Monday, 10 August 2015

Bobby Reviews Once Upon A Time - Season 1, Episode XV - "Red Handed"

Season 1, Episode XV – “Red Handed”:

Kathryn Nolan has gone missing and David is the prime suspect. We indeed open with him in the police station. Although Emma is questioning him, she’s convinced he didn’t do anything. But she advises him to get a lawyer anyway. Jumping over to Granny’s now, we’re shown Ruby in her usual position of leaning against a table. She’s listening to August talk about his various travels. The girl appears to be turned on by the stories about lemurs. When we flash back to the Enchanted Forest, it appears that her past self was turned on by men threatening to huff and puff and blow the house down.

To elaborate, Red Riding Hood has a love interest called Peter. The writers clearly took note of the failed romance in the previous episode – and it’s implied that Peter and Red already know each other very well. They even talk about running away together – so they’re bound to have known each other for at least a day. But Red is under the watchful eye of Granny, so Peter can only escape with a little kiss. Granny has good reason to be fearful, as it is still ‘Wolfs Time’. A group of hunters are going out to find this beast after it slaughtered several sheep. Granny warns them to stay indoors and protect themselves but the fools don’t listen. She also says that red repels wolves – which explains why her granddaughter is wearing the iconic cloak. After the hunting party leaves, Granny and Red take precautions to protect the house from the wolf. This culminates in Granny apparently staying up all night with a crossbow.

But in Storybrooke, Granny instead wants to stay up all night with the books for the diner. Or rather, she wants Ruby to do it. She also says that Ruby dresses like a hooker during fleet week – which is a tad hypocritical of her since she’s the one who seems to have picked that uniform. Ruby fires back that Granny dresses like Norman Bates while he’s dressed as his own mother. They cut to a shot of August snickering at the next table. That’s Eion Bailey’s genuine reaction and they decided to leave it in.

Shaken and stirred this time, Mr Bailey.
But speaking of leaving, Ruby has had enough of Granny’s controlling ways. They have a blazing row and Ruby walks out of the diner. Back in the Enchanted Forest, Red checks on the chickens to make sure the wolf didn’t get them. In there she finds none other than Princess Snow White huddled up in the corner. Snow was out in the woods last night and heard the wolf howling so she tried to find shelter. Red kindly agrees to give her some. Snow doesn’t give her true name, since Regina has guards out looking for her – so she tells Red to call her Mary. I didn’t do much to describe the events in this scene but mark my words – it’s very cute and very sweet. The friendship between Snow and Red is one of my favourite little bits in this show. Anyway they go to fetch some water from the well. But curiously enough the water in the bucket is red. And the remains of the hunting party are found three feet away, thus allowing Snow and Red to share identical Oh Crap faces.

Emma and Mary Margaret are out walking. According to Emma, things don’t look good for David – and she’d better start getting ready for people suspecting her. They find Dr Whale hitting on Ruby who is now leaning on a bus stop instead of a table. Panicking at the sight of the sheriff and his previous conquest, the good doctor flits off. Ruby announces that she’s leaving town after her fight with Granny but doesn’t know where to go. Of course the solution is to take her back to Mary Margaret’s home for waifs and strays. The villagers in the Enchanted Forest are now meeting to discuss what to do about the wolf. Granny advises them to stay inside and relates her experiences with a wolf: when she was a child she saw a wolf easily dispatch her father and six brothers. She even received a bite from the beast itself, which she shows the scar of.

"You should see the other guy"
Red and Snow are left reeling from her speech, but Red confesses that she feels a bit like a rat and a trap. Peter had been at the tavern for the meeting, and Snow picked up on the aside glances. Red lets us know that she and Peter were childhood friends and have started to fall for each other. They’re even planning to run away together. But really I’m more hoping that Red and Snow will run away together. The chemistry between the two actresses in this episode is pretty steamy. Although they point out that Snow and Red are just good friends, if they went down the romance route it wouldn’t be unbelievable. Red meanwhile thinks sometimes that Granny is using the wolf to keep her and Peter apart. So she comes up with a solution: they’ll kill the wolf. I’ll let Jim Carrey echo my thoughts on that idea.

Her plan isn’t as ill-thought out as you’d assume. Although she wants to get rid of it just so she can have more smooch time with her boyfriend, she has an idea; if they can find the wolf’s lair during the day, they might have an advantage. It kind of makes you wonder why none of the hunting parties thought to try that too. Presumably because Snow is afraid of being turned out and left to the mercy of the creature, she goes along with Red. Back in Storybrooke, Mary Margaret has gone walking in the woods and she runs into David. He looks oddly vacant-eyed and isn’t receptive to Mary Margaret’s reassurances. Back in the Enchanted Forest, Red and Snow are trying to track the wolf. They find prints that are enormous.

Henry is trying to help Ruby find a new career. Well his idea of helping is listing a bunch of jobs that require delivering things in a basket – y’know since she’s Red Riding Hood. But Ruby quickly realises that her talents lie in answering Emma’s phone and taking messages for her. Ms Swan walks in at the end of this and offers her a position as the station secretary. Her first task is getting lunch. But Mary Margaret arrives to disrupt this moment of triumph, with news of David’s wanderings in the woods. Things take a dark turn as we flash back to Snow and Red. They find a foot print that looks like it’s half a man’s and half a wolf’s. What’s more is that the prints lead right up to the house! Which means that not only is the wolf really a transformed human – but that it’s someone who has recently been in their house!

Now I’ve actually seen this story somewhere before.

A forgettable Red Riding Hood adaptation starring Amanda Seyfried as Red. In that film, the wolf in question is also a werewolf terrorising a village at the full moon. In both stories, the love interest is a suspect. And both times he’s called Peter. I assume this is a reference to Peter and the Wolf. Red Riding Hood has often been associated with werewolf myths; the Neil Jordan film The Company of Wolves explores similar ideas. But back on topic, Snow theorises that maybe Peter doesn’t know he’s the wolf. She suggests that Red could save everyone if she told him and prevented him from attacking them. Red decides that she’ll try to stop Peter. But Snow will go back to the house and pretend to be Red, to stop Granny from getting worried and going out. She’ll wear the red cloak. Remember that. Ruby meanwhile walks into Granny’s to try and brag about her new job helping Emma. Granny points out that she seems to be doing the same things she did working at the diner. Ruby insists that she’s happier but her face says otherwise.

Red is now telling Peter her theory. He wonders why he hasn’t woken up in the woods or have any kind of memories of the wolf’s time. Red thinks maybe the transformation makes you forget. But she’s already come up with a plan; they can be together now that they know. And they’ll just need to chain him up every month at the full moon. And possibly some other nights too, just for fun. But Red swears that she’ll stick by him. Okay, this couple has only had three scenes together and they actually manage to be more appealing than Dreamy and Nova. While Meghan Ory does have phenomenal chemistry with Ginnifer Goodwin, she and Jesse Hutch (Peter) have some nice chemistry in their short scenes together. Back in Storybrooke, Henry advises Emma to give Ruby more to do. Since she needs to search for David in the woods, Emma takes Ruby along with her. She proves quite useful – claiming she can hear David. She must be using her before-shown tracking skills from the Enchanted Forest. For the second time this season, David gets found passed out in the woods.

