I’m not particularly a fan of the whole Peter Pan story, so I didn’t really make it a priority to watch a preview of the upcoming Syfy miniseries “Neverland.”
Sure, the same people who brought us an excellent retelling of “The Wizard of Oz” as well as a so-so exploration into “Alice in Wonderland” in the form of “Tin Man” and “Alice,” were behind it. But still. I wasn’t sure if I really wanted to visit Neverland, Capt. Hook, the Lost Boys and everyone else.
But I’m glad I did. And when “Neverland” premieres Dec. 4 on Syfy, you will too.
Written and directed by Nick Willing, who also wrote “Alice” and directed “Tin Man,” this new approach to the story of Peter Pan and the creation of what would become a world where no one ages is both fun and moving at the same time. Charlie Rowe, fresh off the great dystopian “Never Let Me Go,” is solid as Peter. Transforming from a resourceful pick-pocket on the streets of London to the flying hero is not easy work, but Rowe looks completely comfortable in this role, and pulls it off.
The idea of “Neverland” was to create an origin story for Peter Pan and all the other characters we’re familiar with. But that wasn’t an easy task. How do you create such an origin without violating the original story, while keeping 21st century viewers enthralled? You do it by adding some fun science-fiction elements, and lots of pirates.
One pirate in particular, Capt. Elizabeth Bonny, almost pulled me out of my suspended disbelief at the beginning. Played by “Pushing Daisies'” Anna Friel, Bonny is the captain of a pirate ship in the 18th century that rang more of attempts to create a gender-inclusive story than adding some historical accuracy.
In my small male mind, I was thinking, “What the hell? There were no female pirate captains!” Then I thought about it a minute, and realized why Bonny’s name seemed familiar to me. That’s because there were several female pirate captains, one of the most famous being Anne Bonney.
Even if there was no historical accuracy, Friel ran a tight ship, and gave us a character to root against. You completely forgot about that nice sweet Chuck from “Pushing Daisies,” and almost couldn’t wait to see what her ultimate doomed fate would be.
The idea that Hook did not come to Neverland as a pirate captain was a great move. In fact, Willing takes a popular comic book story route by making Hook and Peter friends. Well, more than friends. Hook was a mentor to Peter.
Rhys Ifans, best known to genre fans for his work in the Harry Potter films as Xenophilius Lovegood (the editor of the Quibbler), brings a much more sympathetic Hook to the screen. Pulled in two directions — his caring of Peter and The Lost Boys, and survival in this world where no one ages and really can’t leave — Hook’s struggle is one that permeates through the miniseries. You know which way he ends up going, but you hope that his path is tinged with a bit of regret along the way.
One other casting choice to note is Bob Hoskins as Smee. Hoskins reprised his role 20 years after doing it for the Steven Spielberg film “Hook.”
The biggest drawback of this film was the pacing. Willing’s “Alice” moved along well, although it seemed disjointed at times, but “Neverland” tends to drag to the point where you wonder, as a viewer, when it’s going to end. In fact, the end of the first part feels like it could almost be a proper ending for the film itself.
To me, it seemed that Syfy’s desire to have a two-parter forced Willing to expand the story, and maybe stretch it a little thin at times. When “Neverland” is moving, it’s really moving. But when it’s not, you might find yourself distracted by who’s messaging you on Facebook instead. Hopefully, you’ll turn your attention back when it’s time, but there are too many chances for viewers to tune away and look for something else.
Also, the whole Tinkerbell storyline dragged it down even more. How her people could be so wise in the environment of Neverland, but still allow their terrible fate to happen is beyond me. None of it held my interest, and the entire Tinkerbell aspect seemed forced.
And the addition of Keira Knightley as the voice seemed a bit too much like stunt casting to me. Her presence was barely felt, and was not a great use of her strong acting talent. Anyone could’ve been brought in to take on this version of Tinkerbell, and no one would’ve thought differently.
No one expects these Syfy December events to be the Lord of the Rings or something epic. But they have been consistently satisfying. While we might not be talking about “Neverland” by this time next year, it’s still a great way to spend time with the family this weekend enjoying a wholesome take on a wholesome classic.
I’m still not much of a fan of Peter Pan. But if I had to sit down and choose a movie to watch from the Peter Pan universe, it would be “Neverland.”
“Neverland” was written and directed by Nick Willing. It stars Rhys Ifans, Anna Friel, Charlie Rowe and Keira Knightley.