Peter Pan is all grown up and, well, boring. He’s completely forgotten that he was ever Peter Pan and is now a hot-shot city lawyer. His two children, Jack and Maggie, are continually let down by his absences and his disheartened by all his broken promises. On a trip back to London, Jack and Wendy are kidnapped the scheming Captain Hook. Peter refuses to believe it’s really happening, despite Tinkerbell turning up and showing him the way back to Neverland. In the meantime, Captain Hook is on a charm offensive, winning Jack’s allegiance. He plans to challenge Peter Pan to a duel, and to have Jack by his side, giving him the edge that will hopefully defeat Peter Pan once and for all.
Dustin Hoffman gives a memorable performance as Captain Hook, truly villainous, self-pitying and bored with a lack of adventure in his life. His complete lack of morality makes him a comic-book villain with no redeeming qualities and in that he delivers a perfect Hook. Bob Hoskins plays his sidekick, Smee and they have a very funny odd-couple relationship, with Smee clucking around after Hook, mothering him despite being completely clueless himself. The scenes with these characters carry the film, as they are funny and hugely enjoyable to watch. The scene where Hook attempts to commit suicide, only to become annoyed when Smee doesn’t stop him quickly enough, is very well delivered, convincing and hilarious. Hook is a spoilt brat of a Captain, looking for adventure and attention and totally oblivious to any of the ramifications of his actions. He has no understanding of what killing Rufio would mean, or any scruples against turning son against father.
I’m reluctant to say anything bad about Robin Williams performance as he’s one of the few actors who could convincingly play a shark of a lawyer and a crowing Peter Pan in one film. His transformation is a tad unconvincing, but the pain of seeing his son at Hooks side is palpable. Maybe I just live in a world where an adult hanging out with a load of Lost Boys is a bit worrying, I’m sure when I watched it in 1991 I wasn’t as concerned. It’s difficult for him to carry some of the weightier lines with conviction, it just seems at odds with the goofiness of his acting and the character who just wants to have fun.
Julia Roberts is miscast as Tinkerbell; she’s just too good an actress for the role and is diminished (ahem) by the role. There’s a lot of speculation online that her performance is down to personal problems she was having at the time. I think its more likely that it’s too minor a role, the character is mealy and just has the poorest lines. She also plays the role with a real sadness, which has no real place in the film. The film is at its best when it’s boisterous and over the top.
The production sets within Neverland and particularly Captain Hooks boat are rich with detail. They obviously don’t hold up as well as the cavernous CG sets of Harry Potter or the scale and authenticity of Pirates of the Caribbean. But for younger audiences, I think they will still be awed by the level of detail that went into crafting the sets. The same Production designer created the Indiana Jones franchise, Labyrinth and who framed Roger Rabbit and it retains that 80’s style.
The strongest aspect of the film is the script which is mouthy, full of long exposition which works relatively well with the right characters. In the flouncing Hook its pitch perfect as he is precisely the type of person who would just go on, and on, and on about his problems. His relationship with Smee is delivered flawlessly, with the both of them syncing into a rhythm which makes their relationship utterly convincing. Tinkerbell and Peter do not have the same connection and rhythm, this could in part be because Tinkerbell was filmed against green screen with very little interaction with the actors she was in the scene with. There’s certainly a disconnect between her serious acting and everyone else’s flippant enjoyment of the scenes.
This was a commercial success and a critical flop. As someone who enjoyed the film on a superficial level, I’m searching for reasons why. Perhaps it is the heavy handed patronising quality, the message to all bad dads out there; if you ignore your children you will lose them. In a way, it’s a film for bad parents more than kids if that’s the central theme.
There are some big ideas floating around that seem at odds with the mood of the film. The scenes were Rufio pledges allegiance to Peter, where he dies, where Tinkerbell promises to love Peter forever, where Jack is turned against his father and then come back to him are all weighty and deserve to be in a darker, more serious film. Unfortunately, the best scenes in Hook are those at their most fun, light-hearted and ridiculous.
There is a disparity in scenes in this film with two competing styles of film here that never quite meet and that’s where the film falters. A reason for this could also be the history of the production, which is disjointed with key people, Directors and writers, moving in and out of the picture. Spielberg himself backed out of the project for a number of years only to return on the brink of filming.
In spite of all this it does retain its charm and a sense of adventure. There is plenty going on and enough comedy and action scenes for younger audiences to stay engaged. A decade later, Hook and Smee still steal the show and I’d certainly want to see a Hook and Smee spin-off; its certainly long over due.