I walked into "Finding Neverland" with high expectations. After all, my friend had seen it at the Mill Valley Film Festival, and then had managed to get into the Sneak Preview and couldn’t stop talking about it. I am very happy to say that all of those expectations have been fulfilled.
"Finding Neverland" is the story of James Barrie (Johnny Depp), the man who wrote Peter Pan. It focuses on four brothers who gave Barrie inspiration for the play, and their widowed mother with whom he was in love. Barrie meets the boys one sunny afternoon in the park, while he is writing, and he sees the littlest boy Michael hiding under a bench. “I’m in a dungeon,” Michael, says solemnly. Instead of doubting or laughing, James takes him seriously. Soon Barrie is entertaining Michael and his three brothers; he dances with the family's enormous Newfoundland dog, pretending it is a bear. Scenes of Barrie and the dog dancing are interspersed with scenes of a man and a bear dancing in a colourful circus. This infuses a whimsical, magical feel to this exquisite movie.
As Barrie gets to know these boys, he realizes that one of them, Peter, is less outgoing and has less of an imagination than the other boys. He takes Peter under his wing, but it doesn't help. When Peter confides in Barrie that he wants to be a writer, Barrie gives him a leather-bound book and encourages him to write. Meanwhile, Barrie is writing his own story: The story of Peter Pan, the name “Peter” taken from his little friend. The play blooms in Barrie's mind and we enter Barrie's mind and see the world as he does. When his wife opens a door there is a normal room, but Barrie sees a blue sky, grass and butterflies.
This innovative filmmaking, good as it is, is also supported by superb acting which makes it work. Fortunately, in this movie, the acting is even better than the special effects. Johnny Depp gives a perfectly quirky performance, Kate Winslet as the single mother of the four boys is flawless. Even the children’s acting is amazing. Freddie Highmore as Peter stands out. We feel like we are in the story and can feel the emotions of these characters.
The script is extremely well written. Emotions range seamlessly from hysterically funny to heartbreaking in an instant. The drama is believable and outstanding. "Finding Neverland" is one of the best movies I have ever seen.
This is Natalie Johnson for "Movie Magazine".
© 2005 - Natalie Johnson - Air Date: 11/04
2004, PG, USA