Largely buried underneath the mass of holiday releases in 2003 was "Peter Pan", a live-action retelling of the famous tale of Pan. Directed by P.J. Hogan (Muriel's Wedding, My Best Friend's Wedding), this big-budget re-telling of the story is visually inventive, well-acted and energetic. It's an intelligent presentation that reminded me somewhat of the kind of imagination and awe that was involved in films like "The Neverending Story".
Wendy Darling (Rachel Hurd-Wood) and her brothers John (Harry Newell) and Michael (Freddie Popplewell) are awakened one night after Peter Pan, (Jeremy Sumpter) and his angry little fairy, Tinkerbell (Ludivine Sagnier, the sexy young actress from Francis Ozon's "Swimming Pool") pay them a visit. Peter presents them with a choice: leave everything behind and join him on his return voyage to Neverland: where they'll encounter pirates, mermaids, castles and more.
However, there's a problem: Neverland continues to suffer from the presence of Captain Hook (Jason Isaacs, who also plays Wendy's father, Mr. Darling). When Wendys brothers are captured by the pirate, Peter and Wendy must confront Hook and his men at his castle. Although they manage to escape, Peter and Wendy must deal with both the knowledge that their enemy is still out there, as well as the romantic tensions flowering between the two - the latter causing little Tinkerbell a great deal of jealousy.
Speaking of Tink, actress Ludivine Sagnier makes her into one of the most memorable parts of the film. A little firecracker of a character, the actress doesn't say anything, yet entertains with a constant and varied array of facial expressions - most funny, some touching. Hurd-Wood and Sumpter are also good as Wendy and Peter, nicely portraying the adventure and underlying feelings. Isaacs plays Hook quite well, never going overboard with his performance.
The film's look is outstanding, making me wish that I had seen the film on the big screen instead of viewing it for the first time on DVD. The almost painting-like style of the picture, remarkable set design and exceptional effects are excellent. The only issue I had with the film's appearance was the one-colored fight in the sunset towards the end of the picture.
While not entirely flawless - the picture is visually vibrant and the acting is good, yet the picture somehow still sort of lacks urgency and has a slightly slow middle - I still found this to be an enjoyable, magical adventure. It's certainly better than most of the garbage that has been offered up as family fare in the past year or so.
VIDEO: "Peter Pan" is presented by Universal in 2.40:1 anamorphic widescreen (a separate cropped pan & scan version is also available). Sharpness and detail are generally very good; although the film seems to have an intentionally somewhat soft focus at times, the picture still seems clean and clear, with satisfactory detail and definition.
Some minor compression artifacts appeared, but no edge enhancement or print wear was spotted. Colors generally seemed well-rendered and nicely saturated, only appearing very slightly smeared in a couple of instances. Overall, this was a very nice transfer - a couple of notches shy of excellence.
SOUND: "Peter Pan" is presented by Universal in Dolby Digital 5.1. The film's sound mix is pretty extraordinary, as it often does a remarkably good job extending the film's action out into the room. Voices pan over into the rear speakers, sound effects zip about and even some enjoyable minor ambience often occurs. Although kid's films usually present a moderately conservative sound mix, "Pan" uses the surrounds to great effect (the thunder outside Hook's castle, for example) and even has some moments of surprisingly deep and strong bass. Dialogue sounded crisp and natural, while James Newton Howard's score was dynamic and nicely spread across the front speakers.
EXTRAS: The extras include a lot of very short featurettes - they're nicely done, but their very brief running time makes for a lot of button clicking. A "Play All" option would have been nice. These include: "Dig Under the Home", "The Legacy of Pain" (Hosted by Sarah Ferguson), "The Duchess's Outtakes", "Lost Boys On Set", "Enter The Castle", "Learning To Fly", "The Mermaids' Tale", "Explore The Forest, "Tinkerbell: Behind The Fairy Dust", "I Do Believe In Fairies", "Princess Tiger Lily", "Alternate Ending", "Deleted Scene: Mr. Darling in the Dog House", "Me & My Shadow", "In the Dog House With Nana", "Board the Pirate Ship", "Through the Eyes of Captain Hook", "The Pirates Vs. The Lost Boys" and "The Lost Pirate Song".
Final Thoughts: "Peter Pan" is a fine family tale and an imaginative retelling of the popular story, although it's probably better for older children, as some moments might scare or upset younger viewers. Universal's DVD edition provides excellent audio/video quality, along with a large helping of some rather minor supplements.