Executive-produced by Mohamed Al Fayed and dedicated to his son, the late Dodi Al Fayed, "Peter Pan" is the sort of film you'd actually want to have dedicated to you (and not just if you were an untimely felled paramour of Princess Di). This live-action version of J.M. Barrie's classic tale is a thing to celebrate. It's literate, funny, exciting and drenched in fairy dust.
"All children grow up ... except one," the movie announces at the outset, then delves into a cornucopia of wonders that wipes every last Michael Jackson joke from your lips. The name "Neverland" is rescued from late-night insinuation as Peter ("Frailty's" Jeremy Sumpter) whisks the Darling family children away from London and into an eternally youthful, consistently enchanting landscape full of pirates, lost boys, clock-eating crocodiles and even an Indian or two. (So long, PC police: Princess Tiger Lily is here, in all her war-painted glory.)
The whole thing looks smashing, even when it's imposing artificial twilight to mask the seams between its sumptuous backgrounds and its CGI flight effects. Meanwhile, a graphic shot of Captain Hook's stump announces that this wee-ones' adventure will not pander to parental skittishness: The scares are as genuine as the delights.
At first, Sumpter's anarchy comes across as slightly forced (and his speech a tad too impaired for comfort). But when his performance finally meshes with the rhythms provided by director/co-writer P.J. Hogan ("My Best Friend's Wedding"), you can almost hear the sound of Daniel Radcliffe getting his bum kicked up and down the block. And Rachel Hurd-Wood (as Wendy), Olivia Williams (as Mrs. Darling), Ludivine Sagnier (as Tink) and Jason Isaacs (doing double duty as Hook and Mr. Darling) are all pitch-perfect in their familiar yet vital roles.
Though its action sequences are often thrilling, "Peter Pan" never shortchanges the poignancy in Barrie's story of innocence lost. Resting comfortably atop the family-picture pile, this project appears to have been assembled by people who had absolutely no other agenda than to make a fine film from a classic piece of children's literature. God only knows if any stateside kid of the modern era is going to want to see it, so your good deed for this holiday season is to find one and force him into going. Use violence if necessary.