Picks and Pans Review: Peter Pan

updated 01/12/2004 AT 01:00 AM EST

originally published 01/12/2004 AT 01:00 AM EST

FAMILY/ADVENTURE

Jeremy Sumpter, Rachel Hurd-Wood, Jason Isaacs, Olivia Williams

CRITIC'S CHOICE

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Peter Pan, the boy who refuses to grow up, first flew across a stage in London 99 years ago. Now, in a dandy live-action film version jammed with dazzling, whiz-bang special effects that audiences in 1904 would never have even dreamed possible, Peter is still flying high.

This latest Peter Pan sticks closely to the original vision and language of author J.M. Barrie (which means skipping the songs familiar from the 1953 Disney cartoon version and the beloved 1954 Broadway musical starring Mary Martin). Peter (Sumpter), the eternal boy, still persuades Wendy Darling and her two younger brothers to ditch their London abode for his digs in Neverland (pre-Michael Jackson). And a snarling Captain Hook (Isaacs) still threatens Peter and his posse.

It's familiar stuff, but the high-tech special effects make zipping past planets, airborne duels and a snapping crocodile more vivid than ever before. What's new, and effective, is the decision by director-cowriter P.J. Hogan (My Best Friend's Wedding) to play up the sexual subtext—though kids will easily miss it—that has always lurked in Pan. Wendy (Hurd-Wood) and Peter are on the verge of puberty, and the film makes it clear that both are experiencing feelings new to them. As for the acting, Sumpter is a tad knowing as Peter, but Hurd-Wood is perfect as Wendy. Isaacs, who also plays Mr. Darling, makes a hiss-worthy Hook, and Williams couldn't be lovelier or more loving as Mrs. Darling. (PG)

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