Finding Neverland is not your typical family movie that’s mostly fun and stress-free. It has a little bit of everything, from the simplicity of execution to the complexity of concepts to the colorful images of imagination. It is heavy in content but wonderfully light in approach.
This Oscar-winning drama by Marc Foster, based on Allan Knee’s Off-Broadway play The Man Who Was Peter Pan, is a modern classic and a perfectly executed film with the right amount of real-life and fictional elements that serve up 100 worthy minutes of adventure to Neverland. No, it’s not about finding where Neverland is, because it is literally anywhere, but it is more about finding your happiness in life by simply believing.
When we hear the word Neverland, it is fun. Peter Pan is fun. But behind this jolly and juvenile character in a fairy world comes a dramatic and depressing story that most modern fanatics were not really familiar with, including me before watching this awesome film.
With exceptional performances from Hollywood favorites Johnny Depp and Kate Winslet, the film is so neat, and gritty at the same time, as they battle their personal conflicts and fears with the use of ecstatic imagination. But the entire charm would not be complete without Freddie Highmore’s acting that is so promising at a very young age.
It is fascinating to see the contrast between James and Peter’s characters. Barrie is a grown-up writer but a boy at heart, while Peter is a young boy who thinks older than his age with no idea about writing. The beauty? The opposition drew them closer. Because of James, Peter was able to open up his creative mind and write his first play. In return, because of Peter, James grew up to accept the challenge to be a father-figure without completely attempting to replace the boys’ real father, more so, Sylvia’s husband.
Finding Neverland contains balanced childish themes such as playing games, imagining your own world, flying, never growing up, and of course, Neverland itself. But it also featured adult concepts such as jealousy, a failing marriage, a sense of betrayal and a married man and a widow’s questionable relationship. But the greater theme that the movie tackles is that friendship knows no age and gender. The silliness of it is well incorporated with the harsh truth that imagination is to ease the pain rather than to cure it. Like the ticking crocodile, time is always chasing us. Do we run from it, or we dream and make the most out of it?
There is no doubt that the movie is well-casted from main to supporting. The whole picture was captured cleanly with no confusing angles and a great mixture of reality and imagination. The set design is on point with every sequence from the ‘Great Bear Porthos’ to the ‘Pirates’ to ‘Neverland’. Foster did a great job in sewing the sequence to a simpler context that is easy for the young viewers. The music went so well with each moment’s mood that it won an Oscar for Best Music Score, props to Jan A.P. Kaczmarek.
Like most adaptations, Finding Neverland is not a direct book-to-movie translation but still manage to keep the core values and inspirations through all the cinematic and creative adjustments. It would really be interesting to see a version of it on an even more authentic storyline with Arthur Llewelyn Davies being alive at the time and Sylvia dying years after Peter Pan was created. Who knows? Maybe Barrie is indeed in love with Sylvia and so is Sylvia to Barrie but the story is so focused on its goal that it did not attempt to go further to aggravate the situation of the possible destruction of a family with an unlikely platonic relationship between to married adults.
Similar to Finding Neverland: THE LOOK OF SILENCE : A FAIRYTALE OF BLOOD AND MURDERERS
Even after a huge amount of praise and a number of award nominations, more than a decade later, this film rarely makes anyone’s list in terms of modern classics or best biopics in history which is a subjective matter anyway. It is either meant to be an underrated gem of cinema or maybe just not too magical for multiple viewing? It’s a little bit of both. It exceeds your expectations about fantasy, but it makes less impact to carry on for another 100 years, like what Peter Pan himself was able to establish.
The best thing about it though is keeping the promise that someday, they will all make it to Neverland no matter how sad and hard life is. That is what friendship is all about. In every brilliant idea, comes a greater inspiration.