A colorful but melancholy whimsy burns at the heart of "Finding Neverland," and it is perfectly personified by Johnny Depp in another irreproachable, unconventional performance as playwright J.M. Barrie, creator of "Peter Pan."

In every scene, Depp gives the subtle but unmistakable impression of a man who, given his druthers, would chose to live in his imagination rather than in the real world. It's not that he's leading a miserable life -- although his theatrical career and his marriage have both hit a rough patch. It's just that the Barrie of this fantasy-tinged biopic has misplaced his sense of wonder until, battling writer's block during a day in the park, he meets the Sylvia Llewelyn Davies family, a pretty widow (Kate Winslet) and her four young sons who inspire his platonic adoration, his inner child and his legendary departure from stiff theatrical convention.

Although the story, adapted from a play by Allan Knee, feels indulgent and oversimplified at times -- especially when it comes to the many fanciful (and wonderfully staged) illustrations of Barrie's "Peter Pan" plot ideas that spring from playing with the Davies boys -- "Neverland" makes up for any shortcomings with intricate, intimate performances from its exceptional cast.

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