Hook (1991)

25 Feb

Hook-1

Smith’s Verdict: **1/2

Reviewed by Tanner Smith

Steven Spielberg’s “Hook” is the answer to the question, “What if Peter Pan grew up?” And who better than Spielberg to make it, since he specializes in fantasy and practically has the gift of eternal youth? And while there are some neat, interesting parts in “Hook,” Spielberg unfortunately relies on art direction and “whimsy” clichés to tell a compelling story. Half of the movie is good and half of it is…not.

The setup is the best part of the movie. It starts in modern-day America, as Peter Banning (Robin Williams) is a hard-edged lawyer and a workaholic father. He’s able to make time for his six-year-old daughter Maggie’s school play of “Peter Pan,” but misses his ten-year-old son Jack’s little-league baseball game. (He sends somebody to videotape the game.)

Peter takes his wife Moira (Caroline Goodall) and kids to London to visit Granny Wendy (Maggie Smith), who adopted Peter when he was an orphan child. The kids sleep in the same room where the original “Peter Pan” story took place. (Starting to see a connection here?) But that night, the kids are visited by one of Spielberg’s visual trademarks—the strange, blinding light and smoke outside the window. When Peter, Moira, and Granny Wendy go up to investigate, the children are gone, with a kidnap note left behind by the villainous pirate Captain James Hook. It’s then that Granny Wendy asks Peter, “Don’t you remember who you are?” She also says it’s time to return to Neverland.

Of course, Peter thinks Granny Wendy is loony and doesn’t realize that he is the real Peter Pan, grown up. But he gets a little more convincing from a visiting Tinker Bell (Julia Roberts, a little too kind to play the once-jealous fairy), who takes him to Neverland, which is still “second star to the right and straight on ‘til morning.” (Didn’t make sense then, doesn’t make sense now.)

And so here we are at the magical Neverland, which looks…like an obvious movie set. The original Neverland was a secluded, bright, wonderful place. This Neverland is too cluttered to be magical. There’s too much thrown in here; the art direction is all over the place. It’s a disappointing, unconvincing “fantasy land.”

Anyway, we meet Hook (Dustin Hoffman), his sidekick Smee (Bob Hoskins), and his band of “scurvy” pirates. Hook demands a new war between the pirates and Peter Pan. But seeing as how Peter Pan has grown up and forgotten to fly, it seems pointless. He still keeps the children held prisoner, and so Peter must learn to get back to his original form.

Helping him get back into shape, if you will, are Tinker Bell and a band of playful, wild orphan children called the Lost Boys. And another problem here is that the child actors playing the Lost Boys don’t do very good jobs. They’re either slow on delivery or very flat. It makes the conflict in which Hook tries to make Peter’s kids love him so they’ll forget about their father look much more interesting. (And this subplot does have its moments, such as when Jack realizes that Hook is more of a father than his own father.)

What do I like about the movie? To begin with, I like most of the key actors. Robin Williams is believable as Peter Banning and strangely, equally credible when he’s playing Peter Pan (when he’s not completely obnoxious). Dustin Hoffman is a hoot as Hook. He chews the scenery and treats every one of his scenes with pleasure. He’s fun to watch. Bob Hoskins has a few funny moments as Smee, and Maggie Smith is sweet as Granny Wendy.

I love the setup to the story. It shows a great deal of promise. It’s nice to see the “Peter Pan” in-jokes that make “Hook” feel like a legitimate sequel to “Peter Pan.” And there are some neat little arrangements that I really enjoyed, such as Peter asking his son when he’s going to stop acting like a child. He is a child and Peter must become one to save him.

There were some really funny moments among the pirates, including a “scurvy” cameo by Glenn Close who is sent to a trunk full of scorpions as punishment for not agreeing with Hook.

What I didn’t like about the film, aside from the art direction, were the scenes of strained whimsy, such as when Peter’s daughter sing as schmaltzy little tune that Spielberg thinks is cute enough to be magical, when it’s really forced. Also, the moments in which Peter realizes his own true identity is hurt by many plot holes in Peter Pan’s back story—for example, if he went to Neverland as a baby so he’d never grow up, then why did he grow to be 12 years old?

The final climax is obligatory and leads to many false endings. I’m really tired of these false endings; they slow things down and don’t amount to much, other than just stalling so that the hero can have more chances to defeat the villain.

To tell the truth, it’s the final half of “Hook” that lets the movie down. The first half actually has its clever moments with an intriguing setup and a likeable feel, not to mention game performances by Williams and Hoffman. But “Hook” is much ado about nothing. Maybe if Spielberg actually made his own retelling of the original “Peter Pan” story, we’d have something better. But as it is, it’s ambitious, but cluttered.

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