1991 was a big year for film. Several iconic movies came out and lost among them tends to be the subject of today’s article, Hook. Yes, it has a cult following, and those of us who saw it as kids still remember it fondly. I’ve re-watched it recently and it holds up very well.
Disney’s Peter Pan is in many ways the film all versions are truly measured against. This is for good reason. It was made during Walt’s peak era of artistic excellence. The animated movie translated the world and characters wonderfully. It cast a giant shadow that would be cumbersome for Peter to sew back to himself.
38 years later, Steven Spielberg led Dustin Hoffman, Robin Williams, Bob Hoskins, and Julia Roberts along with a huge cast of pirates and Lost Boys. While many have judged the movie poorly, I am a fan who finds the balance between dark reality and colorful fantasy a great way to tell a powerful message. This movie is about growing up. It addresses the question: Does being older means losing what makes childhood wonderful?
If you have not watched, the basic idea is that Peter Pan falls in love with the grand-daughter of Wendy Darling and decides to stay in our world to be with her. The now adult Wendy arranges for his adoption, as part of a life-long goal to make sure no orphan in England goes without a loving family.
Over time, Peter has children of his own and forgets who he is. He grows up into a corporate lawyer who doesn’t know how to interact with his children. After returning to England to visit Wendy Darling, the titular Hook takes the children to lure Peter Pan back to Neverland for the final fight of their unending war.
What makes this story great, we see the balance of a stark reality and the fantastical setting of Neverland. Dustin Hoffman’s Captain James T. Hook is a theatrical pirate leader whose need to sell his image of gentleman conqueror is balanced by an obsession to truly destroy the legend and legacy of Peter Pan. Hook doesn’t understand children, and he can think only of ending his great rivalry with Pan with the lasting image of Pan’s corpse.
I’m not exaggerating. You hear the words kill and death. The games are over between Pirate and Pan. The initial sequence of a specter of Hook invading the Darling home to kidnap Peter’s kids is straight out of a nightmare. Even as an adult, I get chills of the grown-up Tootles proclaiming “Hook Is Back !” The Lost Boys are disappointed and feel betrayed by Peter Pan growing up and having children of his own. They see it as abandoning his promise to Never Grow Up.
After rediscovering the Pan within him, Peter saves the day and bonds with his children like never before. He becomes a better father. He truly recognizes the wisdom in his wife’s earlier warnings that the joy of parenthood is being with your children. He realizes that losing that chance is not something you can regain.
Now, let’s be fair. The visuals aren’t the best even by 1991 standards. Julia Roberts isn’t exactly doing her best, and her Tinker Bell feels a little flat due to her being cast as the wiser mature figure of the Pan-less Lost Boys tribe. Tink was a flighty, moody, brat of a pixie. However, the movie shines in the quieter moments.
Hook’s first meeting of Pan where they go literally nose-to-nose, as Hook seeks to find the boy who couldn’t lose within the fear-filled lawyer. The visual foreshadowing in the first Act that Peter Banning may not remember who he is, but he can’t escape his past with familiar poses and odd reactions to certain phrases. This is the drama of people reconnecting after years. Everyone having to face the truth that time marches on, and no one can stay the same forever. Even In Neverland.
If you are a fan of the Peter Pan mythology, Hook is a great sequel story that gives one hope that dreams and adventures never die if you never stop believing. If you are already a jaded prick who just focuses on plot holes and goofy artistic choices, you’ll roll eyes constantly. If nothing else, it’s a better way to remember Robin Williams than Popeye.