Look at me way up high,
Suddenly here am I
Dateline: London, 1903. J.M. Barrie, future author of Peter Pan, is watching an audience turn their noses up and their thumbs down at his latest play, and across the pond veteran comic Joan Rivers is opening at the Palladium:
“And what about that Chaplin,” shrieks Joan, “what a little tramp!”
(Cue sound of crickets)
Do you believe in fairies? If you believe, clap your hands! What about hidden weapons of mass destruction? If you believe, clap your hands!
A long time before CGI in a galaxy far, far away from Nintendo, there was a joyous story called Peter Pan that filled with joy the hearts and minds of children and grown-ups alike.
Produced by Miramax, Finding Neverland is set beyond 10, beyond 11 – it’s set at the Miramaximum. In fact, it is one of the fall’s Miramaxiest. This means bomb-sniffing dogs have checked the theater and declared it safe for period costume drama, heavily coached dialects, and the kind of old world, upper-crust luxury that sees more action at Miramax than Harvey Weinstein’s napkin at Nobu.
“As we begin the picture,” the usher cautioned us, “all of you must erect a pinky finger,” thus explaining the rating: PG for Pinky Gesturing.
Here in turn of the century London “casual wear” means your top hat and tails are only lightly starched – and so are your stiff upper lips.
Everybody, sing along with Johnny Depp:
I won’t grow up,
(I won’t grow up)
to be a superstar
(to be a superstar)
Ben Affleck’s paved the way
(Ben Affleck’s paved the way)
and now he drives my car
(and now he drives my car)
If growing up means it would be
Paparazzi, Matt, J. Lo, and me,
I’ll never grow up, never grow up, never grow up
Johnny has a dog, and not just any dog, but a giant, fluffy Newfoundland. Johnny even wakes up in bed with his dog at his side. Which wouldn’t be so bad if the dog didn’t charge by the hour.
The ever-luminous Kate Winslet glows as the widowed mother of several young and father-figure-starved boys. But what’s this? Uh oh, Kate is coughing! A mild cough is Hollywood’s universal sign of terminal illness! Wrinkling your brow means a brain tumor, and even laying a finger aside of your nose means either diabetes or, giving a nod, up the chimney you rose.
Look at her turning pale,
Vital organs start to fail,
So what do Johnny and the boys do to pass the time? Burp their names? Light their farts? No, this is a Miramax picture folks! They toss coins with stamps on them up towards the ceiling to see if the stamps stick. It ain’t watching paint dry but it sure is watching adhesive dry.
Look, it’s Dustin Hoffman! In a very small role! With less dialogue than you’ll find in the Surgeon General’s warning on a pack of Winston’s.
Aging star, yes you are
Fetch his gin, where’s the bar
Johnny quickly befriends widow Kate’s young boys. Here, he’s a pirate. There, he’s an American Indian who looks and sounds suspiciously Star Trek’s Chekov in a native headdress.
Harvey Weinstein, have no fear
Eisner’s karma’s almost here
Peter Pan, of course, is the story of the boy who never grows up and, by association, a story of the power of childlike innocence and imagination. Sometimes Peter grows into J.M. Barrie and sometimes he becomes David Arquette. It just goes to show you: For every dream there’s a nightmare.
This movie is a quietly moving little gem with standout performances top to bottom. Finding Neverland – and finding happiness – require that we believe we can do anything.
“You must think lovely, wonderful thoughts,” Peter Pan explained, “and they lift you up in the air.”
Photos Copyright ©2004 Miramax Film Corp.