Last night I had the privilege of rediscovering an old favorite of mine, and afterwards came to my blog, found that I had somehow never written about this beautiful film, and decided today to remedy this oversight.
On the surface, Finding Neverland could have played out as any romantic drama, period or otherwise. There’s the somewhat typical couple whose relationship is in trouble, a new love interest causing another somewhat typical love triangle, and various other dramatic plot points. There’s even the beauty of London in the early 1900s, which is rather appealing to many people, including me. And then there’s the fact that the leading man is Johnny Depp, which as we know tends to translate to box office gold. It certainly does entice me to watch, of course! In fact, this could be a fairly ordinary movie, if it weren’t for the fact that Johnny Depp plays none other than J. M. Barrie, author of the magical story Peter Pan–and all at once, this movie is far from ordinary.
For me in particular, this movie is particularly magical. I have a long-standing affection for the story of Peter Pan, in various incarnations–from book to play to various movies about and inspired by the story. Add to that the fact that I love exploring the possibilities of what might have been going through a person’s mind during a particular event or period in their life, and I only became more entranced.
Various elements in story-tellling made this movie incredibly enjoyable, and very special: I’m kind of a sucker for the story-within-a-story device, so watching Barrie’s plays happen during the movie are lovely, particularly watching Barrie nervously peeking out from behind the curtains to gauge the mood of the crowd. The seamless and beautiful way the real world gave way to the workings of Barrie’s imagination were a particularly fanciful experience, one that is seldom used in quite this way. And watching pieces of the real-life story unfold which then influenced the Peter Pan story–tying a bell onto the tail of a stubborn kite, boys jumping on their beds as they try to avoid going to sleep, even the antics of Barrie’s own dog–really drew me in and left me feeling like I understood a bit more about the man James Barrie. The story having been inspired by actual events, it does end up having its moments of sadness–moments which remind me to take care in choosing the company with whom I’ll watch this movie, because I really hate letting other people see me cry. And you will cry by the end, guaranteed. Even so, the end of the story is told very tenderly and yet still with a generous dose of magic.
It’s safe to say that there’s little if any fault I can find with this movie. Not only is it one of my favorite Johnny Depp roles–possibly because the character is very personable and very real, despite his fanciful mind–it’s also one of my top ten favorite movies of all time. It’s definitely my favorite permutation of the Peter Pan story. If you’re in the mood for a film that’s truly a magical, wondrous experience, this is the film to watch.
Also, just a bit of fun….
It had been a number of years since I had last seen Finding Neverland, likely even before the first Pirates of the Caribbean movie. Because of that, it was very fun for me to notice this time around that the usher at the theater was Ragetti, and the actor who played Nana the dog during the play was one of the British guards who repeatedly failed to keep Captain Jack from whatever he was chasing in most of the Pirates movies. And the wonderful young actor who played Peter Llewelyn Davies (who incidentally won an Academy award for that performance) was also Charlie opposite Johnny Depp’s Willy Wonka in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. Small world!