Thursday, October 13, 2011

Finding Neverland

Originally Written and Posted at on 11/28/04 w/ Additional Edits & Revisions.

The story of J.M. Barrie's Peter Pan has been beloved by many children all over the world since it arrived as a play in the early 1900s. Since then, many film adaptations had come across the board. The most famous was by Walt Disney in his animated version of the film while most recently; Australian director P.J. Hogan shot a new version in late 2003. Yet, not many knew the story of how Peter Pan became created through the imaginative mind of J.M. Barrie. In 2004, Monster's Ball director Marc Forster told the tale of J.M. Barrie's creation based on a book by Allan Knee about the family that inspired Barrie to create Peter Pan entitled Finding Neverland.

Directed by Forster with an adapted script by David Magee, Finding Neverland is a film about Barrie's relationship with Llewelyn-Davies family where he meets them in a park one day with his imagination leading the helm. While finding time to get to know the mother and her four young sons, Barrie's relationship becomes a question amidst London's high society. While Barrie creates his story and play, he tries to balance his life as an artist and as an adult with the heart of a child while dealing with the realities of the world. Starring Johnny Depp, Kate Winslet, Julie Christie, Dustin Hoffman, Radha Mitchell, Ian Hart, Kelly MacDonald, along with newcomers Freddie Highmore, Joe Prospero, Nick Roud, and Luke Spill. Finding Neverland is a movie that lives up to the imaginative world of Peter Pan and its creator.

It's 1903 London as playwright James Matthew Barrie (Johnny Depp) watches the premiere of his new play that receives lukewarm reviews as Barrie was disappointed with the results. Meanwhile, his wife Mary (Radha Mitchell) wants to rise up to the world of the upper-class in high society London as Barrie tries to figure out what to do next. Taking his dog Porthos for a walk to the park, he comes across a family playing in the park led by their mother Sylvia Llewelyn-Davies (Kate Winslet). With the four boys in the eldest George (Nick Roud), Jack (Joe Prospero), Peter (Freddie Highmore), and the youngest Michael (Luke Spill), Barrie is intrigued by the family as he gets to know them as Sylvia is familiar with Barrie's writing. Though Peter isn't impressed by Barrie's imaginative ideas, the rest are as Mary learns that Barrie has met Sylvia in hopes to meet Sylvia's mother Emma (Julie Christie) for her own social status.

The dinner with Llewelyn-Davies doesn't go well due to Barrie's playfulness with the children as he spends more time with Sylvia and her sons seeking ideas for his new projects. While he gets a lots of suspicious rumors swirling around from his friend/noted author Arthur Conan Doyle (Ian Hart), Barrie maintains that it's all innocent as he invites Sylvia and her sons to his cottage home in the country. Turning to his producer in American businessman Charles Frohman (Dustin Hoffman) for help to gather actors for his new play. When Sylvia becomes ill and Peter feeling very upset about it, Barrie takes them home to Emma who is not impressed by Barrie's presence as too is Mary who felt left out.

Finally coming up with the ideas from his time with Sylvia and her sons as he calls the play Peter Pan while George, Jack, and Michal visit the rehearsal. Barrie talks with George about what to do as he realizes that George needs to be the man in the family. With his play set to open and the high-society crowd is set to see this new play, Barrie decides to leave some seats open for a different audience. With an actress (Kelly MacDonald) playing the role of Peter Pan while Peter watches the show, it would become a hit as Barrie shows the Llewelyn-Davies family a world that could exist through their imagination.

While it's not a perfect film, Finding Neverland does succeed in its balance of a character-driven story of a man trying to find inspiration for a play that he wants to present to children. Marc Forster brings a wonderfully inspiring directing style where he plays with camera angles and shots while leaving everything with a sense of childlike imagination. It's not just a wonderful family drama but the film has a bit of comedy and adventure that both children and adults can enjoy. While David Magee's script does drag a bit on some spots, it succeeds in its characters development and sentimentality that is very understated through Forster's imaginative directing. Even though the Peter Pan character never grew up, in the movie, everyone grows up a bit but still retaining that innocent childlike feeling.