Taking lessons from an expert I see.
David has no memories of walking in the woods. He can’t remember anything after leaving Emma’s office last night. Dr Whale gives him a quick once-over and concludes that he’s pretty healthy. Emma wonders if David could have done anything while sleepwalking – such as making a phone call to Kathryn and possibly kidnapping her? Regina now barges into the room and orders everyone to stop talking. David should have a lawyer present. Regina gives us another token ‘be nasty to Emma’ scene and we segue back to Ruby. Emma calls her and suggests she take the car and examine the Toll Bridge (where David last went in his sleep). With her tracking abilities, she might be able to find something. Sure enough, she actually does. She sees that the shore has been disturbed and uncovers a box buried there. She opens the box and screams.

Granny goes into Red’s room, where Snow is pretending to be her. Needless to say Granny is not pleased when she sees the truth. Snow tries to explain that Peter is the wolf and that Red has chained him up. Granny screams “that poor boy!” and we get our big twist:

That’s right. Red *herself* is the wolf. And her mother was one until a hunting party killed her too. The red cloak was bought from a wizard and prevents her from transforming. Granny also reveals that the wolf from her own story was Red’s grandfather. The scar on her arm was how he marked her and turned her into a wolf too. She kept the secret from Red to protect her – but she’s now realised how foolish she’s been. Granny approaches the area where Red is, producing a silver-tipped arrow. Snow unfortunately alerts her by stepping on a twig – but Granny shoots and then throws the cloak over her. Red turns back into herself but is none too pleased when she discovers the remains of her boyfriend. Snow’s delivery of “he wasn’t the wolf” and Red’s reaction makes this a huge tear jerker. Red and Snow leave, while Granny fends off the hunting party.

Ruby strolls into Granny’s, now with less make-up and more modest clothing. She asks to come back to the diner. She confesses that she wasn’t mad; she was scared. She was really scared that she wouldn’t be able to fill Granny’s shoes. Granny then assures Ruby that she actually intends for her to one day take over the place. Grandmother and granddaughter then embrace in a very sweet moment. The mood turns less sweet as we switch to Emma approaching Mary Margaret and David. She reveals that what Ruby found in the box was…a human heart! There were also fingerprints on the box. And they weren’t David’s. They were Mary Margaret’s.

Well after the mess that was “Dreamy”, anything would be preferable. But this was a great episode. I even remember really getting pleased on my first watch – when I realised it would be a Red episode. The story of Red Riding Hood is one that always lends itself well to adaptation – especially with the darker and edgier retellings of fairy tales getting popular. Disney have never really done an adaptation of the tale before, aside from a Silly Symphonies short. But since it’s one of the forerunners for werewolf mythologies, it has endless amounts of potential. I loved the twist of Red turning out to be the wolf. It also ties into the theories that the original story was a metaphor for a girl’s sexual maturation. It’s implied that the wolf condition develops in puberty and Granny can no longer transform, presumably due to going through the menopause. The Storybrooke portions were nice too – providing a good take on the ‘home is where the heart is’ moral. The chemistry between Meghan Ory and Ginnifer Goodwin was fantastic – and it’s one of the reasons I adore the Snow/Red friendship. Beverly Elliot as Granny was also great with her extra screen time here. Josh Dallas was a wee bit better than he was in “What Happened To Frederick” too. So this one hits all the right points for a stellar episode.

Episode Rating: 8/10

Saturday, 8 August 2015

Bobby Reviews Once Upon A Time; Season 1, Episode 14 - "Dreamy"

Season 1, Episode XIV – “Dreamy”:

Things had heated up in Storybrooke last time around, with David and Mary Margaret finally coming clean about their affair. Unfortunately things also went public – and now Mary Margaret is the town harlot. Capping things off, Kathryn Nolan attempted to leave town and her car was found on the side of the road. But this episode opens as far away from the road as possible: the sky in the Enchanted Forest. The Blue Fairy is seen sitting on a cloud a la Mary Poppins, where she’s visited by the Pink Fairy. Well the Pink Fairy actually has a name – Nova. And after a few seconds, it’s made apparent that she’s played by Amy Acker.

For those who don’t know, Amy Acker is an intolerably cute and very underrated actress best known for her roles in Joss Whedon’s shows – notably Angel and Dollhouse. She is one of my favourite actresses, and I’m likely to cheer if I see her guest starring in any episode of everything. She’s one of those girls that just seems to pop up everywhere in various shows I try out – How I Met Your Mother, Supernatural, Ghost Whisperer etc. Of course I mainly know her from Angel where she really showed her talents. Her role as the fairy Nova is one of the few parts where she isn’t a cute scientist – but she’s still a cute clumsy girl so I suppose she can’t really escape the type casting. The only things missing really are the glasses and Texan accent. Anyway Nova is charged with delivering fairy dust, which is apparently mined every year. Since Nova is played by Amy Acker, it’s evident that she won’t simply bring the dust from point A to point B. She’s got to spill a little of it as she attempts to follow Blue. The little bit of dust falls back down to the dwarf mine where it came from. It lands on an egg and we get a scene that’s surprisingly reminiscent of…

The dwarf that pokes his head out of the egg is actually Grumpy. But he’s got an out-of-character smile on his face. When we cut to Storybrooke however, we can see that his counterpart Leroy has the familiar sour expression. The counterparts of Sneezy and Sleepy ask him to let them sit there but, needless to say, it’s obvious they’re not bosom buddies in this lifetime. Mary Margaret walks into Granny’s and announces that the Storybrooke nuns will be selling their homemade candles and she needs a few volunteers to help. Given that they know her as the town harlot now, that’s being incredibly optimistic.

Leroy takes the time to tell her that she’s the only person people in town dislike more than him. Emma tries to comfort her but Mary Margaret is actually still suffering the after-effects of David and Kathryn’s very public break-up. Her original volunteers all dropped out and told her that was the reason. She says “I’ve never been a homewrecker before…”

Really, Ginnifer? REALLY?
Emma gets a call to the station and we then cut to the town hall, where the nuns are busy getting things ready for the Miners’ Day celebrations. It turns out that the nuns are the Storybrooke counterparts of the fairies – which is kind of hilarious given how much cleavage they show in the Enchanted Forest. Sure enough we meet Nova’s counterpart Astrid, who drops a bucket of glitter on Leroy. He actually cracks a smile and helps her fix the lights. Now at this point in time, I’m applauding OUAT for using their Amy Acker well. She brings a lovely charm to Astrid and makes this scene quite cute. The problem is the actor she’s working with. I have tried countless times to like Lee Arenberg on this show but that is really just not possible. I try to convince myself that I can understand what he’s going for – but his performances as Grumpy and Leroy are just awful. I really want to like the character but the way Arenberg portrays him is just not likeable. Take this incredibly on-the-nose moment where he talks about his life’s ambition to a girl he has only known for two minutes. A good actor would be able to make the audience forget that this is a contrived scene to inform us of the character’s motivation. But what happens here is that he says a bunch of lines that feel every bit on-the-nose and unbelievable. It’s a real shame because Amy Acker is so good in this scene. And I feel as if it could have really worked if there was a different actor alongside her.

Yes even you, Arnie.
Emma and Sidney have found Kathryn’s car on the side of the road. It certainly looks suspicious – and even more so when they find that her suitcases are still in the trunk. Sidney offers to use a contact to get hold of Kathryn’s phone records as quickly as possible. But since we know he’s in cahoots with Regina, this requires Emma’s superpower to fail her once again. David Nolan shows up on the scene with a look on his face that says he’s every bit as surprised as they are. Sidney however is convinced that David is the culprit. I myself am not however; there is no way in hell David Nolan would willingly do away with one of his bits on the side.

