Thursday, July 19, 2012


Nick Willing is a smart guy. I have come to that conclusion.

First I watched Tin Man, enjoyed it more than I expected. Then came Alice, which I liked and may or may not have ended up buying, as well. Now we have Neverland.

The three of these were made-for-TV miniseries, based, respectively and loosely, on The Wizard of Oz, Alice in Wonderland, and Peter Pan. A recipe for disaster, right? Well, not really, not if the acting passes the test and the minds behind it all know what they're doing. And Nick Willing knows what he's doing. If you listen to the commentary on Alice, you can hear him talk about all the tiny details and all the ways he incorporated inspiration from the original story while still taking things in a different direction but somehow still doing something very similar. It's a delicate balance, and one you will have no chance of achieving if you don't understand exactly how the original story works.

Spoilers below.

Peter Pan I think is a harder story to approach in this way than the other two: it is so specific and so heartbreaking. For the specific side: while Tin Man and Alice were a little more like sequels, with Dorothy and Alice being older, Neverland couldn't make Peter older. Youth is so much a part of the story that it couldn't be removed. (Okay, it can be removed, but that's been done before--in Hook. And by the way, it's endlessly amusing to see the actor who played Smee in Hook return to the character in this production.) So Neverland is more like a prequel to Peter Pan. This means that we never see Wendy, John, and Michael. Instead, Peter takes over Wendy's role as the character choosing between worlds/lives/youth & adulthood. Wendy's sometimes rocky relationship with her parents becomes Peter's relationship with Jimmy/Hook. He transitions from a sort of amalgam of Oliver Twist and the Artful Dodger who wants to live a more entertaining life than regular people to one who sees the value of responsibility to one who throws much of that out again in favor of adventure.

I rebelled a little at this Peter. He's a well-handled character, but he isn't quite Peter Pan . . . but it is a prequel and it is an alternate story. He isn't Peter Pan yet, and he will probably never be quite the same as J.M. Barrie's character, anyway. But that's okay. You really have to treat these movies/series like their own stories, but with copious allusions to the originals. So even if, for instance, I felt that Peter didn't always have enough "otherness," he is very separate from the other characters. He's separate from the other boys but he never quite ends up on the same level with Hook, and he becomes like the tree spirits but not exactly like them. His struggle to decide what he wants to be is very much the struggle of Peter Pan--the tragic struggle.

Though I rather miss the idea of flying to Neverland, the way it was situated as a planet at the center of the universe was a clever idea. But I wish there were a little more development around Fludd's character (like in Alice, I felt like Caterpillar came in late in the story and with not enough weight attached to him). Maybe I just need to watch again, but I feel like there was still too much mystery left about the orbs. Which brings me to another point: sometimes it takes time to realize all of the allusions in these three miniseries. They grapple with the material in a very tactile way. Some people may rebel at that, call it misuse of beloved stories, but I believe that Nick Willing is just helping to prolong and enliven the mythologies of these stories. He's keeping them alive and in our minds and about that I can't complain.

I wonder if there is anything else coming next . . .

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