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Review: Neverland

When I wrote my decidedly negative review of The Smurfs 2, I mentioned that I’d hoped it would be a “pleasant surprise.“ That was, perhaps, an overly optimistic notion, but when something like this delightful miniseries unexpectedly captures my complete and undivided attention… well, I start to believe that those Happy Little Thoughts really do pay off. I clicked the “Watch” button on Netflix with zero expectations, and within the first five minutes…

Well, to be frank, I was ready to hit “Back to Browse" and get on with my evening. The opening scenes are fairly abysmal, a sickening technicolor sea of C.G.I. that is only moderately better than what you’d find in Dinocroc XII: Croc in the Hood—seeing the special effects supervisor’s credit superimposed over the least convincing depiction of a sinking ship ever committed to film does little to inspire the viewer’s confidence. Nevertheless, I made the risky decision to stick with it and was rewarded with a clever, imaginative reinterpretation of Peter Pan’s origin and mythology.

Central to this reinvention is Peter’s relationship with his perennial arch-nemesis, Captain James Hook. In this mildly Dickensian-flavored version of the tale, Peter and his fellow Lost Boys are street urchins living on London’s East End, picking pockets under the guidance and protection of disgraced fencing instructor Jimmy Hook (played by Rhys Ifans, rivaling Dustin Hoffman and Jason Isaacs with his insightful interpretation of this classic villain), who has rescued them from various workhouses and orphanages. When the whole gang is magically transported to a strange, faraway land during a botched robbery, however, Peter and Jimmy find themselves on opposite sides of a war between temporally displaced Pirates and Indians. Their initial friendship lends the narrative a strong, compelling sense of emotional context, and Ifans relishes his character’s gradual transformation from a sympathetic figure into a power-hungry monster.

As my synopsis demonstrates, Neverland follows the formula of many other revised origin stories (Daniel Craig’s Bond movies spring to mind), taking liberties with the source material that prevent it from fitting perfectly into the established canon—and it is richer for it, building upon author J.M. Barrie’s beloved groundwork while also forging its own identity, becoming, like Spielberg’s Hook, a very different, but no less worthy, addition to the mythos.

[Originally written August 4, 2013.]

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