Magical and Enchanting
JLFM - wrote on 02/17/13
There have been a number of Peter Pan films released over many years. From the cult classic, "Hook," to Disney's animated adaption, Peter Pan has gotten more than his fair share of publicity. Disney's Peter Pan has long since been my favorite Neverland adventure put to film, but it seems that it has now been dethroned. Not only is Finding Neverland an engaging and fascinating film, it's also a magical and enchanting experience.
J.M. Barrie is trying to get over the poor reception from his last play by writing a new adventure. To find inspiration, he goes to the park where he meets the Davies, a family of four boys and a widowed mother named Sylvia. Barrie immediately falls in love with the family. Most of the boys enjoy playing with Barrie as they use their imagination to become pirates, cowboys, among other things. Only one of the boys, Peter, refuses to leave reality. As Barrie slowly opens Peter's mind to the world of imagination, the Davies soon inspire Barrie to discover and develop Neverland.
This isn't a documentary. Nor is it a cheesy family drama. Finding Neverland, like the film's portrayal of J.M. Barrie, is playful, a little eccentric, and intelligent. It's a family film that avoids all the common pitfalls of it's own kind. Finding Neverland isn't formulaic, and it doesn't feel the need to pander to kids.
In fact, despite it being labeled as a family film, it's unlikely to appeal to children. It's slower than most family films, lacks action, and while there is humor, it's much more subtle than what children are used to.
The visual effects are superb. As Barrie and the Davie boys explore fantasies, their surroundings change into something of a storybook setting where the children can explore and play. Editing between real life and their imagination make this more than just a novelty. It's an innovation, and a true achievement in editing, visuals, and storytelling.
As Barrie slowly gathers inspiration from his surroundings that will inevitably make up the world of Neverland, we see glimpses of his ideas appear in the real world. A cranky and tyrannical grandmother with a hook in her hand. Boys jumping on their beds and flying out windows. With each inspiration, comes a feeling of magic. Like seeing the magician at work.
The acting is very well done. Johnny Depp, in one of his less bizarre roles, portrays J.M. Barrie with a childlike playfulness and innocence. While his accent may be a bit off putting (he's supposed to be British, so why does he sound Scottish...?), Depp buries himself in the role, and it's absolutely enchanting. Freddie Highmore is excellent as Peter Davies, especially considering his age at the time of production. Kate Winslet is appropriately distraught, but fun loving as Sylvia Davies, and Dustin Hoffman is great in the slightly more humorous role as a play producer that funds Barrie's work, despite his skeptical attitude towards him.
The score, for which the film won an Oscar for, is composed by Jan A. P. Kaczmarek. Like the film, it's magical and beautiful, and has an element of playfulness to it. By absorbing itself into the film, the score enhances the production greatly, and adds to the overall enchantment and wonder.
While a film about J.M. Barrie and his inspirations may initially seem more like a homework assignment than a film, Finding Neverland achieves grand heights as a well made and magical production. It's not quite a masterpiece, but it's not far off. If nothing else, it's a family film that won't insult the intelligence of it's older films, and that in itself is a rare treat.