Would you accuse Bruce Wayne of torching his own set of expensive cars?
Now back in the Enchanted Forest, the young dwarf that just hatched is part of a new group. The dwarf is curious about the woman he saw right before he hatched. I can sympathise; if I dreamt of Amy Acker I’d want to know everything about her too. But we get our second on-the-nose bit of exposition and we’re not ten minutes into the episode – where it’s explained that dwarfs don’t fall in love, get married or raise children. Their life purpose is to work in the diamond mines to create fairy dust. Gee, I wonder what would happen if there was a dwarf who fell in love. We then see that the dwarfs get their names when they touch their pickaxe for the first time. Our young dwarf is the last and his axe says ‘Dreamy’. As an aside, I find myself cheering that we get to see Stealthy again. Back in Storybrooke, Leroy has now decided he’ll help Mary Margaret out after all. He claims he’s “seen the light” which actually did make me chuckle a little. We also finally meet the Blue Fairy’s Storybrooke counterpart – where she’s the Mother Superior for the nuns. Yes she looks far too young to be one but I think we have our explanation handy…

Anyway Astrid is in a bind because she made a mistake ordering helium; she ordered too much and thus overloaded the budget. Since their rent is due next week, they’re likely to be kicked out. The only income they have would be the homemade candles – and they’d need to sell a thousand of them to break even. Three guesses what Leroy vows to do. Back to the scene between Emma and David, where the latter insists that he knows nothing about Kathryn’s disappearance. Unfortunately for him, the next scene has Regina on the phone to Sidney about the phone records he wanted. Flashing back to the dwarf mines, we discover that Nova and Dreamy actually used to know each other. This time he saved her from losing the years’ supply of fairy dust in a furnace. After a few minutes, I’ve concluded that Lee Arenberg’s acting as Dreamy ain’t much better. His lines just sound so forced, which again are even more glaring next to Amy Acker’s more sincere delivery. Nova hints that she’d like Dreamy to watch the fireflies with her later on – but since he was only born a year ago, he doesn’t quite get what she means. Making this scene strikingly like the "Ain't There Here For Love?" number from Gentlemen Prefer Blondes.

Back in Storybrooke Mary Margaret is having approximately zero luck selling the candles at the stall. Leroy suggests taking the business on the road, theorising that if they go door to door then they’ll sell candles because people will want to get rid of them. This idea gets put on hold for a conversation between Emma and Sidney – where it’s revealed that Kathryn didn’t show up for her college registration. But going back to what the writers feel is more interesting, Leroy and Mary Margaret have even less luck with the door-to-door sales. Meanwhile Dreamy is feeling sick about something in the past. And in his little chat with Bossy his superior, they rattle off a line that’s actually pretty good:

Dreamy: Maybe I should get Doc to take a look at me.
Bossy: You want to trust a dwarf who got his medical degree from a pickaxe?

I’m going to ignore the endless amount of questions as to how a fairy tale character knows what a medical degree is because it’s the first actual good line in this episode. But things take a sharp upturn in quality when we see Belle sitting at the next table. She knows that Dreamy is lovesick. She tells him that love is hope but he should enjoy it – because it doesn’t always last forever. She also clues him into what Nova really meant when she was talking about the fireflies. I actually quite liked this little scene; even if the writing isn’t great (I’ll get into that at the end of the episode), Emilie de Ravin turns in a very heartfelt cameo as Belle.

Leroy approaches Sister Astrid preparing to tell her the bad news. Well his version of bad news is that they’ll be too busy making more candles because he just finished selling them all. This whole time Mary Margaret is in the background, delivering some hilarious facials. She delivers some hilarious lines too when she cops on that Leroy has a little crush on Astrid. She’s also curious as to how he plans to get his hands on $5000.

A story about Snow White and Grumpy trying to rob a bank would make for an infinitely more bearable episode than this. Next up is the reunion between the two star crossed lovers that have only met once. They talk about running away together, since Dreamy doesn’t like mining and Nova isn’t the most together fairy. Remember how I slated ‘Fruit of the Poisonous Tree’ for trying to develop a love story in its short time frame? Well this one doesn’t have the twist ending to justify it – sorry to spoil it already for you. These two characters have met each other just twice. Dreamy is talking about having the kinds of pains that great tragic lovers sometimes have. He’s having these literally the same day he met the girl! This is the kind of thing Enchanted was parodying. If they’d even bothered to imply that Dreamy and Nova had a few weeks or months to develop, it would have made this cringey story easier to take. Dreamy and Nova seem determined to one-up Edward and Giselle by agreeing to run away together the day they meet.

"Should we raise a family before or after we have breakfast?"
Back in Storybrooke, Leroy is planning to sell his boat that he devoted a very on-the-nose speech to earlier in the episode. That’s his plan for getting the money – selling it to Mr Gold who has finally resurfaced after his Valentine’s Day shenanigans. Since we’re only twenty five minutes into the episode, you can guess that Gold says no and Leroy is still $5000 short. To make matters worse, Astrid swings by the docks and notices all the candles still there – guessing he’s been lying. Now we’re going to throw vintage sitcom clichés in there too. We get the whole ‘how could you lie to me’ scene without any irony. The very show I praised several times before for subverting many standard clichés is now playing them straight. This is a personal pet peeve of mine because it’s such a lame way to add conflict to a story.

Sidney delivers Kathryn’s phone records to Emma. She made an 8-minute phone call to David right before her accident. Emma is doubtful because she doesn’t believe that David lied to her. Now this is just weird because Sidney isn’t doing a particularly convincing job of lying to her either – so why should she have faith in her superpower now? Leroy pops into Granny’s to find Mary Margaret drowning her sorrows. She drowns them even further when she hears about Leroy’s lack of luck getting the money. Back in the Enchanted Forest, Dreamy is packing up his stuff and preparing to run away. His fellow dwarf brothers congratulate him on finding love – but Bossy has a different reaction. He’s brought the Blue Fairy down to explain that Nova will lose her wings if she and Dreamy run away together. Blue advises him that Nova can be a great fairy if he lets her be.

"This forest needs a hero, Dreamy."
Now Mary Margaret and Leroy have moved onto drunken heart-to-hearts. Leroy knows that a relationship between him and Astrid is impossible. But she was the first person to give him hope that he could do whatever he wanted. Mary Margaret counters that there are consequences to doing what you want. And in a rather nice moment, Leroy reminds her that she must have had good memories when she was with David too. And that life is about cherishing the good in spite of all the bad. If that line was delivered by anyone other than Lee Arenberg, I would probably class it as one of my favourite little moments. We next see him standing ominously on the roof of the town hall. He’s not jumping of course; he’s whacking the electricity thingy with his axe. I’d advise my readers not to try that at home – and not just because it’ll make home very dark.

Nova is excitedly waiting to board a ship that’ll take her and Dreamy around the world. Dreamy unfortunately breaks it off with her. To her credit, Amy Acker does her best to make this scene feel tragic. It’s clear that the writers were attempting to recreate the heart-breaking scene from “7:15 AM”. But the difference is that this ‘couple’ has barely gotten a chance to know each other. This is their third meeting. One-episode couples can be pulled off well – see Belle and Rumpelstiltskin. But whereas that was implied to have developed over time and they had many more scenes together – this is contrived and just plain silly. Dreamy returns to the mines and starts smashing shit with his axe. He breaks it and requests another. Now a new name appears on it.

