Finding Neverland
2004
Peter Pan and the denizens of Neverland have captured the hearts and minds of J.M. Barrie's readers. But this Oscar-winning film reveals how the imaginative author envisioned a world that was at once so wondrous and perilous.

Scott Hardie: “It ruled.”

Those seeking the ubiquitous Oscar-season highbrow costume drama will get their fix from this film, but I prefer to think of it as more of a comedy. Certainly it's all but guaranteed to leave you smiling, with a fairly steady stream of playfulness and wit, and a wholesomeness that is threatened by only the slightest hints of impropiety.

Over a century of special effects improvements are put to work illustrating J.M. Barrie's boundless imagination, and it's to their credit they even come close. What I liked best about the effects were the different art styles matching the different media: The bear waltz (CGI), the cowboys vs. indians game (film stock), the pirate fantasy (stop-motion), the elaborate "neverland" sequence (live actors), all are clearly taking place in the same mind yet each has a unique aesthetic appropriate for its context. This film is a long shot for the art direction Oscar but I find myself rooting for it.

If the film has a weakness, it is that it never really comes to life. This sanitized, toothless (and largely fictionalized) version of Barrie's collective muse lacks any real power, treating what would be its most powerful dramatic turn as a delicate fantasy. It's an interesting storytelling choice, totally appropriate for the subject matter, and it makes this a good film for children to see, but it means the film is working with one hand tied behind its back. Still, the actors give fine performances, especially young Freddie Highmore and his crystal-clear outrage when he has a temper tantrum. The film is the best possible result of its director's choices.

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