Finding Neverland

I’m not really a Peter Pan obsessive; the real ones pretty much creep me out. And with the Michael Jackson trial in full swing, I don’t think we really need a reminder about how the premature theft of someone’s childhood can warp him for life, which is more or less the meta-story of J.M. Barrie’s life, and of Peter Pan.

With that said, Linda and I went to see Finding Neverland yesterday. If you saw my previous review of the P.J. Hogan Peter Pan, you know that I really liked that movie, for all its darkness and adult themes (actually, because of them). You could probably predict, in that case, that I would really like Finding Neverland, and if you predicted that, congratulations. You were right.

The movie is “a weepie,” as Anthony Lane’s excellent New Yorker essay makes clear (see Lost boys: Why J. M. Barrie created Peter Pan), but that never stopped me from enjoying a movie before. Seeing it in the theater rather than at home, with an assorted crowd of families, teenagers, and older retired couples, I was kind of hard-pressed to keep my steady sniffling and face-wiping as low-key as possible, but I mostly managed.

Side issue: What is it with parents bringing young children to movies that are really intended for grown-ups? It seriously mars my enjoyment of a film to see children being abused like that. At least in the case of Finding Neverland the abuse is of a mild nature; the smallest children in our audience were just bored, and were carried out by their parents fast asleep at the end. But still.

Johnny Depp and Kate Winslet are terrific in the movie, but the person who steals several scenes from Depp is Freddie Highmore, the young Johnny-Depp-in-the-making who plays Peter Llewelyn Davies, and whose authentic grief in the film’s final moments is heart-breaking.

Johnny Depp and Freddie Highmore

Browsing the indespensable IMDB, I find that Depp and Highmore share a birthday (June 9; Depp was born in 1963 and Highmore in 1992), and that Depp reportedly was so impressed with Highmore’s acting in Neverland that he requested he be cast as Charlie Bucket in Tim Burton’s upcoming Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, which I now can’t wait to see.

Last side note: I attended a screenwriter panel discussion at last year’s Santa Barbara Film Festival, and one of the participants was John August, who wrote the screenplay for the upcoming Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. Interestingly, he said that he somehow had never seen the 1971 Gene Wilder version when he was chosen to write the screenplay, and that when Tim Burton heard that he insisted that he not see it until after he’d written his own version. August said that when he’d finished writing his screenplay and finally did see the 1971 film, he was surprised at how different the two were; the 1971 version seemed awfully light, while his grew much more from the really dark material of Dahl’s novel, with the crushing poverty of Charlie’s family and his constant hunger and all that.

Heh. Cool.

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