In Storybrooke, the little blackout has caused people to flock to the candle stall – presumably because they now can’t see the town harlot selling them. Mary Margaret discovers that they have indeed sold all the candles – and Leroy delivers the cash box to Astrid. In true sitcom fashion, now all is well. The townspeople have even forgiven Mary Margaret just like that. I was about to rag on the moment of Granny lighting her candle for her – but I’ve changed my mind. That is actually a well done moment. However things don’t end too well – as Emma is forced to take David to the station.

Wow I have never actually gone through a bigger chore of an episode. I thought ‘Fruit of the Poisonous Tree’ was bad; this feels like it belongs with some of the craptacular ones from Season 2. I will start things off positively – since just because the episode isn’t good, it doesn’t mean there isn’t any good in it. The CGI for the flashbacks was especially good. I liked the designs for the dwarf mines and the firefly watching. I also thought that it was a nice idea to attempt to explore dwarf mythology and how they got their names etc. The bad news is first that Lee Arenberg really couldn’t carry the episode by himself. But to his credit, the writing was not good either. He had the bad luck to get hit with the absolute worst written backstory since Jolie’s Maleficent. They attempt to present Dreamy becoming Grumpy as some huge tragedy. But it’s kind of not. He becomes cynical and broken because of a girl he knew for exactly one day? Okay it could possibly have been two days; the episode is kind of vague on the timeline. But it’s obvious that this is an underdeveloped romance. The Storybrooke portions were kind of lame too. The far more interesting stuff about Kathryn’s disappearance was the subplot while Leroy’s clichéd tripe was the main story. You knew how this episode was going to end before it even got to the ten minute mark. A good cliché can be used well if it’s presented in a unique way or they take special care with it. However that’s not what they did here. The episode was somewhat bearable by some very good performances from Ginnifer Goodwin – who showed off some nice comic timing. The guest stars Emilie de Ravin and Amy Acker also did quite well. Amy Acker in particular did seem like she could have made Nova a more tragic character if she’d been given just a little more to work with. I also enjoyed finally seeing a bit more from Keegan Connor Tracy as the Blue Fairy. But along with ‘Fruit of the Poisonous Tree’, you can file this one in the Skippable Pile.

Episode Rating: 4/10

Sunday, 2 August 2015

Bobby's Top 10 Tear Jerkers

Men don’t cry do they? Well that depends on what era and what part of the world you’re from. Different cultures have different attitudes towards crying. But somewhere down the line it was agreed that men generally aren’t allowed to unless it’s absolutely necessary. And of course sometimes ‘absolutely necessary’ is when something in entertainment has an effect on you. Common variations include a character death, another character crying, a particularly gut-wrenching revelation…you get the picture. The flip side can provoke happy tears in us too. But here are ten such moments across various media that inspired such a response in myself.

10 – Buffy The Vampire Slayer “Wild At Heart”:
Oddly enough this one doesn’t usually provoke the reaction in me these days. Well I haven’t actually seen the episode in years. But when I was a teenager, I was kind of desensitised to emotional scenes. If you live in a soap opera house, you get used to seeing couples breaking up and all sorts of tragedies on a weekly basis. Hell I’d already had it spoiled for me that Oz wouldn’t be in the show after Season 4. I watched this episode knowing the break-up would happen in it. So even when you know exactly what’s going to happen, and how, well you’d expect it not to have any kind of effect. But then again you’d also expect that – since Oz and Willow were my favourite couple of the show – I’d be a little sad. Throw in the shockingly effective performances from Alyson Hannigan and Seth Green, and you have sixteen year old me weeping like a school girl. It’s funny that both Alyson and Seth are known primarily for their comedic talents – so seeing them act in such an emotional scene already has that double gut punch. While Buffy had plenty of other sad moments (quoting Joss Whedon “happy people make for boring television”), this was the only one that really stung. Sadly you'll have to make do with a slightly dodgy video. Skip to 33:15.

9 – Frozen “Do You Want to Build a Snowman?”:
I already praised the effectiveness of this manipulative little song in my review of Frozen. But when I was watching the film in the cinema, this was the point where I felt Disney tug on my heart strings. What makes this song have that effect is of how it starts. Most people know it from the first verse; with the cute five year old Anna suggesting that her sister come out and play. The song starts out upbeat and gets progressively sadder as it goes on. It’s even pretty sad before the final verse – as we see the now grown up Anna approaching Elsa’s door and then just walking away, having almost given up completely. But the bouncy and light hearted song suddenly morphs into a dark reprise of itself. The King and Queen die in a shipwreck, leaving Anna and Elsa as orphans. So the cutesy song with a child asking her older sister to come and play abruptly changes. Now it’s a young woman alone in the world, begging for some kind of support. What’s more is that it’s shown that Anna had to go the funeral alone – meaning Elsa wasn’t able to properly mourn her own parents or comfort her sister. This really gets pushed into heart breaker territory when we see Elsa herself right on the other side. You know she wants to open the door and be there for her sister…but this is only ten minutes into the movie so of course she doesn’t.

8 – USA High “Goodbye, Lazz”:
As you can guess, I tend not to take it too well whenever my favourite character leaves. For those not familiar with it, USA High was a 90s sitcom produced by Peter Engel. If you didn’t know Peter Engel also produced Saved By The Bell – you will after checking out an episode of USA High. It was pretty much SBTB recycled in a very liberal academy in Paris (seriously, there were co-ed dorms) with pretty much the same character types. The only thing missing was the ghastly 80s fashions. This didn’t matter to me as a child, as it was one of my favourite shows. I’m not kidding; this is the show that got me excited about what college would have in store for me. But anyway this episode starts with a rather sweet storyline – wherein my favourite character and the Screech counterpart Bobby “Lazz” Lazzarini reveals he’s been pining after the only non SBTB-inspired character Ashley Elliot. She confesses that she feels the same way too, thus beginning a romance. But since this is the start of the episode, the real plot begins as Lazz’s mother arrives to ask her son to move back home with her. We’ve seen this kind of thing before in sitcoms; character looks like they’re gonna leave but then decides not to at the last minute. Yes that happens here. But then at the literal last minute, Lazz decides he wants to spend some more time with his family before he grows up. The goodbyes between him and the rest of the cast manage to hold up reasonably well – for me at the very least. Particularly Jackson’s line: “I’m not used to saying this to another guy…but I really love you, man” and of course Ashley’s “the best boyfriend I never had” – which is kind of made even sadder that you’ll never see him on the show again. Thankfully a previous episode set at a twenty year reunion shows that they do reunite eventually. Skip to about 15:12

7 – How I Met Your Mother “Symphony of Illumination”:
How I Met Your Mother is a show that got made in a period where I’d grown out of sitcoms. So imagine my shock when I warmed to it and had to watch it religiously. While it was primarily a comedy, it busted out the sad moments more than once – not to mention making viewers shed tears of frustration at the finale. Anyway this episode begins with a departure from tradition, as Robin narrates instead of Ted. She’s apparently telling her and Barney’s future kids about how they came about. It begins with a pregnancy scare and then things take a turn for the tragic when Robin is told by a doctor that she can’t have children. Now on the show, Robin’s character was well known for her dislike of children. Her and Ted even split up because he wanted them and she didn’t. So Robin’s narrating the story to her future kids anyway. So obviously she’ll find a way to adopt or use surrogacy right? Well she goes for a walk in the park and her narration ends with “I’m glad you guys aren’t real.” With that, we get confirmation that Robin never did become a mother. For me, this thing is all the more tragic because it’s Robin. If it had been Lily, not so much. Lily wouldn’t let infertility stop her. Lily could and would adopt – and would find a way to overcome that. Robin however never wanted to become a mother. And then she found out she never could. As humans, when do we want something more than when we’re told we can’t have it? And huge props go to Cobie Smulders for the part where Robin collapses in Ted’s arms – with his narration saying “there was one thing you’re Aunt Robin never was….she was never alone.”

