This is a little different than my typical Book vs. Movie post because it’s not necessarily an adaptation… it’s sort of a retelling/continuation. There were a couple reasons I decided to choose Hook for this month’s Book vs. Movie (aside from the fact I read Peter Pan recently).
- It is one of my all-time favorite movies.
- There are thematic elements and moments in it that are surprisingly closer to Peter Pan than many direct adaptations I’ve seen.
Some quick insight about this film for those who have never heard of it – this is a 1991 Stephen Spielberg film starring Robin Williams as a grown up Peter Pan, Dustin Hoffman as Captain Hook, and Julia Roberts as Tinkerbell. Also featuring is the incredible Dame Maggie Smith as Wendy. Peter Pan has left Neverland for good and grown up in the real world and has children of his own. But when Captain Hook kidnaps his son (Jack) and daughter (Maggie), a disbelieving Peter is escorted back to Neverland by Tinkerbell where he must reconnect with his past and reclaim his Peter Pan identity in order to rescue his children and defeat the nefarious Captain Hook once and for all.
This movie was, cinematically, considered to be one of Stephen Spielberg’s greatest failures.
I can’t imagine why, myself. I think it’s a great family film, with great pacing, action, performances, costuming, sets… I mean, I can go on. I will!
For those who read my review of Peter Pan back in July, you’ll know about the sexist and racist elements in the story. Even if you didn’t read it, you’ll know about these things because of the cultural consciousness of Peter Pan. Fortunately, the film did an excellent job addressing those elements – there are no Native tribes in the film, and the female characters (though still sparse) are much less stereotyped and useless.
Okay, enough of my personal praise of the film. Lets dig in.
The movie opens at Maggie’s school play. Maggie plays Wendy and is adorable and endearing. The family’s in the audience, with Moira (Peter’s wife) and even Jack playing rapt attention. Peter takes a work phone call in the audience asking him to come into the office the next morning before leaving on a family vacation. He agrees, and his son overhears him reminding him that the big game of the season is tomorrow morning and Peter promises not to miss it.
He misses it, of course.
Right away this film shows how far Peter has strayed from his life as Peter Pan. He’s a full blown corporate lawyer – successful, but an extreme workaholic and just… angry. When Jack describes this to their grandmother (Wendy, played by Dame Maggie Smith), she aptly says, “Peter, you’ve become a pirate” with shock and disappointment.
We, of course, get the significance of this statement. Wendy remembers Peter’s past, even if Peter doesn’t.
This transformation is really interesting to me, especially after reading the book. One of the things I found fascinating near the end of Peter Pan was the ease with which Peter takes the helm of the Jolly Roger and steps into Hook’s shoes. He immediately becomes feared by his Lost Boys as long as he’s in Hook’s tails and guiding the ship to London, attempting to play a cruel joke on the Darling children and keep them once and for all. This sets up a cyclical possibility for Peter and Neverland, one that J.M. Barrie didn’t take – children lose their innocence, their hearts harden, then they grow up and become pirates.
Now, in the book, that’s the scene where the Darlings agree to adopt all the Lost Boys and find homes for them…. all the Lost Boys except Peter, who angrily declines. Growing up, after all, would be terrible. And parents are cruel things.
Hook asks the question… what if , eventually, Peter did decide to grow up? What if he came back even less frequently for Spring Cleaning, skipped Wendy’s daughter’s generation entirely, and came back to meet Wendy’s granddaughter instead? And was enamored by her in the way that Wendy, Tinkerbell, and Tiger Lily wanted by never managed?
From this point, things start to go downhill for Peter in Hook. Some big construction deal is falling apart because of owl migration patterns and he yells at his family. Then he gives the cheesiest honorary speech at a dedication ceremony. Then he comes home to find his children have been kidnapped. Just generally a bad day for Peter.
Wendy tries to warn him, to awaken his memories, but it doesn’t work. It takes Tinkerbell wrapping a blind drunk Peter in the parachute his daughter made him (humor: Peter is now afraid of heights) and whisking him off to Neverland for him to start to face this reality.
