Written and directed by Nick Willing Neverland is a two-part mini-series and prequel to Peter Pan which throws in a little Oliver Twist for good measure. When we meet him Peter Pan (Charlie Rowe) is the leader of a group of young homeless thieves under the command of the Fagin-ish John Hook (Rhys Ifans).
While robbing an antique house the boys and Hook come across a mysterious glowing orb that is the man’s ticket into a different reality. Simply by hitting the orb Hook transports them all into Neverland. The first we witness the orbs’ power in in the mini-series opening scene in which an entire shipload of pirates, led by Captain Elizabeth Bonny (Anna Friel) find themselves transported to a magic land where they never grow old.
While Hook and the rest of the boys find themselves abducted by pirates who are obsessed with the magical properties of pixie dust, Peter and Fox (Lorn Macdonald) meet a tribe of Indians.
With the help of the tribe’s Chief (George Aguilar) and his daughter Aaya (George Aguilar) Peter begins to understand his vision of a wizard with an orb on a mountain top (which is problematic even after the dream is explained to us). Although Peter is able to save the other boys from the pirates, his distressed to learn Hook has taken a shine to the pirate life and to his female captain.
On Peter’s journey with Aaya he finds a city forged out of trees created by Dr. Fludd (Charles Dance), the mysterious friend of Hook’s who first told Peter about the orb in London and the hooded figure from Peter’s dreams. He also meets a fairy named Tinker Bell (Charlotte Atkinson, voiced by Keira Knightley). After being left for dead by the pirates Peter is saved by Tinker Bell and the fairies who, along with healing his wounds, grant him the power of flight and later curse him for inauspiciously leading Hook to the same power.
Peter Pan has certainly been done better that the meandering tale of street ruffians turned lost boys. Neverland isn’t a bad retelling of the story, but it is limited to a TV-movie budget and never feels quite as magical as you want it to. The acting is wildly inconsistent throughout, particularly that of the pirates and children.
In terms of design the pirate ship works well but most of the other locations (caves, woods, mountain tops) aren’t all that memorable. I also wasn’t wild about the look of the silver spray-on painted fairies, particularly that of Tinker Bell (who isn’t even introduced until the very end of Part I). I’m not sure why another actress was chosen for the character’s model when Knightley was doing the voice and certainly has a look which would fit the character.
Young children with limited exposure to the characters of Peter Pan might enjoy Neverland. However, none of the changes to the characters (even making Peter and Hook friends) do anything to improve the story. And if we are to take the film as a prequel to the well-known tale of Peter Pan then we’re left an entirely new set of plot problems and issues that have no intention of resolving themselves.
Available on both Blu-ray and DVD, the extras include commentary by writer/director Nick Willing, cast interviews, an art gallery, a trailer, and featurettes on the areas recreated in the film and the use of green screen and CGI.
[Vivendi Entertainment, Blu-ray $29.95 / DVD $19.97]