6 – Peter Pan “I do believe in fairies”:
I’ll try to keep this one short, since I just did a review on the movie in question. To elaborate, this is the PJ Hogan adaptation of JM Barrie’s novel/play. It’s a scene that’s rather famous for audience participation. Captain Hook has left poison in Peter’s medicine after he’s kidnapped Wendy and the Lost Boys. Tinkerbell rushes home to drink the poison in his place and…well she dies. Disney left this part out of their version, replacing it with Peter and Tinkerbell nearly getting killed by a bomb (though their rendition of Tinkerbell’s death in the sequel was surprisingly sad). Presumably this was due to the difficulty with the audience participation; at this point in time Peter asks all the children in the audience (or reading the book) to clap their hands if they believe in fairies. The film has Peter somehow rallying Wendy and the rest of the Lost Boys to loudly proclaim that they believe in fairies – which is shortly followed by children all across London doing the same. As I said in the review, this scene is cheesy but it works. So this is a happy tear jerker and one of many great things about that film.

5 – Scrubs “My Old Lady”:
Before it went off the rails in its sixth season, Scrubs was a pretty well made dramedy. Episodes could make you chuckle one moment and then make you need a hug the next. There is no shortage of tear jerkers from the series but my personal favourite is from the first season. JD, Turk and Elliot each have their own patient to take care of – JD’s narration stating that one in three patients admitted to the hospital will die. In this episode, each of the three doctors develop a relationship with said patient in their own way. Elliot’s doesn’t speak English and needs Carla to act as an interpreter – but is able to develop a small friendship with her along the way. Turk’s is a teenager with a hernia. Despite keeping his distance from his usual patients, Turk connects emotionally with the kid. And JD’s is an old lady who decides that she is ready to die, after an eventful life. The final montage, set to John Cale’s cover of “Hallelujah”, is what really adds to this scene. Needless to say, the episode ends in bittersweet fashion; all three patients die but all three doctors take away something from their experiences with them.

4 – Angel “You’re Welcome”:
Compared to its parent show, the Angel spin-off was definitely far more tragic. Major characters dying nine episodes in, Buffy and Angel having a chance at happiness yanked away from them, the heart of the show getting her inner organs liquefied by a demon…you could fill this list with tear jerkers from Angel alone. In contrast to some of the more dramatic tear jerkers, this one is a lot more low-key – but no less heart breaking. After spending half a season in a mystical coma, Cordelia wakes up with visions of dark things to come. More importantly after a whole season of horrible character derailment, we get an episode simply with the old Cordelia back. Reminding us of how great things were when she was around, the final scene is just so tragic. There’s no fanfare or anything major. It’s just an unbelievably sad moment where two friends say goodbye for the last time. Charisma Carpenter and David Boreanaz both deliver fantastic subtle performances here, and you’ll be welling up even before the big kiss. Then sadly Angel has to get the phone call that Cordelia never actually did wake up from her coma and has now died. The Cordy that was in the rest of the episode was actually just an astral projection, as a gift from the Powers That Be. Angel is left alone in his office with her final words: “oh and you’re welcome.”

3 – Toy Story 3 “They mean a lot to me…”:
Toy Story 3 was a film I sadly didn’t get a chance to see in the cinema. That’s probably a good thing; I can imagine that there was a lot of bawling. Specifically the bawling was probably coming from the now grown up kids who had seen the first two Toy Story films. Those were pretty light and fun stories about what Andy’s toys did whenever the humans weren’t looking. There are these elements in the third film too, but it takes a turn for the saddening pretty quickly. As you see, Andy has now grown up and is about to head off to college. And what happens to someone’s toys when the person in question grows too old for them? Well the worst case scenario – being thrown out – has already happened to some like Bo Peep and Wheezy. The second worst is being left in the box collecting dust, which is what happened to our protagonists. Although the end is as happy as the toys could hope for, it’s still incredibly tragic. Andy opts to give the toys away to Bonnie down the street. As she’s an imaginative little girl, the toys will get an owner who will play with them endlessly. But they are still bidding farewell to the owner who had them for years. You wouldn’t think that an eighteen year old and a toddler playing with a set of toys could make the eyes water. But mine start watering at “you gotta promise to take good care of these guys…they mean a lot to me” – and really lose it as Woody whispers “goodbye partner.” And I think it’s safe to say that I’m not alone in this.

2 – Band of Brothers “Points”:
I only recently finished watching this properly, after seeing it on and off in History class years ago. Band of Brothers is a miniseries produced by Tom Hanks and Steven Spielberg, following the men of Easy Company – paratroopers that jumped into Normandy on D-Day and fought in the final months of World War II. While most productions with the “based on a true story” tagline thrown on use that phrase loosely, here it most certainly applies. Each character in this series was a real soldier in the war, and the episodes are near perfect dramatizations of true events. They even had the episodes verified by the real veterans before they were filmed and later before they aired. Given that this is a true story of what happened in World War II, you’d expect a good amount of tear jerkers. Most of the episodes contain plenty of them. But strangely it wasn’t until the very end of the finale that I felt the wetness in my eyes. The men are playing a baseball game as Major Dick Winters arrives to tell them that the Japanese have surrendered, meaning they’re all about to head home. Winters then provides a low down on the post-war fates for the men. Following this, we’re shown the real life veterans (who are usually interviewed at the start of each episode) and told who each of them really are. Words can’t really describe what I feel when I watch this scene. And I think anyone else who watches it too won’t need me to explain. I’ll end the entry with something said real life Dick Winters, quoting his friend Sgt Mike Ranney. May they both rest in peace:
“I cherish the memories of a question my grandson asked me the other day when he said ‘Grandpa, were you a hero in the war?’ Grandpa said ‘No…but I served in a company of heroes…’”

1 – Empire of the Sun “Suo Gan”:

Well it seems that we have a one-two punch of World War II dramas from Steven Spielberg. The man himself said that he considers this to be one of his best films. Our young protagonist is played by a twelve year old Christian Bale. James Graham is a young boy living in 1940s Shanghai. He ends up separated from his parents when World War II breaks out – and finds himself in a POW camp. As the years go on, the rather spoiled and bratty little boy grows up the hard way. And rather appropriately, it’s the end scene that closes this list. After escaping from the camp and wandering across the desert – during which he witnesses the atomic bomb – he ends up in an orphanage for British refugees. He’s grouped in a room with the rest of the children as their parents search for him. Yes he is reunited with his – and the way it’s done is nothing short of fantastic. It could very easily have been an over-the-top Hollywood type of scene. But the way it’s done works so well and is something that can never fail at making me weep. And I think it’s only best to close this list with a positive tear jerker all the same.

