There are many timeless stories that have been adapted to film several times over. One of the most familiar of these is J.M. Barrie‘s “Peter Pan.” The story of an ageless boy whisking away a threesome of English children from their plain life to the magical and dangerous world of Neverland has touched many generations in its various forms. Benh Zeitlin‘s newest film,“Wendy,” is the most recent take on the story. Therefore, we feel it is only necessary to go back through the long cinematic history of the classic story and ask which adaptation is the most definitive. There are many options to choose from, but four stand out above the rest.
The most famous version of the “Peter Pan” story is the 1953 animated adaptation from Walt Disney. It is well known for having exuberant animation, a memorable villain in Captain Hook, and timeless songs like “The Second Star to the Right,” “You Can Fly,” “A Pirate’s Life,” “Following the Leader,” and “Never Smile at a Crocodile.” It has also become infamous for its dated portrayal and stereotyping of Native American characters. Nevertheless, the film has endured as a beloved — if controversial — classic.
The next most well known adaptation would probably be Steven Spielberg‘s 1991 film, “Hook.” Functioning more as a long overdue sequel, an earthbound, adult Peter Pan — now known as Peter Banning (Robin Williams) — comes face to face with his past after Captain Hook (Dustin Hoffman) kidnaps his children. The premise for the film is a fresh take, as no prior adaptation had examined what would happen if Peter left Neverland and settled down into a normal life. Thus, the film functions as both a nostalgic fantasy and as an examination of the effects of growing up. While it was not a critical success at the time it was released, “Hook” has only grown and endured in popularity over time as a cult classic.
Another noteworthy “Peter Pan” adaptation is P.J. Hogan‘s 2003 film of the same name. It is a more literal adaptation of the most famous Pan story, the 1904 play “Peter Pan, or The Boy Who Wouldn’t Grow Up,” complete with the traditional dual casting of Captain Hook and George Darling with one actor (Jason Isaacs in this case). The film was well-received by critics for its performances, visual style, and closeness to the source material. However, the film was a financial failure, grossing only $122 million worldwide on a $130 million budget. Nevertheless, it is a film that deserves to be seen and appreciated more.
A final notable Peter Pan adaptation is more of an analysis of the origins of the source material in Marc Forster‘s Finding Neverland. The film shows how J.M. Barrie (Johnny Depp) was inspired to write the Peter Pan stories from his friendship with Sylvia Llewelyn Davies (Kate Winslet) and her family, most notably her son Peter (Freddie Highmore). The film was a critical and financial success, making $116.8 million at the box office worldwide and garnering seven Academy Award nominations, including Best Picture. It also became the inspiration for a Broadway musical of the same name.