin Hoffman gives an incredible, and oftenmelodramatic, performance of the titular villain, Captain James Hook. A man that, almost like Peter Banning at the start of the film, has forgotten what it is to be a child. He is a being of pure evil, that will stop it nothing to destroy Peter Pan. Bob Hoskins plays the bumbling first mate Smee, also giving a stellar performance. The top billing, of course, goes to Robin Williams, perhaps the perfect actor to be cast for this role. Williams ability to first play a disillusioned business man that is tired of his family, into, literally, Peter Pan, is one of the main reasons why this movie is as entertaining as it is. Julia Roberts, Maggie Smith, and Dante Basco (who plays Rufio, perhaps one of the most memorable characters from the 1990s, if not for his hair alone) all give incredible performances further drawing the viewer down the rabbit hole of imagination and wonder.
Hook is not without it’s flaws. I cringe every time the crocodile comes back to life. However, the film, on the whole, is a piece of entertainment where one can feel the adventure coursing through their veins. It swells like adrenaline, sweeping over the viewer with each thrust of Pan’s sword and swing of the Hook.