Helping Forster with its dreamy, spectacular visuals is cinematographer Robert Schafer with his wonderfully uses of colors in the stage and imaginative sequences while giving the film a wonderful look in the period scenes. The visual effects by Stuart Brisdon also helps in the film's dreamier, stage sequences along with the production design work of Gemma Jackson and art director Peter Russell for not just the detailed look of early 1900s but also the world of Barrie along with the detailed look of costumes from designer Alexandra Byrne. With Matt Chesse's wonderfully paced editing style, the film looks magnificently gorgeous. Jan A.P. Kaczmarek's lush, orchestral score really gives the film a sweeping feel without feeling melancholic and having that nice, dreamy feel to the dreamier sequences of the movie.

Making this film one of the best family films of the year goes to an extremely talented cast of actors with small performances from Kelly MacDonald, Ian Hart, and Angus Barnett as the actor who plays the dog Nana in the stage play. Radha Mitchell is excellent in James' social-climbing wife that could've been a character cliche but Mitchell thankfully, chose to get away from the traps and brought a sympathetic view to her character since she often feels left out in James' world while she has great scenes with Johnny Depp. While Luke Spill and Joe Prospero are wonderful in their respective roles as Michael and Jack Llewelyn-Davies, Nick Roud stood out more as the eldest brother George whose character gets to shine when he has a very poignant scene with Depp that shows a transition from boy to man.

The best supporting performance in the whole film clearly goes to Freddie Highmore as Peter thanks to his melancholic performance as a disillusioned young child who refuses to believe in imagination. Highmore's best scenes are with Depp in an older-younger brother kind of combo that is so emotionally powerful as Highmore is the film's emotional core as this young lad is proving himself among the greats like Julie Christie and Dustin Hoffman along with the talented Depp and Kate Winslet. Dustin Hoffman is the film's restrained comic relief in the film as Barrie's producer and guide while delivering some great lines in the movie. Hoffman is truly magnetic in his scenes with Depp while playing the role as a father figure of sorts who is afraid of losing money though he believes in Barrie's vision.

Julie Christie is amazing in the role as the stern, disciplined grandmother who is trying to protect her daughter from being hurt while trying to deal with her social standing. Christie brings a classical grace to her performance as well as a bit of comedy in a sequence where she talks like a pirate with a hook on, as it's wonderful to see the legendary Christie in a film. Kate Winslet, again, proves herself to be one of the best actresses of her generation in a motherly like performance that is filled with maturity and dignity. After coming off the Charlie Kaufman/Michel Gondry quirky comedy Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, Winslet proves to be prolific in her work as she has wonderful chemistry with Depp without lying to the point of romance but as a woman who doesn't have a lot of time left leaving her imagination to be her strength. This isn't just one of Winslet's most enduring performances but one that truly shines in the film.

Then there's Johnny Depp who provides another great leading performance after coming off a Best Actor Oscar nod as the kooky Jack Sparrow in Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl. Depp does a bit of his pirate stuff in the film while balancing his eccentric side with his dramatic, fatherly tone in a performance that is rich and complex. While we see Depp do things that are funny with the heart of a child, we also see a man who knows that he is an adult and a writer while trying to find a balance for it where he knows that he has to be a man. It's truly one of Depp's most realistic and charming performances as this film is likely to guarantee him another Oscar nomination for Best Actor.

Despite a few minor flaws, Finding Neverland remains one of the year's best films thanks to Marc Forster's inspiringly-awe direction and top-notch performances from Johnny Depp, Kate Winslet, Julie Christie, Dustin Hoffman, and newcomer Freddie Highmore. Thanks to some spectacular visuals, a lush score, and a mix of sentimentality, drama, and comedy, it's purely one of the best family films of the year. Anyone who loved the story of Peter Pan will find this film to be very informative while being entertained at the same time. If you believe in your imagination, Finding Neverland will fulfill all those dreams.

Marc Forster Films: (Everything Put Together) - (Monster's Ball) - (Stay (2005 film)) - Stranger Than Fiction - (The Kite Runner) - Quantum of Solace - (Machine Gun Preacher) - (World War Z)

© thevoid99 2011

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