When I was a child, I believed in Peter Pan. I devoured every version of his story, from Disney’s animated interpretation to Mary Martin’s televised production of the original play (on glorious, if grainy, VHS). And in my young mind, Steven Spielberg’s Hook always felt like the natural continuation of that narrative–what happens when the little boy who swore to never to grow old breaks that promise? Robin Williams–a hyperactive kid trapped in the body of a remarkably hairy adult–brought the perfect mix of humor and compassion to the lead role, while Hoffman and Hoskins still linger in my memory as the quintessential Hook and Smee.
Likewise, Rufio–Peter’s successor as leader of the Lost Boys–belonged in Neverland jut as much as Curly, Tootles, Nibs, and Slightly; I never doubted him as a part of Barrie’s world and mythology. His outrageous fashion sense (that tall, tall hair with those bright red stripes) and rebellious attitude–combined with Dante Basco’s energetic, over-the-top performance–make him an intimidating antagonist.
But Rufio is far more than an obstacle between Peter and his poor, imperiled children. He’s not just the rival you love to hate. He grows and changes as the story unfolds. When chubby old Peter Banning proves that he is, in fact, The Pan–the flying, fighting, crowing king of Neverland–Rufio kneels before him, humbled. When the Lost Boys launch their final assault on the pirate stronghold, he proudly fights by his leader’s side. And as he dies in Peter’s arms, he utters the movie’s most heartbreaking, illuminating line of dialogue: “Know what I wish? I wish I had a dad… like you.” I spent many an afternoon bawling over those words–and Basco’s flawless delivery.
Today, I still believe–in Peter Pan, in Neverland, in the Lost Boys, in Rufio, in Hook. I love Spielberg’s contribution to the classic tale for the same reason I love Miyazaki’s Spirited Away, Scorsese’s Hugo, and Bluth’s Land Before Time: for its pervasive sense of wonder, discovery, innocence, and magic.
[Originally written July 26, 2012.]