The magic of Peter Pan is that it's never the same adventure twice. Of course, the story will always have a Tinkerbelle, a Captain Hook, and a few flying children. But what has made this beloved fairy tale endure for years cannot be found on the written page -- rather, it's firmly rooted in the creative imaginations of the innocent children who make the story come to life.
Finding Neverland is just as magical as the story that inspired it. Not only does it perfectly encapsulate James Barrie's crowning literary achievement, it reverberates in full vivid detail the extraordinary mind of this gifted playwright. This enchanting film, with its affecting sweetness delivered by a flawless cast, is destined to become a classic.
As the film opens, Barrie (played by the extraordinary Johnny Depp) finds himself in the middle of an artistic crisis. His latest play has failed to impress the turn-of-the-century London highbrow crowd which leaves his pocketbook minded producer Charles Frohman (Dustin Hoffman) surprisingly clamoring for Barrie's next show. Unfortunately, Barrie is at a loss for inspiration -- not even his devoted wife Mary (Radha Mitchell) can arouse his creative senses. He simply and easily withdraws from her, preferring the companionship of their Newfoundland dog instead.
Barrie's fortune changes during one visit to the neighborhood park where he encounters four spirited young boys and their recently widowed mother Sylvia Llewelyn Davies (Kate Winslet). Barrie is instantly drawn to the impressionable children, and performs an impromptu play for the abiding family. An instant bond is formed, and Barrie and the Davies family quickly become inseparable. The boys even begin to call him Uncle Jim.
Yet, not everything is coming up roses. Their relationship meets strict distain from Sylvia's protective mother (Julie Christie) who insists Barrie is destroying any chance the family has at pulling their lives together after the death of their father. And others begin to question why a grown man would spend so much time enamored with a family not his own. Pedophiliac rumors fly, but the film remains heavily grounded under Marc Forster's (Monster's Ball) carefully choreographed, family-friendly direction.
None of these distractions deter Barrie away from his muses. He begins writing once again, and cannot stop. Each new adventure with the Davies clan leads to pages and pages of inspirational whimsy for his new play about a young boy and a visionary place called Neverland. In one of the film's most gripping scenes, after secretly reading Barrie's sensational tale, an emotionally defeated Mary discloses her long desire to have been part of his fantasy world. Keep the tissues handy.
Finding Neverland is highly entertaining while packing a giant emotional punch. Images of fantasy and reality are intermixed at will to create a deft connection as Barrie's life begins to imitate his art. The film claims that it is based on true events, and screenwriter David Magee has tactfully chosen to keep his story light and focused on details that most closely parallel Barrie's connection to Peter Pan. Neverland may pretend the darker side of Barrie doesn't exist, and that's an acceptable decision here.
We're easily at the mercy of Neverland largely because of its impeccable cast -- each deserving of special mention if more space allowed. For his part, Depp has once again positioned himself for another run at Oscar gold. His subdued, yet utterly charming performance as Barrie strikes a perfect note and illustrates his great range when contrasted to his dynamic turn in Pirates of the Caribbean. As one of the Davies boys, the cute, but highly gifted Freddie Highmore easily matches Depp's virtuosity stride for stride.
Never mind if you're sick of seeing Peter Pan on the big screen: Return to innocence this holiday season, and plan a trip back to Neverland.
The DVD includes commentary track, deleted scenes and outtakes, and a handful of behind-the-scenes featurettes. Highly recommended.
Finding a costume shop.