Finding Neverland

5 out of 10


Tinkerbell by Tinseltown

Enjoying Peter Pan from childhood, upon hearing about the release of "Finding Neverland," I was hopeful to find out more about the life the well-known Scottish author J. M. Barrie and the source of inspiration for this beloved children's novel. With a director previously known for the Oscar award-winning "Monster's Ball," the German-born Marc Forester may seem like an odd choice, he does not disappoint but fails to inspire. Containing all the critical elements of your typical English historical drama - beautiful cinematography, sets and costumes, it is a picture that could be bound for the Oscars on looks alone. Unfortunately, the story, adapted from Allan Knee's play "The Man Who Was Peter Pan" by first time screenwriter David Magee is based only loosely on real life and although touching, is pretty much a Disneyfied effort, resulting in a fairly tame, unadventurous and largely fantasy-based family film.

Opening with JM Barrie struggling to compose a new work in 1903 to follow earlier successes in writing and theatre, he begins to take regular walks through Regent's Park with his huge dog. One morning his world changes as he makes the acquaintance of two young sons of the recently widowed Sylvia (Kate Winslet), the charming daughter of Punch illustrator George Du Maurier and wife of successful lawyer Arthur Llewelyn Davies. Their meeting leads into a long standing friendship that gives consolation from a marriage that is becoming a shambles as he becomes a close member of the Davies family and a surrogate father to the four boys. Ever a boy at heart, Barrie serves to lift their spirits with his enchanted games, especially that of young Peter who is particularly affected by the death of his father. Likewise his wild stories of pirates and fairies serve to inspire Barrie to dream of "Neverland," a world beyond his imagination, that becomes his best known work - Peter Pan. After becoming a source of gossip, their close relationship is thwarted by his wife and the children's grandmother, Emily Du Maurier (Julie Christie) who steps in to take charge of the boys as Sylvia becomes critically ill.

Although it has a touching script and introduces Freddy Highmore as Peter, who later also teams up with Depp as Charlie Bucket in Tim Burton's "Charlie & The Chocolate Factory," this movie takes much dramatic license with Barrie's actual life. It is not truly a biography with only elements of the true life story. Attempting to capture more of the spirit in which Barrie saw the boys and life around him, "Finding Neverland" more closely resembles "Amelie" or "Big Fish" and lacks focus. The romanticized retelling of events makes the already mostly fictionalized story somewhat too dreamy to connect with the audience.

As usual, Depp doesn't take too many risks and has a quiet and affable presence, much unlike the real Barrie and, likewise, Winslet seems comfortable as the generous and loving mother Llewelyn Davies. An overly warm and cozy family film, the appearances of Ian Hart as Barrie's friend Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Angus Barnett as Nana and "The Office"'s Mackenzie Crook as the usher are welcome and refreshing, helping to break up otherwise occasionally overwhelming blandness.
From a country whose first president was a top classical concert pianist, one wonders whether Poland has a law that requires everyone named Jan to become at least a music teacher if not a composer. Despite this, Jan Kaczmarek carried away the consolation prize Academy Award for his totally forgettable score after a host of other Oscar hopes disappeared in a puff of fairy dust back into Neverland.

Barely a passable story, it neglects the loneliness of Barrie's spirit, telling too little of both Peter Pan and his creator. With a partial reproduction of the original Barrie play, this quaint picture seems itself to have been put together by the fairies - empty like spun sugar, glossing over the facts, "Finding Neverland" is reduced to Tinseltown glamour.

Finding Neverland Looses its Way

Film Critic: Jennifer M Lillies