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Peter Pan grows up to scare and charm

Los Angeles, Dec. 16 (Reuters): Rarely has Peter Pan seemed so grown up.

If you thought Peter Pan was just a kid’s fantasy about cute crocodiles, tiny fairies, mustachio-twirling villains and swashbuckling pirates, then think again. The latest movie version of the 100-year-old story about the boy who refuses to grow up is intended to be as scary as it is enchanting and to have something for everyone.

“I wanted to do the original Peter Pan. I went to the play, the book and (British author) J.M. Barrie’s life. There is a lot to it; it’s an adventure, a tragedy, a romance,” said director P.J. Hogan.

“The play is thematically and psychologically rich...I really wanted to be true to the original story, which is not all sweetness and light. I think it is a surprise to people because they are so used to the 1953 Disney version, which did remove all darkness,” Hogan told reporters.

Peter Pan, opening at Christmas in the US, Britain and New Zealand, is the first modern live-action movie featuring a real boy — the angelic but mischievous Jeremy Sumpter, 14 — in the title role.

Captain Hook is played with spine-chilling menace by Jason Isaacs, who also takes the role of Wendy Darling’s father in a deliberately ambiguous piece of casting in the tradition of the first stage production in London in 1904.

Unknown Briton Rachel Hurd-Wood, 13, plays the reluctant-to-grow-up Wendy on the cusp of her first crush.

All of which makes for an awfully big and complex adventure, even without all the flying and sword fights and a very jealous Tinker Bell.

Children bounce on cotton-candy pink clouds, dance in lush jungle-like woods, live in underground hide-outs complete with slides and take on wart-faced pirates with the expertise of grown marksmen.

But as Hogan notes, you can’t have an adventure without a dark side and his Peter Pan has more than the usual share of chilling moments.

The web-fingered Neverland mermaids who try to lure Wendy to a swift death by drowning have as little resemblance to Disney’s Little Mermaid Ariel as Captain Hook has to a doting dad.

Played for laughs in many other versions, Isaac’s Captain Hook is a narcissistic madman who lingers over his array of interchangeable metal hooks with zeal. “Our rule for ourselves was that Hook should be genuinely scary — charming but not trustworthy. (We thought) if we can get a character that really scares kids, it will be a lot more fun,” said Hogan.

“We want to protect kids from the world but they are really sharp. They can see what’s around them and they know there are dark things out there and they want stories to explain those things to them,” he said.

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