Friday, 31 July 2015

Films From Bobby's Childhood - Peter Pan In Review

Peter Pan:

As I already opened a review with “all children grow up”, I’m really stuck for material on this one. But after I watched Hook, well if the 6/10 it got was any indication, it didn’t quite satisfy me. The story of Peter Pan is a timeless one that has endured across generations. So it only made sense for me to pop on a second Pan adaptation in order to properly meet my requirements. The film that I bring to you today made it onto my Top 100 way back in 2011 and I had to revisit it again. It was released in 2003, directed by PJ Hogan and boasting a nice cast. In a perfect world, this would be the film everyone associated the familiar tale with. Unfortunately it didn’t make as much of an impact as they hoped – since its competition was the third Lord of the Rings movie. But nevertheless it has its fans and you can count me among them. So let’s see if this Pan movie can snag a higher rating than Hook did.

It’s an incredibly familiar story. We meet Wendy Moira Angela Darling – a preteen girl in Edwardian London. She’s an imaginative child, full of stories about excitement and adventure. Seriously, her first scene has her role playing a story where Cinderella is fighting pirates trying to steal her glass slippers. It’s too bad Wendy was a couple decades early for Hollywood – as she would have had a viable career there. But anyway her pompous and prudish Aunt Millicent convinces her parents that it’s time for Wendy to start becoming a lady. Terrified at the thought of growing up, Wendy jumps at the chance to run away with Peter Pan. He takes her and her two younger brothers to Neverland – populated by Indian braves, mermaids and pirates. At first Wendy enjoys the adventures – especially the battles with Peter’s arch nemesis. But she soon starts to become aware of her real feelings for Peter, and wonders if Neverland really is the place for her.

I won’t beat around the bush here but…

This is the best Peter Pan adaptation ever made.

Tough noogies, you.
I apologise to Hook fans, I apologise to fans of the Disney version and I even apologise to anyone still around whose first Pan film was the 1924 version. I’m kind of in the minority that doesn’t think the Disney version is a good film. I mean I love Disney and I’ve enjoyed about 80% of their films. But their version of Peter Pan is really not up to scratch. As an adaptation of JM Barrie’s work, it’s actually very lacklustre. I’m not saying that not matching the book = bad film. For example Frozen isn’t a good adaptation of The Snow Queen – but it’s a genuinely good movie in its own right. Disney’s Peter Pan is a bad adaptation of JM Barrie’s work and a passable film. But I’m not here to review that; I’m here to review the film that PJ Hogan created. This is remarkably similar to Andrew Adamson’s take on The Lion, the Witch & the Wardrobe. In both cases a director knew exactly how to adapt and work with the existing source material – while also making necessary changes to make it work as a film.

Such as *not* composing a song titled "What Made The Red Man Red."
The film is pretty well cast. Jeremy Sumpter plays the eponymous hero, also marking him as the first male to play Peter in a live action production. The character gets aged up quite a bit, which tends to happen in most adaptations. In the book he’s described as still having all his baby teeth, which puts him between five and seven. Jeremy Sumpter was thirteen. The reason for the change is a) they’re playing up the romance with Wendy – and a seven year old being romanced by a twelve year old is a storm of controversy waiting to happen – and b) this isn’t an easy part for a child to play. That might be a shocking statement for anyone who’s more familiar with the Disney film. The Peter of that was more like the theme park version of JM Barrie’s character. He’s actually a rather complex and mysterious person in the book. That tends to be forgotten in a few adaptations, focusing mainly on the ‘charming rascal who stays a child forever’ angle. Sumpter shows that side of him too – but also does a good job of establishing that Peter could very well be in denial too. I wonder if Jeremy Sumpter took any notes from Robin Williams’s performance in Hook; in fact if you watch these two films back-to-back, you can see Sumpter laying the groundwork for Peter’s fate in the latter. They also play up the ‘immature brat’ angle of the character – frequently contrasting Peter’s childish attitude against Wendy’s common sense. This was in the book too and it’s actually a lot more pronounced with an older Peter. On a superficial level, Sumpter also has a ball whenever he’s showing off Peter’s heroic side. He pretty much embodies everything you could want in a cinematic Peter Pan, while also giving him some surprising character depth.

Wendy is likewise played very well by British actress Rachel Hurd Wood. I’ve noticed that a lot of adaptations tend to use Wendy as more of a role model than an actual character. She’s there to be the responsible one; to mother all the Lost Boys and act as a voice of reason. This version has those elements too but I actually really like how they jazz up the character. Rachel Hurd Wood brings a quirkiness and childish excitement to Wendy, while also playing her as the mother figure. Additionally the film really gives Wendy some good character development that isn’t there in other adaptations. For example the Disney film has her getting annoyed with the immature way her brothers are acting in Neverland, and that’s her reason for leaving. Here however it’s more to do with Wendy initially being terrified of the thought of growing up – but then eventually realising that she only feared it because she wasn’t ready for it. It goes back to the very good message that Hook presented; that remaining a child forever can be a bad thing, and Wendy’s acceptance of growing up is a sign of positive character growth.

The film surprisingly plays up the romance between Peter and Wendy, far more than any other adaptation. In most works, it’s usually shown as just a crush and nothing comes of it. But here the film decided to tackle the very taboo subject of a young girl’s sexual awakening. Wendy’s attraction to Peter begins as a little crush, but it grows and blossoms into actual love. Love that can never be, because Wendy realises that Peter is too terrified of growing up. The possibility of falling in love is again used as a plus side of growing up. It’s surprising that the film goes down that route. Again there’s absolutely nothing wrong with addressing that subject matter at all – as it’s something that every young girl goes through. But it’s all the more surprising given how negatively studio execs tend to react towards anything to do with female sexuality. Hell, they tried to have Zack Snyder edit a love scene in Sucker Punch because the female lead looked like she was enjoyingit too much.

And that's what Tinkerbell thinks of that.
Jason Isaacs takes the reigns and follows tradition, playing both Hook and Mr Darling. He’s a far superior Hook to the Disney version. This is everything that Captain Hook needs to be. He’s intimidating, he’s badass and he’s charismatic. The film also uses the traditional casting of Hook to really play up the Freudian implications of Wendy’s growth. The original book implies that Neverland is created by her imagination and those of her brothers. So having the same actor as Hook and her father implies that she resents her father’s attempts to force her to grow up. This film takes on a new angle that’s again slightly taboo – and implies that Wendy might somewhat be attracted to Hook. The scene where she first sees him is notable; the framing and the narration definitely suggests it. Again there’s nothing wrong with that. After all when a child experiences sexual awakening, they do tend to get drawn to adult figures around them. That’s why so many kids develop crushes on teachers and family friends – as they’re the only significant adults in their lives. And it’s always been suggested that they’ll often be drawn to people that remind them of their parents. So the suggestion that Wendy is a little attracted to Hook adds a lot to the film. Thankfully it doesn’t go anywhere though.

Hook clearly never got that talk about personal boundaries.
Isaacs also pulls double duty and actually gives Mr Darling a small arc in the film too. While in the book he’s the one who wishes for Wendy to hurry up and grow up, the film changes that around a little. An original character Aunt Millicent (played by the late Lynn Redgrave) is the one that insists on Wendy’s growing up, and George is merely trying to please her. His arc has him attempting to impress his superiors by being something he’s not – and then ultimately deciding that his children’s love is more important than what everyone else thinks of him. This rather dynamic trio of adults is rounded out by Olivia Williams playing Mary Darling. She turns in a nice and pleasant performance as the saint-like mother, nicely contrasting with the pompous and blustering nature of the other two. The parents don’t get as much screen time as the children – and they don’t really function as characters in the book – but I love what the film does with them.

