By Bill Wine
PHILADELPHIA (CBS) - Pan is both the title of this movie and an apt description of this review.
It's the latest spin on the 1904 play by Scottish author and dramatist J. M. Barrie, whose Peter Pan or the Boy Who Wouldn't Grow Up, launched Neverland, the metaphor for eternal childhood.
Call it an origin story or, if you will, a prequel of sorts – actually, the first installment in a planned trilogy -- that opens with a prologue set in a Blitz-era London orphanage, where Peter has been left as a baby by his mother (Amanda Seyfried) during wartime and from where he is sold to a crew of Neverland pirates seeking cheap labor to help in their search for Pixium, a rare mineral used in pixie dust.
And they've nabbed their share of sleeping kiddies, which is why there are so many empty beds in the orphanage.
Instead of Peter Pan and Captain Hook as adversaries, however, we get Peter, played by Australian youngster Levi Miller, teaming up with Garrett Hedlund's two-handed Hook – not yet a Captain -- and Rooney Mara's princess, Tiger Lily, as they attempt to escape from the clutches of the villainous pirate, Blackbeard, played by a heavily disguised Hugh Jackman.
In this fantastical place, with its fairies and mermaids and crocodiles, Peter is destined to lead a revolt against Blackbeard and free the other kids, using his inherited ability to fly.
Director Joe Wright (Pride & Prejudice, Atonement, The Soloist, Hanna, Anna Karenina), working from a screenplay by Jason Fuchs, takes his first dip in the family-film pool, encouraging cartoonishly broad characterizations from the principals in his multi-racial, multi-accented cast of just one among many movie-screen projects that have emerged from Barrie's stories about the legend, including Disney's animated 1954 Peter Pan, Steven Spielberg's 1991 Hook, P.J. Hogan's 2003 Peter Pan, and Marc Forster's 2004 Finding Neverland.
But Pan isn't just just aimed at kids, with its youth-centric wish-fulfillment and frenetic, CGI-heavy action sequences. Sometimes it seems as if it were made by kids: the film refuses to stop every once in awhile to let itself breathe. You can decide for yourself if this is a good or bad thing, but don't assume that your children will feel the same way about the attention-deficit pace that you do.
Pan has got energy and color and pyrotechnics to spare, with the camera gliding and moving about more or less constantly. But although there's a sufficient amount of imaginativeness of one sort or another on display, there's precious little real magic or joyfulness or fun.
Young Miller is a natural, but the closest thing we get to fun comes from watching scenery-chewing Jackman, and the most his contribution can do is distract us from the film's lack of the kind of emotional engagement that leads to a real rooting interest.
Moreover, you never quite lose the feeling that this is a superfluous origin story, one we could very easily have lived without.
So we'll fly over 2 stars out of 4 for an overcooked action-adventure offering for youngsters that revisits a familiar fantasy. The low-flying Pan peters out pretty quickly.
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