Live-action remakes of beloved animated classics are the latest Hollywood cinematic trend. It is no surprise that another attempt to recapture the magic of Disney’s Peter Pan flew into theaters this weekend, this time titled Pan.
Live action versions of Peter Pan have been made before, most famously Hook and Finding Neverland. Both those films could be considered sequels to the original, whereas Pan is arguably the first prequel.
There were two ways this film could have turned out: as its own independent take with a new story or as a wannabe Disney film. Unfortunately, Pan turned out as the latter.
The potential for the film to be great started with the story which I liked the concept of. The main story follows 13-year-old Peter, who is kidnapped by pirates from his orphanage in London and brought to Neverland, trying to figure out who his mother is and his destiny. Apparently, there is an ancient legend in Neverland prophesizing a young boy that can fly returning to Neverland to save the native people from Blackbeard’s rule. That is not a bad story, except that it was poorly executed and ruined by the secondary plot.
The secondary storyline made a confusing mess out of the main one. It centers on the pirate king, Blackbeard, and his attempt to continue his reign over Neverland. He enslaves children from all corners of the globe to mine fairy dust, which he uses as a fountain of youth. As all typical villains, Blackbeard wants to live forever and is ruled by greed. The two storylines do not mash well and continually get in each other’s way. Blackbeard would be present in a few scenes, then disappear for half an hour, then reappear in a chaotic sequence. This made the film harder to follow because it was not straight forward. It is as if the filmmakers were not sure which direction the story should take, leading to two completely independent stories being forced to co-exist.
Along with the dueling storylines, Pan also failed to be its own original film by including too many references to the original Peter Pan. Every possible reference was made such as the pirates fearing crocodiles, James Hook using a hook to sharpen blades and dig holes to allude to the eventuality of losing his hand, a take on the famous “I can fly” scene and even a brief appearance of Tinkerbell. Some of the references worked well, but most stuck out because they felt very forced and not naturally a part of the story. The worst was the ending where Peter asks Hook if they will always be friends and Hook replies with, “What could possibly go wrong?”
Another problem I had with the film was its heavy reliance of CGI and special effects. Some of the effects seemed more natural, like the flying pirate ships. Other effects were haphazard and out of place, like the weird, giant bird-like creatures that were skeletons with random feathers. For a film with a $150 million budget, I expected the CGI to be cleaner.
Other than the glaringly obvious defects in the story and effects, the acting was all over the place. Newcomer Levi Miller starred in the titular role. I thought he did a good job playing Peter Pan because his performance felt authentic. I felt that he showed the real emotions of a 13-year-old. The rest of the cast gave performances that felt forced. I could not focus on Hugh Jackman’s acting as Blackbeard because of the terrible wig he wore for the entire film. The worst of the acting was Garrett Hedlund’s fake southern accent as Hook.
After watching this film, my suspicions of the live-action remakes have been confirmed. It is very difficult to have a live-action film capture the same magic as its animated predecessor. Could Pan have been better if Disney produced it? The answer is maybe, but not likely. Take Cinderella for example. The live-action remake released this past March was no match for the original. The only way this film could have potentially been better would have been to make it PG-13 and darker.
The new trend of remakes of animated films will continue to be a tricky business. Surely, Pan is the latest disappointment of the industry.