Growing up has been a common theme for children’s works. The time between the carefree days of playing and the world of adult responsibilities is a tough transition, one that some don’t want to go through. Meet Peter Pan. Pan, best known from J.M. Barrie’s play and novel, Peter and Wendy, is the Boy Who Wouldn’t Grow Up. He lives in Neverland with the Lost Boys, boys who found their way to the realm, and leads them against the pirate Captain Hook. Hook, as appropriate for his name, has a hook replacing a hand, lost to a crocodile after a fight with Peter. The crocodiles still has Hook’s watch, which still ticks inside the belly of the beast.
The play, now mostly performed as a pantomime*, begins as Peter enters the Darling home in pursuit of his shadow. Wendy, the eldest Darling child.wakes up and sees Peter. She reattaches the shadow; in return, Peter invites her to go with him back to Neverland, where she can tell the Lost Boys bedtime stories. Peter and Wendy fly away, with Wendy’s brothers John and Michael tagging along.
Adventure abounds in Neverland. The Darlings are knocked out of the air by cannons on arrival, forcing Wendy to rest at Peter’s hideaway with the Lost Boys. The Darlings go with Peter and the Lost Boys to rescue Princess Tiger Lily from Captain Hook, with Peter wounded in the fighting. During the adventures, Wendy starts falling in love with Peter, a sign that she’s growing up. She remembers her parents, and decides to take her brothers back home.
Captain Hook, however, has other plans. He kidnaps the Darlings and the Lost Boys, taking a moment to poison Peter’s medicine. Tinker Bell sacrifices herself by drinking the medicine before Peter can, leading to him asking the audience to clap loudly to save the fairy. With Tinker Bell safe, Peter rushes off to rescue Wendy and her brothers. The crocodile, however, reappears, still ticking. Peter imitates the ticking, which scares Hook into cowering. Stealing the key to the cages holding Hook’s hostages, he defeats several pirates before facing off against Hook. The battle ends when Peter kicks Hook off the ship and into the jaws of the ticking crocodile. Hook’s last thought was the “bad form” of Peter’s win.
The Darling children return home bringing with them the Lost Boys. Wendy’s mother, Mary, adopts the Boys and makes the same offer to Peter. Peter refuses, saying that he doesn’t want to become a man. He returns to Neverland, but promises to return to see Wendy every spring.
While the original play ends with Wendy at the window asking Peter to please remember his promise to return, Barrie added an extra scene four years later. Titled “An Afterthought”, the scene has Peter returning for Wendy years later. Wendy has grown up and is now married and has a daughter of her own, Jane. Peter is heartbroken over the “betrayal” of Wendy growing up. Jane, though, agrees to go with Peter to Neverland. The cycle continues with Jane’s daughter, Margaret, and may continue for time immemorial.
The play has been adapted many times, including Disney’s animated Peter Pan and a 2003 live action Return to Neverland. In 1991, Steven Spielberg directed a sequel. Hook added the premise, “What if Peter Pan grew up?” The cast included Robin Williams as Peter, Dustin Hoffman as Captain Hook, Bob Hoskins as Hook’s first mate Smee, Maggie Smith as Wendy, and Julia Roberts as Tinker Bell. The movie opens as Peter Banning, a lawyer, is at his daughter Maggie’s school play, Peter Pan, where she plays Wendy. During the play, Peter receives a call on his mobile phone** about the upcoming trip to London where his wife’s grandmother will receive an award. The grandmother, Wendy, has been running the Lost Boys Orphanage, taking in young children and finding homes for them.. As a father, Peter falls a little short. He is overly protective to the point of never allowing a window to be opened. His work takes precedence; he misses his son Jack’s big baseball game because of a meeting. He has forgotten what it is like to be a child, something his children and wife Moira are too aware of.
The flight to London is difficult for Peter. He’s afraid of flying and the rift between him and Jack keeps getting wider. Jack’s resentment of his father is building while Peter keeps seeing every possible way for a plane to crash. The tension remains even after arriving at Grandma Wendy’s home. Peter gets yet another phone call about the ceremony; with all the commotion around him, he explodes on his children. The children are taken to Wendy’s old bedroom, which is laid out just as in Maggie’s play.
That night, at the ceremony for Wendy, Peter tells of being taken in as an orphan by her and being adopted by an American couple. The scene shows Peter’s more vulnerable side and a longing that he doesn’t quite acknowledge. Back at the Darling home, sinister machinations are afoot. Nana, the dog, is upset and Tootles figures out why. But by the time Peter, Moira, and Wendy get back, all that is left of Maggie and Jack is a ransom note on parchment, nailed to the wall by a dagger. Captain Hook has kidnapped the children; in exchange, he wants Peter Pan to return to Neverland to face him one last time.
While everyone else is dealing with the police and finding the children, Peter heads up to the bedroom. He mistakes a glowing figure as an oversized firefly and tries to swat it. The figure grabs the rolled up paper and swats Peter back. After a tussle that leaves Peter sprawling, he gets a better looking at his firefly. Tinker Bell tells him that Hook has his children and that he needs to go to Neverland right away and what is he waiting for, doesn’t he know, oh, get going Peter. Peter, though, is having problems accepting the new reality and doesn’t believe he can fly. Tinker Bell winds up having to carry him to Neverland.
When Peter regains consciousness, he finds himself on the docks near Hook’s pirate ship. Maggie and Jack are locked in a cage high above the ship’s deck. The evil Captain awaits Peter Pan’s arrival and is disappointed when Peter Banning arrives. Hook is incredulous that Peter grew up and got old. Peter stays focused on getting his children back, but when he can’t fly up, hook despairs of having one last war. Hook orders the death of Peter and his children, but Tinker Bell makes a deal. Three days and she’ll have Peter Pan back and ready for a fight.
