If you're not a regular viewer of the SyFy channel, you probably haven't heard of last year's adaptation of James Barrie's "Peter Pan." Well, when I say adaptation I mean 'prequel.' And when I say 'prequel' I mean an origins story that takes a more science fiction look at the world...
The basic premise is this: Neverland is a planet at the very heart of the galaxy, inhabited by pixie-like aliens who have the power of flight, longevity, and healing. Long ago, an orb was created that drew people from Earth to Neverland, and Pirates, Indians, and a troop of Oliver Twist orphans ended up trapped there.
If you've followed my blog for any length of time, you know that I'm somewhat of a story purist. I heartily dislike retellings that miss the point of the original all together (although I love good parodies because they're not intending to be taken seriously). And Peter Pan is a story that most people seem to get wrong. Which is a shame because it's a perfectly magical book.
Still, this retelling works. Why? Because the director isn't intending to actually explain the origins of Neverland. Check out his explanation from Collider.com.
You know how when you really get into something and you’re mesmerized by that world? I’m one of those people that, when I read or get encapsulated by a world, I want to live and breathe and be there. I started to wonder, “Where did he come from?” There’s a line in the book where one of the Lost Boys says to Wendy, “Lost Boys are the babies that fall out of their prams, and their nannies forget them,” which was like a little joke, to me. It started to make me wonder, “Where did they come from? Why are they Lost Boys? Why don’t they want to grow up? Where in the hell did that pirate come from? What’s he doing there? Why are there Indians?”
Since I’ve grown up, I now know that it’s all to do with J.M. Barrie and the boys, and playing those games as kids. You imagine all the characters that boys like to imagine – pirates, Indians, mermaids and fairies – but at the time, when I was a kid, I had no idea. So, I wanted to know that, and that’s what motivated me to write the story. I wanted to figure out how it is that these characters got to that point, and how it is that a little boy doesn’t want to grow up. I remember that feeling, lying in bed and thinking, “I never want to grow up. I want to be like this forever.” But then, the next day, I wanted nothing more than to grow up. I was intrigued by what it is that gets a boy to that place. (Emphasis mine)
Nick Willing understands where the magic of Neverland is. He's using this miniseries to give us an alternative backstory using science fiction rather than children's imagination, but it's purely a 'what if.' And it works.
Peter is the Artful Dodger, running a group of pickpockets in the streets of Victorian London. Their Fagin is Peter's father figure, the fencing master Jimmy. One night a heist gone wrong strands them in a strange and magical world. Jimmy is seduced by the charismatic pirate captain, Elizabeth Bonny, while Peter and the lads find refuge with a tribe of Kaw Indians. Both the Indians and the Pirates are originally from earth, but due to separate encounters with the Orb, they've been stranded on Neverland for hundreds of years. Oh, and they never age. Tiger Lily has been a teenage girl for 100 years!
It's a nice twist that explains how pirates and Native Americans from drastically different time periods are trapped in the same place as 20th century London children. It explains why no one ages, and how Hook, who dresses like and crews a ship full of 18th century pirates nonetheless speaks and has a code of honor similar to a 19th century gentleman. Further adventures explain the Crocodile, why Peter is the only one who can fly on his own, why Peter and Hook hate each other so fiercely, and why Peter doesn't want to grow up.
No, it's not the Neverland you grew up knowing. But it's a well-written, fairly acted imagining that is worth the viewing time and perhaps a rewatching or two. It is also the only version of Peter Pan I've ever seen that includes the Indians, respectfully. ("Hook" avoided the problem by leaving them out altogether). Is it perfect? No, there are a few parts that are a bit too "strange" and I personally don't' feel they fully brought Peter to the mischievous fun-loving Pan we know. But it's still very good.
I, for one, would love to see Willing continue the premise of this story in a sequel, and how he would treat the addition of the Darling children.