Including this doozy.
I also adore the Lost Boys in this. While I did love the Lost Boys in Hook, I think this film probably has the best collection of them. The child actors are all very solid and have some great chemistry with each other. You really feel a great sense of friendship and comradery between the boys and it just adds to the overall charm of the film. In fact, I enjoyed their performances so much that I half wish there could have been a TV series featuring them all trying to adjust to being adopted. But among the Lost Boys, there’s a standout. Where is he now?

His name is Slightly. Now how brilliant is Slightly? Although it’s a very small part, he’s one of my favourite little things about the film. In each scene he’s in, he delivers a cute and endearing performance. And that’s to say nothing of the unabashedly sweet scene at the end where Aunt Millicent adopts him – which is taken from the play, where he gets adopted by the housekeeper after he arrives late. I’m not the only one who has a lot of love for Slightly. His actor Theodore Chester only did just this film and yet gained a load of fans for his performance. In a story rather like that of the kindly maid in Scrooge, he’s still got plenty of people wondering what he’s up to now. He even recorded the following Youtube video, expressing surprise at all the attention he got for such a small role.

Moving onto the superficial things, I friggin love the design of this film. I quite liked how Neverland was in Hook too – but you always felt as if you were on a set. Neverland here feels like an actual magic land. It’s brought to life with some excellent use of CGI, which is used in a way that it doesn’t look realistic per se – but it’s perfect for an imaginary land. The CGI is incredible in lots of scenes – most notably the fairy dance between Peter and Wendy. This was a time when the success of Lord of the Rings meant many fantasy films were suddenly being greenlit – and thus they had the budgets to really experiment with what CGI could do. Indeed Tinkerbell was almost going to be created entirely with CGI. But actress Ludivine Sangier kept lobbying for the role and impressed PG Hogan enough to cast her. Additionally the use of colours throughout the film is stunning; the blues and oranges during the first flying scene, the greens during the Skull Rock scene and the purples during the climax…

Another minor thing I love about the film are the mermaids. Even in Disney’s own version, they were rather less jovial than our beloved Ariel. Peter Pan’s mermaids were of the amoral and mischievous variety, so naturally this adaptation takes that idea and makes them brilliantly creepy. They have a great character design and their scene is one I always enjoy seeing. It’s surprising that they’re on screen for about a minute and yet are a memorable part of the film.

"We were only trying to eat her!"
Speaking of memorable parts of the film, there’s this scene at the start of the third act. In the play, Captain Hook leaves some poison behind after he kidnaps Wendy and the Lost Boys. Peter’s about to drink it but Tinkerbell takes the proverbial bullet to save him. As her light starts to go out, Peter begs all the children in the audience to clap their hands if they believe in fairies – and this little bit of audience participation revives her. I clearly remember when I first watched the film. I wondered how they were going to do this part, as even Disney had left it out of their version. I thought that they were going to leave it out too. But they didn’t. The resulting scene is cheesy and a little corny – but by God is it fucking awesome! I always have a soft spot for scenes that are slightly cheesy but still manage to work. And this one does. I’d really downplayed just how effective this scene was when I was younger. A scene that made the cynical teenage me go “oh well that’s cute” now moves the twenty-three year old me to shameless tears of joy.

Equally as moving is the entire end sequence, right from Wendy’s kiss to the scene with the Lost Boys getting adopted. I have no idea why the Disney version left that part out. They set it up that Wendy was going to take all of them home with her…and then they just don’t. For no reason at all. The scene of the boys all getting adopted is just one that’s unambiguously sweet and so effective. It’s what the end scenes of Hook were trying for and didn’t quite get there. As you can expect, most of Slightly’s popularity stems from his heart-warming moment with Aunt Millicent. Another thing this adaptation really has going for it is that it absolutely conveys the love between all of the Darlings – so that this reuniting scene is a real “eff yeah!” moment.

So as I said in the opening, this film unfortunately didn’t do too well at the box office. It made back its budget but it didn’t make much of an impression on the general public. People speculated that at the time, the world was just not interested in seeing another Peter Pan film. That is a real shame because this is most definitely the best adaptation of the story there is. PJ Hogan assembled possibly the best cast there could be, he created a beautiful and stunning Neverland and he gave us some brilliant character studies along the way. Despite not doing well with audiences, critics heaped praise on it. Although not quite fondly remembered as Hook or the Disney version, I feel that this will eventually move into cult classic status. Such a brilliant film won’t remain obscure forever. And thus it becomes the second film I’ve reviewed to get a 10/10 rating. This is a perfect film and a must-watch for any Peter Pan lover.

Wednesday, 29 July 2015

Films From Bobby's Childhood - Hook In Review


All children grow up, except…well if you go by this film they all do actually. It will soon be one year to the day that we heard of Robin Williams’s passing. I can remember when I read the news; it was about three in the morning over here and I saw the headline pop up in my news feed. You always see these reports about celebrity deaths and you always click on them with the hope that it’ll turn out to be a hoax. Of course as soon as I clicked on the link, I saw numerous other articles about the same story – and I knew it was genuine. I’ve read a couple of Life Tip tweets that say your emotions are always prone to extremes when you’re tired. But I have a feeling I would have reacted the same way had I read the news the next day instead. I literally collapsed on the table and bawled my eyes out. The next few days felt as if one of my own family had died. It was a feeling felt around the world too. Whenever a celebrity dies, you always see some people cracking jokes about it. There wasn’t any with Robin Williams; the world was that devastated to lose him. So it seems quite coincidental that, nearly a year after the loss, I had a desire to watch one of his films.

The tagline for this film is “what if Peter Pan grew up?” and that is exactly what has happened by the start. We follow a middle aged lawyer Peter Banning, who is in the process of neglecting his kids due to his many commitments. This overlaps with a Christmas trip to London to visit Granny Wendy, the lady who arranged for Peter’s adoption. But one night, they find the house broken into and the children missing. Wendy reveals that the familiar story of Peter Pan is in fact true – and that she was the real Wendy Darling. This means that Peter himself is actually the famous boy who never grew up. The children have been kidnapped by his old arch-nemesis Captain Hook and he must travel back to Neverland to save them. The only trouble is that he’s forgotten how to fly.

Which is like Barney Stinson forgetting how to put on a suit.
Right off the bat, this is a pretty divisive film. Looking at the IMDB boards or scrolling through its TV Tropes page, you can see that viewers are very split on whether or not they like it. It wasn’t a big hit with critics – some of the complaints being that the film was too much style over substance and that the story was all over the place. Julia Roberts likewise got a Worst Actress Razzie nomination for her role as Tinkerbell. On the flip side, there are fans of it who praise the performances from the two leads as well as the production design. I’ve found that most of the fans are the 90s kids who grew up watching it, which is edging it even closer to cult classic status. My opinion lies somewhere in the middle. As I kept on watching, there was something about the film that just didn’t do it for me. I wasn’t sure why; it had all the ingredients for a masterpiece.  Good production design, good actors, lovely music, a unique story and some good special effects. So what went wrong? I read a comment from someone on IMDB who described it as “trying too hard to create magic” and that is where I agree. Comparing it with another film I recently did a review for – Alfonso Cuaron’s A Little Princess – or the PJ Hogan version of Peter Pan, those two films have that magic quality to them. This feels like another 90s film I infamously don’t like – The Lion King. And it’s for that very same reason; it tries too hard for magic and doesn’t quite get there.