Peter’s arrival at the Island of Lost Boys elicits even more disappointment. None of the Boys accept that Peter grew up. The leader, Rufio, doesn’t believe that Peter is the Pan. The littlest Lost Boy, though, looks deep into Peter’s eyes and sees Peter Pan deep within. It takes time, but Peter begins to remember how to be a child. To riff off River in the Firefly episode, “Safe”, Peter was waiting to be Pan, but he forgot. Now that he’s back in Neverland, he remembers what he is.
The only thing Peter is lacking is flight. All he needs is a happy memory to be able to fly. As he talks to Tinker Bell, he remembers his real mother, he remembers how he got to Neverland, with Tink flying him there as a baby, he remembers how Wendy kept getting older each time he visited, and he remembers why he left Neverland after falling for Moira. He rediscovers his happy memory, the day Jack was born.
During the three days, Hook is also busy. Instead of relearning what it is like to be a child, he is working on turning Peter’s children against him. Maggie is difficult, remaining true to her parents. The gulf between Jack and Peter makes it easy for Hook to get his hook into the boy. Jack starts forgetting his parents and his home, seeing Hook as his father figure. Hook encourages Jack to teach the pirates about baseball, leading to a game. Peter returns to the docks on a mission to steal the keys to the cages his kids are kept in, but sees the game. Realization that he hasn’t been there for Jack crashes into him, as does the idea that Hook is being a better father than he ever was.
At the end of the three days, Peter is ready. He has remembered who he is and is ready to fight for his children. Peter arrives at the docks, alone. Hook’s mood improves greatly on seeing his foe back to form. Peter takes on the pirates singlehandedly. When he sees Jack, Peter tells him that his happiest memory is about him. The only thing that could stop him is a net, which Hook had anticipated. Trapped under the netting, Peter calls for the Lost Boys. The battle is enjoined, Boys versus pirates, with the Lost Boys getting the upper hand. Peter and Rufio go after Hook, but when Maggie calls for help, Peter goes to her rescue. Rufio and Hook clash; Rufio’s speed a match for Hook’s skill. Alas for Rufio, his speed is no match for Hook’s ruthlessness.
With Rufio dead, Peter calls on Hook for a one-on-one duel. Hook agrees. Their fight is an even match. Peter does get the upper hand, disarming Hook and removing the Captain’s wig to reveal that the pirate is an old man. Hook begs for dignity. Peter retrieves Hook’s wig and sword, returning both. Hook, however, is a pirate and pirates aren’t known for their fair play. He waits until Peter’s back is turned to try to run his foe through. The Lost Boys are ready; each one holds up a ticking clock. Overcome by fear of clocks and crocodiles, Hook cowers. The taxidermed body of his other old foe, the crocodile, falls on top of him.
Tinker Bell takes Jack and Maggie back to London. Peter stays behind long enough to pass along his sword to a new leader of the Lost Boys, telling him to take care of everyone smaller than him. Back in Wendy’s home in London, Maggie and Jack see their mother sleeping in a rocking chair and climb back to bed. Moira hears the children, who wake up from their dream. Outside, Peter wakes up curled up beside a statue. He runs back to Wendy’s home, retrieves his phone, then climbs up the drainpipe to the children’s bedroom for a reunion. The phone once again rings, eliciting groans and glowers. Peter answers it, then flings the phone through the open window, having learned his lesson about what is important in his life.
While the movie builds on and takes some liberties with Peter and Wendy, it takes the theme of the Boy Who Wouldn’t Grow Up and flips it around. Instead of the fear of growing up and its inevitablility, Hook looks at what it means to be grown up. Hook is an adult fairy tale, looking at adult fears. From Peter’s fears for his children and losing them to Hook’s fear of aging, the movie resonates more to the adult than to the child. Peter’s problems balancing his work with his home life is a problem most adults have to deal with. Hook’s main goal is trying to recapture his glory days one last time while staving off death. It’s when Peter embraces the imagination and creativity of his childhood while still remembering his happy moments as an adult that he becomes whole again, while Hook can only see death ahead of him.
With Peter and Wendy, not growing up seems lovely, but there is a price. While you might remain forever a child, everyone else is growing up and growing old, leaving you behind. The extra scene, “An Afterthought”, shows how Peter is missing out on life by refusing to leave Neverland. In Hook, the problem isn’t so much growing up as forgetting what it was like being a child, with little responsibility and all the time to engage the imagination. Peter became a workaholic, missing out on his children and on his wife. It is possible to grow up without necessarily growing old. That spark that sees the fun in everything needs to be kept nourished, whether by enjoying time with your children or seeking out new experiences, but without letting that spark be all-consuming. It’s a fine balance, one that Peter figured out while Hook could not.
As an adaptation, Hook is essentially a mirror to Peter and Wendy. The movie builds on top of the original play, using the play’s structure to present the new themes mentioned above. While there were scenes that could have been shortened without losing their impact, Hook does add to the play without detracting from it. While not a perfect adaptation, it comes close.
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* Essentially, a musical comedy with audience participation. Pantomimes are associated with the Christmas and New Year holiday season.
** In 1991, cell phones weren’t ubiquitous and were a sign of an important and/or overworked business man. The scene has more resonance today than it did in 1991.
*** J.M. Barrie gave the rights for Peter and Wendy to the Grand Ormand Street Hospital, a British children’s hospital, so that it could use the royalties from the play and novel.