Major difference here from the book is that Tinkerbell speaks. Obviously Peter Pan has always been able to understand fairie-speak, but this is one of the few adaptations of the classic novel where the audience can understand her. She’s a softer personality than she was in Peter Pan (and more long-lived, since we learned in the book she was dead by the time Peter came back for Wendy the first time). Tinkerbell’s change in characterization in Hook gives her a more rounded personality. She’s no longer just a stereotypical jealous not-girlfriend, which I think was a solid choice.
Peter’s journey to his past isn’t an easy one. Gone is the cocky boy we saw in Peter Pan. Adult Peter is sensible, pragmatic, and definitely does not think he’s Peter Pan. Problem is, everyone else remembers him as Peter. When Tink makes an agreement with Hook to help get Peter’s children back and offer a more interesting fight, she only has three days to help him remember and she needs all the Lost Boys to help.
The original Lost Boys have all been adopted and grown up as per the ending of Peter Pan, but the new ones are still memorable. We actually do have a set of twins, but unlike the book, they’re allowed to be twins because Peter’s not around telling them they can’t be who they are because he doesn’t understand them. In Peter’s absence, a new leader has emerged. Rufio!
I love Rufio’s character, and it’s cool to see how he learns and grows throughout the movie as well. If you’re missing the over-confidence and swagger from the original Peter Pan, you get it in spades in Rufio. Only, Rufio is still a more toned-down, less offensively cocky version of Peter. You love him, instead of wanting to punch him in the face.
Where Peter Pan is a story about mothers (sort of), Hook is a story about fathers. What it means to be involved in your child’s life, the dangers of trying to form a child in your image instead of letting them be themselves, and remembering to meet children on their terms. We get to see not only Peter’s side to the story, the reclamation of his identity, and his transformation… but also Captain Hook’s.
Hook’s characterization is an interesting illumination into the man, and humanizes him much more than many other reincarnations of the character. Without Peter in Neverland, Hook’s life has become somewhat meaningless. It’s part of the reason why he kidnaps the children – he needs purpose. There are a few scenes of Hook contemplating (and one where he very nearly commits) suicide so major trigger warnings for that. Smee helps him see the good in life, but Hook is chasing death throughout the film, firmly convinced that there’s nothing left for him.
In the three days while Hook excites himself to fight Peter Pan, Smee encourages him to try and turn Pan’s children against him. While this doesn’t work at all with Maggie, Jack harbors a lot of anger for his absentee father and is lured by Hook’s attention and gifts. Hook’s bribery endears him to Jack, but eventually Jack sees it to be what it is in a beautiful moment near the final battle scene.
Also, I mean, it’s sort of difficult to stand next to the villain when your dad is really Peter Pan.
Ultimately, both these children want to go home, just like the Darling children in the original film. It’s good to have adventures, but they both miss their mother (especially Maggie). They eventually rejoin Moira in a perfect scene where she is sleeping in the nursery with the window open, much like we find Mrs. Darling near the end of Peter Pan, including thinking she’s imagining the children asleep in their beds. Right out of the book, my loves.
Okay okay, I could talk about this movie forever, so I’m going to try and wrap it up.
Hook is a love letter to all the best parts of Peter Pan, bringing in memorable characters and passing the story to a new generation of Lost Boys. The real world and Neverland blend together beautifully (casting Bob Hoskins as both Smee and a stranger in London was brilliant) and after a fabulous pirate battle, it’s good to see the family back home again.
And, of course, the inevitability of Hook’s fate despite all his attempts to avert it is fantastic.
Hook is not exactly like Peter Pan, but rather, it asks “what if this happened instead” and explores the fallout of one minor change in Peter Pan’s adventure. It does so brilliantly, and as Hook would say in this film, it is a “great and worthy opponent” of the original problematic-yet-captivating story of Peter Pan. I recommend this film so highly, especially when you’re in the mood for something light, nostalgic, and fun.
This review doesn’t even talk about the best parts of the movie, including the various precious Lost Boys, the food fight, and generally Peter’s remember-who-you-are montage. It’s not a perfect adaptation – it’s not an adaptation at all, really – but it’s a wonderful companion film and well worth your time.
If you had to pick, what are your top three movies? For some reason, I have a much easier time picking favorite movies than favorite books – what about you? Let me know in the comments!