On paper, the story is a great idea. The personification of eternal youth and childhood grew up and forgot what it was like to be a child – and must rediscover that very thing to save his children. That’s a great idea for a film. And with Spielberg at the helm, you’d think this would be amazing. But the story hits a roadblock when they get to Neverland. I’m still not sure exactly what it is about it but I keep getting reminded of plenty of moments in the recent Jurassic World. As in there are plenty of little scenes that are supposed to be heart-warmingly significant – and yet don’t feel particularly earned. For example, Jack’s character development seems rather rushed. It kind of feels like he forgets his father a little too quickly. Although the material is there throughout the film, his sudden love for Hook sort of just comes out of nowhere. When I watch the film, I don’t feel like it’s done a good enough job of developing Jack to actually make me feel anything when Peter wins him back over. We have the payoff there in the film, but not enough development to give the payoff much meaning. I feel as if some of the film’s lengthier and more pointless scenes – such as the overlong part where Peter first arrives in Neverland and disguises himself, or the dragged-out denouement – could have been trimmed down and the screen time given to Jack’s development. Like Simba and Nala’s sudden romance in The Lion King, things with Jack just sort of come out of nowhere. And he doesn’t have the benefit of a song to develop things.

Though a song that ends with this image would be quite awkward.
Another huge thing I really don’t ‘get’ about the movie is the character of Rufio. Again on paper, it’s a great idea. Obviously since Peter left Neverland, a new boy would rise up to become the leader. And it makes sense that this boy would feel threatened by Peter’s return. So why does Rufio feel like such a flat character? I think it might be from the way he’s presented. The idea of a rival Lost Boy to Peter Pan is interesting enough for a movie in its own right – but it’s a small subplot here. I feel as if presenting Rufio as a minor villain wasn’t the best move. I think his character would have benefitted from being the one to train Peter, establishing some kind of mutual respect between them. And again, I really don’t feel too much for his death scene. It’s surprising and comes out of left field – but it again doesn’t feel too earned. The character doesn’t get enough development for me to feel anything when he died. At least Mufasa got that.

The rest of the Lost Boys are actually pretty good characters. I really wanted them to get more screen time, since I enjoyed their scenes so much. None of them get too many standout scenes, except for Thud Butt who gets to have a one-on-one moment with Peter. But they’re a really good point of the film and their scenes are quite fun. I may be a teensy bit biased, as I’m actually a massive fan of one of the young actors. He would grow up to star in the fantastic Band of Brothers – during which he’d prove himself to be a real life badass. Witness the awesomeness that is Prince God Supreme James Madio.

He'd also get a chance to hug King God Supreme Eion Bailey.
Tinkerbell is a high point of the movie. In most adaptations of the story, she doesn’t get much attention. This is usually due to her only communicating via chimes or bells. Although she gets lines in this, it’s pretty justified if one remembers the Peter Pan mythos. Peter and the Lost Boys can understand fairies. So as they are the only ones who speak to Tinkerbell in the film, you can assume that we’re just having the fairy speak translated for the sake of convenience. In fact, if you go by the start of the movie, that’s a pretty big hint that Peter still has his old self left in him: he can still understand Tinkerbell. That adds a bit more reason as to why she believes in him. The relationship between her and Peter is actually very well-developed – and this is a film that really helps portray the friendship/love they feel for each other. The scenes between Peter and Tinkerbell are some of the best in the film – that silly moment where she grows to human size notwithstanding. If you’re wondering why that’s even in the film, Spielberg wrote it to appease Julia Roberts – who insisted she have at least one scene with another actor. Presumably it was also to make up for the downright ugly character design they gave her.

Three guesses which one I prefer.
Dustin Hoffman’s performance as Hook is another good point. Looking quite impressive in the Charles II-inspired costume and a near-perfect British accent, Hoffman brings the right amount of gentlemanly swagger to the character. You can tell that he’s a little more inspired by the Disney version than the actual book character – the Disney version is notably more comical and clown-like than the book’s ruthless tyrant. But since his Hook manages to find the balance between pantomime villain and actual villain, it’s not as bad. The main problem though is that the story already has so much else going on – like the relationship between Peter and the Lost Boys, Peter and his kids, Peter and Tinkerbell – that there seems like there’s very little room for Hook. And the film is named after him. That might be why the story with Jack feels very underdeveloped. It’s kind of a miracle that Hoffman was able to make the character work when the writing seemed to forget about him entirely.

Well now we’ve gone through the movie long enough without a mention of the green tight-clad elephant in the room. Robin Williams as Peter Pan. Mr Williams began his career as a rapid-fire comedian but this film was made when he was attempting to branch out into more ‘serious’ roles. He’d edged his way in there with Good Morning, Vietnam and Dead Poets Society so this must have been his way of thinking too. We get to see Williams essentially playing two characters – Banning and Pan. Even though I said that the story is a bit all over the place, Williams does a good job of showing Peter’s transition from one persona to another. It’s interesting to see how he plays the Pan version of himself; Peter Pan is pretty much a dick, but it’s cute because he’s a mischievous child. Williams on the other hand shows how much of a dick Pan can be as an adult. And with his performance, he kind of subtly conveys that returning to his childish self is not actually a good thing – and thus his persona by the end of the film is something in-between.

In an internal psychological way, as opposed to a freaky Harvey Two-face way.
Going off that last part, there’s a small story detail that I find really impressive in the film. How many times do we get it hammered into our heads in various kids’ films that growing up is horrible? A lot of children’s fare has the underlying message of “enjoy your childhood; adulthood is going to be hell” and – while there’s some merit to that message – I was impressed to see this film combat it a little. For example, the reason that Peter chose to leave Neverland was because he fell in love with Moira – and he wanted a family of his own. By all accounts, his growing up was a happy experience. And the happy thought that restores his ability to fly is the memory of Jack being born. So it’s a nice message that there are inherent advantages to adulthood. And that’s reflected in Peter’s persona at the end of the film – where he’s both Banning the responsible adult and Pan the mischievous child.

This review did become rather long-winded, didn’t it? I’m going to sum up the movie using something Roger Ebert himself said about it – that the movie’s title is very important. This film is more about a hook, as in an idea that could potentially be interesting. Reading the formula on paper sounds like a fantastic idea – Steven Spielberg directing a movie where Peter Pan has grown up and forgotten his childhood. But the execution is less fantastic. This isn’t a bad movie by any means. There is some good acting from Robin Williams, Julia Roberts, Dustin Hoffman and others such as Bob Hoskins as Smee and Maggie Smith as Wendy. The child actors are quite decent too. Gwyneth Paltrow is even charming in her first film appearance as the young Wendy. The sets are impressive, the score is excellent and the action scenes are fun enough. But the film’s story and structure are all over the place, quite a lot of the sentiment is pretty forced and it takes forever to end. While I know there’s a Peter Pan origin story on the way, I feel as if this is something that could definitely do with a remake or some kind of other try at the idea. My rating is a 6/10 – it’s a decent effort but probably only for the enjoyment of those who properly grew up with it. But it does remain one of the roles with which Robin Williams will be forever associated - to children of the 90s at least. Rest soundly, good sir.