Originally published December 12, 2016.
Hook was the first movie I ever saw in a theater. I was just three years old when the magic of the experience was made known to me. I was enamoured with those thick plush seats, the enormous screen, and the smorgasbord of treats available. More importantly, it was Steven Spielberg who introduced me through Hook to the joy and awe of being transported somewhere unbelievable when its magical scenes were first burned into my tiny toddler mind. It’s because of memories like these that this film holds a special place in the hearts of so many people who saw it as youngsters.
Watching it as an adult 25 years later is certainly a different experience. Nostalgia is Hook’s greatest (and perhaps only) strength, as it’s almost guaranteed to be a disappointment for first-time viewers these days. Much like Neverland, it’s mostly worth a revisit if you enjoyed it in your childhood. It’s even more worth it if you find that you’ve become an “old fat grandpa man” like Peter, and you need a reminder of the kind of magic that exists in life or the person you used to be. It’s fitting that it was released in December, since Hook’s main victory is its escapism for the holidays that brings the whole family together with nauseating charm.
Hook is one of several film adaptations of the classic character Peter Pan. Written and created by J.M Barrie in 1902, the story of a mischievous boy who never grows up has never quite disappeared from our culture. Like all stories it evolved over time through various mediums; plays, books, movies and even statues. Though his creation is questionably awful and the negative attributes of his personality have been all but forgotten, Peter Pan has become a beloved character for millions. His existence even resulted in a pop-psychology phenomenon called Peter Pan Syndrome, a term used to describe grown men who refuse to grow up. Hook aims to answer the question, “…but what if Peter Pan did grow up?” and the results are frankly unsurprising.
Watching as children we can tell that Peter (Robin Williams) is a bad dad in every cliche way, literally missing baseball games and yelling at his kids while perpetually attached to a brick of a cell phone. His marriage is strained and his blood pressure is rising. Only Wendy (Maggie Smith) is able to tell him the truth when she says, “Peter, you’ve become a pirate!” With our limited life experience we’re unable to empathize with him at all, but as adults it’s easier to understand the path Peter has taken that led him to become this grumpy, miserable shadow of a man. When Peter and his family visit London to celebrate a momentous occasion with Wendy, his children are kidnapped and whisked away to Neverland in order to draw Peter Pan back for an ultimate showdown.
As we grow and face our own fears we can identify with Peter’s inability to reach out and save his children from Captain Hook (Dustin Hoffman) due to his ironic fear of heights. What seemed an easy climb to us as children is now insurmountable because we know it isn’t that Peter just isn’t trying hard enough. By now we’ve learned fear is a complex emotion that is harder to deal with once its cause surpasses monsters under the bed. When Captain Hook and his pirates discover Peter has also forgotten how to fly they are appropriately devastated – not only because of their lack of an exciting war for revenge but also due to their own personal understanding. Life has a way of burdening us with heavy thoughts that keep our feet firmly planted on the ground and it’s easy to forget the good when the bad is constantly dragging you into its gaping blackened maw. Sure, it’s a little trite and on the nose, but thinking happy thoughts is one key to lightening the load and putting a spring in your step. If you’ve forgotten how, it’s going to take practice and you’d best start now.
Today at its core the main message of Peter Pan – and Hook, by extension – is this: no matter how much you or others try, the child inside of you can never be killed. No matter how far down it lives, your childlike Peter Pan soul exists. It must be cultivated and nurtured in order to thrive and add benefit to your life. Whether it’s a vague and indescribable pull to run somewhere where rules and responsibilities don’t exist or a childlike wonder that only appears when faced with the miracles of nature, it’s a valid part of human existence that should be cherished.
Who better to play the titular role than the late Robin Williams? If any man was gifted with the ability to portray indelible joy it was him. If anything, Neverland came to life because of him. The exceptional performance of Dustin Hoffman as Captain Hook is unforgettable with his constant sneer and maniacal eyes becoming a perfect example of the iconic and neurotic red-clad captain. Maggie Smith as Wendy is outstanding here too. She has an intangible grace through every performance she gives, with a twinkle in her eye and a grandmother’s touch in her voice. The casting is strong starting from the top and going all the way down to the smallest Lost Boy.
One of Hook’s most memorable scenes is that of the food fight and showdown between Peter and Rufio (Dante Basco), the suspicious new leader of the Lost Boys. It’s here Peter is challenged most deeply and where his innate and immortal gifts become evident. Sitting down to eat with the boys he is mystified at the total lack of food on the table. His inability to see it is directly related to his inability to just pretend it’s there. In what is one of the best adult vs. child playground insult wars, Peter flings a spoonful of imaginary mush into Rufio’s face. Suddenly the table is alight with colour, food, and life and Peter is finally able to enjoy the bounty. This scene is a touching reminder of the feast that becomes available to us when our minds are open and our imaginations are nurtured. This is where Peter truly starts his journey of becoming bangarang.
Neverland in all its splendour was filmed completely on studio sets in California. This wasn’t uncommon in the early ‘90s but is a major reason why Spielberg considers this one of his worst films. Indeed, it is strange today to see such a heavily stylized set that looks more like a ride at Disneyland than a real place. It’s reasonable to assume that today the Neverland sequences would be filmed with more digital effects or even on location. Regardless of its age, what’s most impressive and stands the test of time is the costume design. Costume designer Anthony Powell captured the colourful and larger than life silhouettes required for the pirates and Lost Boys alike, up to and including the fantastic primitive armor worn in the lengthy battle scenes.
A major part of the reason Hook is so heartwarming is its incredible score by John Williams who also worked with Spielberg on both Jaws and Indiana Jones. Initially the film was written to be a musical with eight pieces composed by Williams. Once the movie transitioned from a musical Peter Pan to adventure fantasy Hook, only two musical songs remained. These can be heard in the opening play “I Don’t Want to Grow Up” and Maggie’s adorable forlorn lullaby “When You’re Alone.” Accompanying and maybe even inspiring its nostalgia, Hook’s score is one for the ages. While immersing you in a fantasy realm, it both inspires as Peter opens his heart through play and teases out tears when necessary. Each group of characters has their own memorable theme, especially in Neverland whereas the real-world score is sometimes dated with jazz riffs and synthesizers more suited to early ‘90s sitcoms.
There’s no better time of year than the holidays to watch something warm and endearing. If you can stomach it, Hook has an overabundance of heart. It’s packed with cheesy dad jokes, lessons learned, and families brought together. It’s sprinkled with fairy dust and childhood dreams. Overall, it’s blindingly positive and sentimental. For those who remember its original debut, it may be surprising to note the differences in viewing it 25 years later especially if the ability to fly has been long forgotten. It might be time to break out those tights again.
Featured Image: TriStar Pictures