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Movie Review

In the distant, far-away world of Neverland, there is a prophecy of a flying child who will someday save the land's inhabitants.

Now, to listeners familiar with children's books of yore, that line may have a familiar ring to it. "Is it the story of a gifted boy named Peter Pan, his fairy friend, Tinkerbell, and their fight against a scoundrel named Hook?" they might wonder aloud.

And the answer is … not quite. That's actually another story altogether. A later one, if you will.

This yarn is about a magical lad who's as yet unknown. It's said that he's the offspring of a human and a fairy. And in this Neverland world of marauding pirates, enslaved orphan boys and colorful-but-terrorized natives, the one they call Pan is greatly needed.

For this enchanted, would-be boy savior might just be the one to rescue one and all from the heartless, fierce—but generally well-dressed—pirate named … Blackbeard.

Yes, that Blackbeard.

Here, he's a shudder-inspiring sea robber who's terrorized Neverland for generations. Blackbeard commands a crew of swarthy buccaneers and drives hundreds of kidnapped boys to dig for something called pixum (also known as fairy dust) in vast underground mines. Why, you ask? Because it could keep a man alive forever if he could but find enough of it.

That very task has occupied Blackbeard and his cruel henchmen for generations. Why, some even say that the pirate has driven Neverland's fairy population to the point of extinction pursuing this potent, immortality-granting dust.

So for those toiling and slaving under the well-coiffed despot's ruthless reign, hope is in very short supply indeed. Until, that is, a boy plucked out of an dreary orphanage on Earth during World War II arrives in Neverland.

A boy … who can fly.

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Positive Elements

Though Peter sometimes uses deceit to trick his earthly orphanage caretakers, he's really a thoughtful, caring boy who's willing to risk his wellbeing for the sake of others. He doesn't necessarily believe that he's the prophesied Pan (even if everyone else does), but he bravely stands up against Blackbeard's tyrannical rule for the sake of the virtues his parents stood for.

"Sometimes friends begin as enemies and enemies begin as friends," the movie says in its opening moments. Thus it imagines Hook in his early years being a trusted friend and ally to Peter, as well as a romantic interest for Tiger Lilly. All three of these friends take great risks in their collective efforts to save one another and to rid Neverland of Blackbeard's enslaving scourge.

Before leaving him at the orphanage, Peter's mother tells her baby boy that she loves him and whispers, "I promise that you will see me again, in this world or another."

Spiritual Content

Neverland, obviously, is a magical realm. In it, there are flying fairies and soaring galleons, not to mention the pixum that keeps Blackbeard perpetually young. It's also a realm where people cling to their faith in the eventual appearance of a young messiah of sorts whom they hope will deliver them from bondage. Later in the story, the magic of the fairies allows Peter to speak briefly with the spirit of his dead mother. In addition to the fairies, we see other mythical creatures as well, such as mermaids, for instance.

Back on Earth before Peter is kidnapped, the orphanage's Catholic nuns are anything but positive role models. In fact, they're just the opposite: women who regularly torment their young charges. You would think that among those supposedly God-fearing women there might be at least one good one. But, alas, such a kind nun is nowhere to be found in this story. Instead, these wicked nuns actually sell children to the pirates.

Peter finds a nearly life-sized statue of Mary in a nun's office.

Sexual Content

We see Peter's human mother and his fairy father (who has taken human form) embrace. Though nothing further is shown, we're told that Peter was the "child of their love." Hook openly flirts with and pursues a romantic relationship with Tiger Lilly, who throughout the film wears outfits revealing a bit of bra and midriff. Other ancillary women also show some skin, and men go shirtless. Mermaids are very briefly seen underwater with long, covering hair. (We see a bit of bare shoulder and torso that implies they’re not wearing clothes.)

Violent Content

We never glimpse gore, but quite a few folks perish in the course of this conflict-heavy fantasy flick. For instance, German fighter planes drop bombs on English homes and buildings. They crash and burn in battle. Children and pirates tumble to their implied deaths in rocky chasms. Scores of Tiger Lilly's tribesmen puff into clouds of colored dust when run through by pirate blades and axes.

Flying pirate ships clash and crash, blazing away with roaring cannons. World War II fighter planes strafe ship decks with gunfire. Pirates get thumped with shovels and buckets. Ferocious skeletal birds attack children and adults. Gigantic crocodiles snap at people and leap out of the water. A boy almost drowns when being dragged under water by one of those beasts before being rescued by a trio of mermaids. Children are snatched up into the air by kidnapping pirates. Those same children are forced to toil mercilessly in large mines, resulting in blistered hands.

Tiger Lilly is an athletic, spirited gal who never backs down from a fight. We see her smashing male opponents full in the face and watch as those foes manhandle, pummel and slam her to the ground in return. Blackbeard's crew shoots flames into swirling, burning swarms of tiny fairies.

Young Peter gets thumped around quite a bit too, including hitting his crotch on a large plank.

Crude or Profane Language

One use of "d--nation," and a couple of uses each of "darn" and "heck" (as in, "What the heck?" and "I'll be darned"). We hear "h---" and "bloody h---" once each.

Drug and Alcohol Content

Blackbeard uses a rejuvenation device to inhale pixie dust and restore his youth.

Other Negative Elements

Peter lies to nuns. He and a friend break into someone's office to steal money and food. Like Peter, Hook is also one to dabble in untruths when it suits his needs. "I lied, I do that sometimes," Hook rationalizes. "It's called being a grown up." The soundtrack introduces Blackbeard with the chorus of Nirvana's "Smells Like Teen Spirit."

Conclusion

Since Scottish author J.M. Barrie first dreamed up his stories of a flying boy who would never grow up more than a hundred years ago, his imaginary realm of Neverland has been a busy place. Peter Pan and his magical universe have inspired scores of books, TV shows, movies, plays—even video games.

Director Joe Wright's latest addition to that picaresque panoply of all things Pan could be seen as a pseudo-superhero-style origin story (in this age of superhero everything). It gives us the low down on a boy named Peter before he was soaring about with raucous glee and brandishing his dagger. Here, he's just an orphan kid, longing for his mum, when he's yanked unexpectedly into the fantastic—and the heroic.

This is a prequel, however, where the pirates are more coarse and gritty than colorful and goony. And where Tiger Lilly's tribe is, well, more trans-globalish than we've seen before. Hook is something of an Indiana Jones romantic hero rather than a hook-handed rake with a ticking-clock phobia. Toss in epic battles between flying ships and WWII fighter planes, as well as bim-bam-booms involving waves of tiny fairies and a prancing baddy named Blackbeard, and what we've got here is something fairly entertaining … but barely identifiable for those expecting a more traditional take on the Peter Pan canon.

Purists will likely balk. The family's youngest will likely duck for cover. And the rest of us will likely wonder where this would-be franchise reboot goes from here. Because this sweeping, swirling, twinkling explosion of CGI color is a long way from that beloved story about a boy in green tights who never wants to grow up—even if it's got some charms of its own.

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