Available at Amazon.com
Johnny Depp……….J. M. Barrie
Kate Winslet……….Sylvia Llewelyn Davies
Radha Mitchell……….Mary Ansell Barrie
Julie Christie……….Emma du Maurier
Dustin Hoffman……….Charles Frohman
Miramax Films presents Finding Neverland. Written by David Magee, based on the Allan Knee play “The Man Who Was Peter Pan.” Running time: 101 minutes. Rated PG (for mild thematic elements and brief language).
At some point in our lives we want to believe that we will never grow old; stay a child forever and ever. But as we grow older we put childish things away. Finding Neverland tells the story of J.M. Barrie, a Scottish playwright, who writes a timeless story of a boy who never grows old. The play is Peter Pan, a story that only gets better with age. The groundwork for this story began after Barrie’s latest play flopped at a London theater. He needed to find a new story very quickly because the theater director, Charles (played by Dustin Hoffman), still holds the lease on the theater and he needs to fill those seats.
Sitting on a park bench in Kensington Gardens, and looking a little demoralized; Barrie peers through the gap in his newspaper at a woman and four boys. As he watches them run and play, a light bulb turns on inside his head. Inspiration. Upon meeting the Davies family: the mother, Sylvia (Kate Winslet), and her boys, Peter, George, Jack, and Michael; Barrie is attracted to them. Not attraction in the sense that he is romantically interested in the widowed Sylvia or wants to be the patriarch in the Davies household. However, Barrie does show fatherly characteristics. He obsesses over Sylvia’s boys because they inspire him. In the boys he sees the childhood he never had. When Barrie’s older brother died, his parents started referring to him by his brother name; suggesting Barrie lived his brother’s childhood and never had his own.
Sylvia’s boys give him a second chance at childhood. With the boys Barrie plays all sorts of games. He dances with a big brown bear. He stages make-believe games with cowboys and Indians and pirates. The only unwilling participant in the games is Peter (Freddie Highmore). He’s a stubborn little boy who fears Barrie is trying to replace his father. But Sylvia is grateful for Barrie’s attention. When she develops a hacking cough, he helps take care of the young ones.
In today’s age people might look at this scenario with wary eyes. Here is a man who is friends with a woman. The friendship is strictly platonic, no inference of sex at all. Then there’s Barrie becoming the playmate and caretaker of four young boys. It may not be normal behavior; but Barrie was far from ordinary. Sure, his interest in the boys raises some suspicion, especially if the story took place today. But Barrie was a man who truly fell in love with Sylvia and her boys.
This love was much to the ire of his wife, Mary (Radha Mitchell), and Sylvia’s mother, Emma du Maurier (Julie Christie). Mary strikes me as a woman who married Barrie for convenience. She was worried about going through life single and alone. She is disturbed by Barrie’s relationship with the Davies family and rightfully so. Barrie spends all hours of the day with those boys instead of coming home to her. But Mary is also a woman who worries about her status and what other people think of her. So while the aloofness between Barrie and herself is present, she still sympathizes with his propensity to retreat to his imaginary fantasyland.
Emma du Maurier is a tricky character. She’s neither a villainous woman nor a patron saint. She is a socialite who is perplexed by Barrie’s playfulness with her four grandchildren. Emma is indifferent to Barrie’s playful ways. She senses something’s not quite right. I guess she can’t fathom a grown man who lives in a world of pure imagination.
In the last few years the Academy Awards has taken notice of something I’ve known for years; Johnny Depp is an extraordinary actor. He has traveled from Elm Street to 21 Jump Street. He has a knack for working with outside-the-box directors; Terry Gilliam (Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas), Robert Rodriguez (Once Upon a Time in Mexico) and Tim Burton (Edward Scissorhands; Ed Wood; Sleepy Hollow; and the upcoming Charlie and the Chocolate Factory). His work with Burton bears a strange resemblance to Finding Neverland. The reason Burton casts Depp in so many of his films is because Depp personifies the man Burton so wants to be. Burton sees himself in Depp. Just like Barrie sees himself through the boys.
By compressing the events in Allan Knee’s play – Barrie actually met Sylvia at a dinner party not at the park – and manipulating some facts, director Marc Forster (Monster’s Ball) and screenwriter David Magee get the film’s desired effect; Barrie and his unconditional love for a widow and her four children. On paper the story may look schmaltzy, and maybe it is. But don’t underestimate this film. The performances are great, especially by Depp and young Freddie Highmore, and the direction is smooth. Finding Neverland is a masterpiece that both young and old will enjoy.
The anamorphic widescreen (2.35:1) transfer seems saturated with color. The blacks look too dark as do the skin colors. Lately, Miramax has been careless with their video transfers. So much so, that DVD owners are grateful that Warner Bros. is handling the DVD release of Martin Scorsese’s The Aviator. That’s not to say that the video transfer for Finding Neverland is a total bust, but you would think some effort would have been put into an Oscar-winning DVD release.
Jan A.P. Kaczmarek’s winning musical score gets a nice, Dolby Digital 5.1 audio soundtrack on the DVD release. The 5.1 audio is effective enough since there aren’t any loud explosions or gunfights in Neverland. Besides the English audio track there is a French Language track and subtitles and a Spanish Language track and subtitles.
The first extra is an audio commentary with Director Marc Forster, Producer Richard Gladstein, and Writer David Magee. If you are looking for a commentary that discusses shot selections and writing techniques, look elsewhere. This trio primarily reflects on the production telling stories about the actors and the characters and locations. There is some suggestion of screenwriting, but it is a reference to scenes that were later added in as to not confuse the audience. For example, there is a short scene where a maid cuts out the review for Barrie’s latest flop. This scene was shot on the last day of production. Without that scene the audience may have been confused of why there was a gap in the newspaper Barrie reads in Kensington Gardens.
There is a featurette entitled The Magic of Finding Neverland (16:04) and it plays like an appreciation feature. All the cast are lovey-dovey with one another. Not a very informative piece, but it is fun to watch the cast talk about Johnny Depp, the chameleon actor. There’s one section about the Great Ormond Street Hospital. J.M. Barrie left the rights of Peter Pan with this hospital. All the royalties from the play, whether it is adapted into a film or stage play, go to this hospital. So I guess Walt Disney helped the hospital out when he made an animated version of the story in 1953.
Creating Neverland is a short, three-minute piece that quickly overviews the digital effects of the feature film. Something like 80 visual effects were used in Neverland. One visual effect called “The Big Shot” was a camera effect that traveled around the London theater auditorium and ended with a shot of Peter. This was definitely a feature that could have been expanded upon.
On the Red Carpet is a two-minute feature that includes sound bites from the cast and crew as Finding Neverland goes around the film festival circuit (Venice, London, and New York). Even New York state senator Hilary Clinton gives her two cents on the film.
You know the deleted scenes must be forgettable if for one scene the filmmakers don’t even remember where it would have taken place in the film. There are a total of three deleted scenes, each lasting 40 seconds or so. The last scene proves Johnny Depp is a smart guy. After the scene was shot, he told the filmmakers that it wouldn’t make it into the final cut of the film. He was right.
In addition to these features are sneak peeks for other films. Included is the theatrical trailer for Dear Frankie, National Treasure, and a spot celebrating Miramax’s 25th Anniversary.
THE INSIDE PULSE
Finding Neverland may have been a dark horse at this year’s Academy Awards, but that doesn’t matter now. What matters is that it is available on DVD. So if you missed this sentimental favorite in theaters check it out for Depp, Winslet, and Highmore. You won’t be disappointed. And if you are, well I guess you have no imagination.