Sunday, December 11, 2011


Every person is, of course, an individual, with unique personal experiences.

But some experiences, especially the ones from childhood, are universal. We all have them — eating ice cream cones on hot summer days, watching fireworks on the Fourth of July, going to school with the other children our age, learning to read and write and add and subtract — and looking forward to being allowed to go outside for recess on a sunny spring day.

And most parents read stories to their children. You know the stuff I'm talking about — "Alice's Adventures in Wonderland," "The Wonderful Wizard of Oz," anything by Dr. Suess.

J.M Barrie's story about Peter Pan and the Lost Boys of Neverland certainly belongs on that list.

There is, of course, the traditional story that Barrie wrote — nearly everyone must have heard that one — but that story has been re–told in many ways over the years, perhaps none quite as cleverly as the film version that premiered on this day in 1991.

In director Steven Spielberg's hands, the story was given a new twist.

At least, I thought so.

The movie focused not so much on the children but on their father (Robin Williams), who, it turns out, was once Peter Pan but was adopted and raised by an American couple — and forgot all about Neverland.

He was forced to confront his past when his old nemesis, Captain Hook (Dustin Hoffman), kidnapped his two children and took them to Neverland. With the help of Tinker Bell (Julia Roberts), Peter returned to Neverland to save them.

Like just about everything else Spielberg has done, "Hook" was enormously successful at the box office, but many critics complained that the movie failed "to find something new, fresh or urgent to do with the Peter Pan myth."

I disagreed.

It might have come as a surprise to the critics of 20 years ago, but Barrie apparently did conceive of something similar. In 2003, Andrew Birkin wrote that Barrie wrote some notes on the idea of a story in which Peter Pan grew up — but the idea never got past the note stage.

Spielberg apparently knew nothing of that when he made "Hook." His idea had its roots, he said, in his childhood when his mother read the original story to him. At the age of 11, he directed a school production of the story. You might say it's part of his DNA.

"I have always felt like Peter Pan," he once said. "I still feel like Peter Pan. It has been very hard for me to grow up."

Considering all the wonderful cinematic rides on which he has taken his audiences over the years, that's a good thing for the rest of us.