[Spoiler Alert: Some plot points are discussed in this review.]
Syfy’s ‘Neverland’ takes us to the time before Peter Pan was Peter Pan, back to when he was just Peter, a boy part of a ragtag group of boys under the care of James Hook. The story is a blend of magic and science in an attempt to explain Neverland’s existence. While the science is a bit of a stretch and distracting, the performances and story create a suspenseful and engaging tale about a father and son.
When your story is about Peter Pan, your Peter better be able to hold his weight, and Charlie Rowe does. Rowe has a glint in his eyes, showing us that Peter always has a plan ready. Rowe’s Peter inspires others to follow him as he openly defies Hook by robbing the jewelry store. Rowe understands Peter’s struggles. The grin and the glint disappear once Peter realizes how his actions have dire consequences. Rowe balances childish impulsiveness and the yearning to be an adult very well.
Helping Rowe fully bring Peter to life are his scenes with Hook, played masterfully by Rhys Ifans. Hook is a man wanting to be a part of London high society again. Although he has fallen to a lower station, Ifans’s Hook carries himself as though he still has a higher status, making sure he is ready to re-enter society at any moment, a notion Hook truly believes. Hook and Peter argue as fathers and sons do. Peter wants to please Hook, the man who saved him and took him in, becoming a surrogate father. However, Hook knows Peter is not ready to be his partner because Peter still has “a lot of growing up to do first.” The dynamic between Ifans and Rowe shows that the bond between Peter and Hook is real and has been formed over several years.
The scene that best reveals the conflict between Peter and Hook is when Peter rescues the boys from the ship. Peter gets all the boys to the canoe. Fox urges Peter to leave, but Peter wants the entire family together, so he goes back to the pirate ship to find Hook. Peter finds Hook with Captain Bonny and thinks Hook will come with him, but Hook wants to stay with the pirates.
Peter’s confusion twists his face, and his confusion turns into anger. Peter does not understand that, as a man, power and lust tempt Hook because situations are “different when you’re older.” Hook trusts the pirates; Peter trusts the Kaw (the Native Americans). Peter is dismayed that Hook wants him and the boys to join the pirates, and Peter almost agrees with Hook, but he listens to his instincts and flees. The price of learning this lesson is losing one of the boys, Fox. Hook’s actions expose his own inner turmoil; he loves his boys, but he wants power and status as well. Ifans precisely hits every beat and shows us Hook’s love for his boys without being overwrought or false.
In addition to strong performances, the special effects bring Neverland to life. The green screen work blends well with the sets. Fludd’s forest city is a prime example of how the effects bring to life a fantastical part of Neverland. Fludd has shaped the trees to form his city, and the effects make the buildings appear vast, sprawling, and daunting. When Tinker Bell enters Fludd’s lab, the actors’ eyes follow Tinker Bell, making me believe they actually see and hear her. Tinker Bell glows silvery-white, and her flight patterns are smooth and quick. The effects, the sets, and the costumes bring alive a world that never changes and that is populated with random people from random points in time.
I only spotted two missteps in the movie. The explanation of Neverland was simple and direct until Fludd’s lengthy speech in his lab. We knew hitting the orb opens the gate to Neverland, transporting people and objects near the orb from Earth to the strange world. Is the character of Dr. Fludd necessary? Yes. Fludd discovers the gateway to Neverland and how to move between Earth and Neverland. What is not needed is the description about how Neverland is a planet furthest out yet also the center of the universe. Fludd revealing his creation of a second orb was interesting; the additional information about the universe stopped the action and muddled an otherwise simple explanation.
The other misstep was the lack of screen time with Aaya (aka Tiger Lily) and Peter. Their relationship is not developed on screen, so Aaya’s decisions are not clear. Why does she go with Peter on his mission to find the hooded man? The quest is Peter’s idea, not hers. Since we don’t see them bond at the Kaw’s settlement, her participation lacks motivation. Also, we don’t see them bond during their trip. Without a true understanding of the relationship between Aaya and Peter, Aaya’s decision at the end of the movie has no resonance. Yes, Aaya is a good person, but why would she put her people in danger? When did Aaya and Peter cultivate such a deep connection?
Despite a couple of missteps, ‘Neverland: Part 1’ is a quick, well-structured movie with fine performances. The writers avoid bogging down the first part of the miniseries with too much exposition. The two hours flew by, and I am eager for the conclusion. When will Tinker Bell talk to Peter? And what motivates her to do so? Will Hook and Peter remain close or will they end up enemies? Will Hook lose his hand? I’m intrigued if ‘Neverland’ will tie into Disney’s ‘Peter Pan’ or if the story will go in a different direction. Either way, I can’t wait to see Peter take on Bonny and her crew of pirates!
Here is a recap of the conclusion to the miniseries, ‘Neverland: Part 2.’