|Do you believe in fairies? If you believe, clap your hands!|
"I'm not Peter Pan, he is."
Although it may seem slight today, putting on a full-scale West End production based on a boy who never grows up was risky at the time, particularly a play that involves flying, a dog serving as a nanny, ocean adventures, clock-swallowing crocodiles, and more nonsense never before attempted on the stage. Learning the inspiration behind it all makes this story even more extraordinary.
Bring on Neverland!
I could barely wait to see this movie, not only because of Johnny and the other great actors joining him, but because Peter Pan is one of my favorite stories. When I was a kid, I watched the Disney cartoon endlessly. I even had its soundtrack album. In grade school, I won an art contest prize of tickets to see Peter Pan on the stage. Recently, though, I saw a bit of the Disney cartoon on TV and thought Peter Pan was a brat and Tinkerbell had a big attitude problem! I'm not sure what my fascination with it is--maybe the adventure of it all, the fairies, the flying, and the idea of not having to grow up.
I've seen lots of different versions of Peter Pan. But I'm not the only one who loves it. Dustin Hoffman recognizes how everyone relates to J.M. Barrie's idea of Neverland: "Neverland is the place that exists for all of us in the wish part of our brain," he says. To some people, Neverland is a place where one never grows old or dies. Others think of it as the place where the imagination lives.
In the preface to the original play, J.M. Barrie noted that the actors only need to bring with them a child's outlook. "I think what Barrie was saying was to do your best not to grow up so quickly," Johnny says. "You can grow old and be an adult but maintain those beautiful qualities." Like Johnny, the filmmakers took Barrie's direction to heart. Producer Richard Gladstone explains, "We thought of how to watch all of this through a child's eye, how to approach that, how to manifest that on film."
I was in New York when Finding Neverland opened Halloween weekend. Johnny was also in New York that weekend to receive the Lee Strasberg Artistic Achievement Award (Yay!), but we never ran into each other. Instead, I saw him on the big screen in one of the best movies ever!
What's to love? Lots!
The production: One of my favorite things about this movie is how seamlessly the story weaves between imagination and reality. There are little moments, like when James Barrie imagines that it's storming in the theatre as his latest play goes sour or when he opens his bedroom door, revealing the sunny open field he pictures in his mind. And, when Silvia comes down with a cough at the summer cottage, the beautiful day turns cloudy and windy in Peter's eyes. In more elaborate sequences, as James Barrie plays Cowboys and Indians with the Davies boys or takes them aboard a pirate ship, the film switches back and forth between them running around in their garden to being in the Old West or soaked by choppy waves on the high seas. Give another star to Marc Forester for coming up with these ideas. "For me, the visual effects basically are to underline the transformation of imagination," he says. Even though the imaginative scenes are obviously fake, they're beautifully done without taking you abruptly out of the story. Instead, they draw you in even more, letting you see what they are seeing. "The goal was to give people an idea of where that line's drawn between fantasy and reality and how thin it was was," says visual effect designer Kevin Tod Haug. It works!
The real stars: But it's really all about the kids, George, Jack, Michael, and especially Peter. When Kate Winslet and Johnny caught Freddie Highmore playing a scene as Peter, they knew they had to up their game: "Freddie just elevated the level of truth for everyone," Marc Forester says. As Peter, Freddie Highmore may have the meatiest role as the one whose on the brink of completely losing his childhood too soon, but all of the Davies brothers are fantastic. They will make you laugh. They will make you cry. They steal the show.
|"He is quite handsome!"|
- Dustin Hoffman
I think this is one of Johnny best performances, displaying such a range of emotions as a creative artist stuck among grown-ups: "It's a surprisingly difficult role because it has to be a man who's mature enough so that you have respect for him but still have a kid inside the whole time," writer David McGee says. "He does an amazing job."
|At the 2005 Oscars with Vanessa Paradis|
Finding Neverland was also nominated for Best Picture and several technical Oscars. It won for Best Original Score by composer Jan A.P. Kaczmarek. I agree! This movie's beautiful music is a perfectly-suited complement that sweeps you into the moment.
Finding Neverland and the cast were nominated for lots of awards at other ceremonies worldwide, and they (mainly Kate Winslet and Freddie Highmore) won quite a few. Yay!
The Kitties can fly!
I didn't expect to pick the scene that appeared in all the commercials and previews, but it really does sum up Finding Neverland. Here's an example of how James Barrie was inspired to write his story. As Silvia (Lily) scramble around to get her defiant boys (B.J. as George, Norman as Jack, Comet as Peter, and Simon as Michael) to bed, they are more interested in pillow-fighting. Watching the giggling boys bouncing around on their beds, Uncle Jim suddenly "sees" the windows magically open and the boys fly off into the night. With a little bit of fairy dust, they'll be in Neverland by morning.
|"Never put young boys to bed. They always grow up a day older, and before you know it, they're grown."|
And now, let's talk about fish.
Johnny is The Libertine. You will not like him.
Image credits: Finding Neverland images © Miramax Films; Image of Johnny Depp and Vanessa Paradis at the 2005 Academy Awards © unknown; Deep Sea 3D image © Warner Brothers Pictures; Illustration © Melissa Connolly