Article By: Dan Clark
The Peter Pan story has been seen in nearly every format. Radio shows, movies, books, theater, cartoons, and pretty much anything else you could ever think of has adapted Pan’s story in some way. In 1991 Steven Spielberg decided to take his crack at this classic tale with his film Hook. Spielberg proved in the past, with films like E.T. the Extra Terrestrial, that he could make family films that were suitable for all ages, and weren’t simply kid films that appeal to the lowest common denominators. However, with Hook he falls into the majority of traps he previously avoided. There are certainty elements that will appeal to the younger crowd, but those looking for something that goes beyond a kiddie level of entertainment will surely be disappointed. Besides some strong leading performances, there is not much to take away from this adaptation.
Hook does put a new spin on the classic tale. In this story Peter Pan (Robin Williams) is all grown-up and has forgotten all about Neverland. Even the name Peter Pan has become nothing more than a story of legend. Peter Banning, which he is now called, is a lawyer for a large corporation, and his life is completely obsessed with work. Though he has a family he makes little time to spend with them. When he is spending time with them his thoughts are completely elsewhere. As the story begins to set the foundations for its major themes it also sets the foundation for some if its biggest issues. Everything is so blatant and over exaggerated. The story goes out of its way so much to show how big of a jerk Peter is by the time his redemption story begins its hard to get invested into this character at all. Peter eventually gets thrown back into the world he forgot when his old nemesis Captain Hook kidnaps his children and brings them to Neverland. Now in order to save his children Peter is forced to reconcile with a life he had long forgotten. If he is to stand any chance at all against the menacing Captain Hook he must reclaim his happy thought and learn to fly once more.
Robin Williams was slated to play Peter Pan and he clearly does his best to nail the role. The casting was a smart choice as Williams is like a big kid in a lot of ways. His frantic comedic style works perfectly in tandem with the Peter Pan character. His energy was so intense he was even believable in the action sequences. When he was stuck playing the Peter Banning character the result was not nearly as successful. It felt very overplayed and unnatural. Dustin Hoffman was also a great choice for the notorious Captain Hook. Hoffman was equal parts smarmy and charming. He was able to be comedic without it detracting from his menace. Williams and Hoffman also had a tight chemistry throughout. The dynamic between their characters was easily the best part of the film.
The rest of the performances did not fair nearly as well. Most notably Julia Roberts as the spunky Tinkerbell left a lot to be desired. Part of it was not necessarily Roberts’ fault. Obviously based on her character’s size her scenes were shot separately. Spielberg was never able to get a grasp on those transitions, and the subpar Blue Screen effects did not help matters. Roberts never felt like she was in the moment. Her presence was always distant and unassuming. While the technological disadvantages were an issue, her effort did little to make the situation better. Though her lackluster performance was overshadowed by a few that were far more egregious.
Spielberg has a knack for cultivating quality child performances. Empire of the Sun and E.T. have some of the best kid performances one could ever ask for. So the dud that was laid by nearly all the child actors in this is rather shocking. The Lost Boys in particular have moments that are downright embarrassing. Understandably these kids were given it their all, but the material they were given was less than serviceable. Most of the dialogue was extremely hooky, which provided many unintentional laughs. Watching the Lost Boys attempt to cheer on Pan with a chorus of “You can do it Peter” was over sentimentality at its worst. Some may argue those moments are to be expected with a family film, but there is a point where cheesiness becomes unbearable—and this is it. This does not try to tug at your heart strings; instead it yanks on them with a jagged fishhook to the point of exhaustion.
Another disappointment was the inconsistency of the set design. Pirate Town looks fabulous. It was reminiscent of classic Errol Flynn films. The sets felt like actual sets, which provided a theatrical feel. The Lost Boys hang out was far less impressive. It resembled an uninspired theme park ride that no one would ever stand in line for. More of an issue was Neveraland as a whole. Neverland is designed to be this magical place full of wonders. This never took advantage of that location. The scope was tremendously isolated to these two specific areas. Neverland was less like an enchanted kingdom and more like someone’s eccentric back yard. One element that should be praised is the vehicles and weapons that were designed for the Lost Boys. Sure, it is apparent they are mainly there to sell toys. Nevertheless, they provided a lot of fun for the film’s final climax.
Hook on paper should work. You have two top notch actors leading the way, and Spielberg in the director’s chair. Perhaps this toxic script inhibited them to the point of exhaustion. Spielberg did not help matters as he relied on some of his worst tendencies. He certainly loves to pander and there are some moments that inclination can work. For Hook it lead to a film full of unnatural emotion and a void of enjoyment. Children and those who like to partake in nostalgia can possibly find some redeeming qualities. Others will be better off watching nearly any other adaption of this classic story.