Introducing Spoiled Rotten Reviews! From time to time, we’ll be looking at a film – usually something well-known and well-worn – and taking a deeper look at the story, the world it creates, and the potential implications therein. If you’ve got a movie that needs a Spoiled Rotten Review, let us know in the comments.
Steven Spielberg is, without question, one of the greatest directors of all time. He’s thrilled and mesmerized us with timeless classics such as “Jaws”, “E.T.”, “Close Encounters of the Third Kind”, “Jurassic Park”, the Indiana Jones series, and more. He has a seemingly intrinsic knack for finding the human element amidst the fantastic and otherworldly; effortlessly making aliens identifiable and monsters sypathetic. However, every so often, Spielberg seemingly bites off more than he can chew and the results fall short of whimsical and enchanting, landing squarely in the territory of disturbing and possibly sinister. “Hook” is one such film.
Spielberg’s take on the Peter Pan mythology, centered on an adult Pan (played by Robin Williams) coming to the rescue of his children who have been abducted by the dastardly Captain Hook (Dustin Hoffman) has been studied retroactively by numerous viewers, and its themes of adulthood and growing up were picked apart by Cracked.com’s always-excellent “After Hours” segment; but what about the world of the film itself? What are we supposed to take away from the living, breathing environment and the characters that inhabit it day-in and day-out?
First and foremost, it’s problematic at best to give Peter Pan an origin story beyond the simple explanation that he is an adventurous, immortal child. “Hook” chooses instead to throw caution to the wind and we’re treated to an extended flashback sequence, mid-film, of an infant Pan being ripped away from his parents when his carriage careens away from them down a hill during a day at the park. A quick cut takes us to infant Pan lying on the cobblestone streets in the rain (which, when combined with his parents’ clothes, places his birth some time in the 19th Century), and in comes Tinkerbell (played by Julia Roberts). Does she return him to his parents? Does she soothe him and stop his crying? Does she even shield him from the rain? If you answered “No” to any or all of these questions, you’re beginning to see where this story is going.
Tinkerbell sees to it that poor Peter disappears faster than the Lindbergh Baby and spirits him away to Neverland. A fantastical realm where he’ll never be abandoned, never be alone, and never age (except for when he mysteriously grows to be roughly five years old when we see him next). But Neverland isn’t enough for young Peter Pan, who returns to Earth seeking his long-lost-parents, only to find that they’ve moved on with their lives and had another baby in his absence. Crushed, Peter flees, straight through the window of a young Wendy, who almost immediately falls in love with him, righting every emotional wrong in Peter’s world and bringing him back again and again for years to come. Except, that is, for a period of roughly fifty years, in which time Wendy has had a daughter (who Peter never meets, and who’s never mentioned) and is now a grandmother to young Moira. Where did Peter go? Why didn’t he come back for so long? Does Wendy (now Granny Wendy, played by the forever-ancient Maggie Smith) still have feelings for the prepubescent boy flying through her window?
Unfortunately for Granny Wendy, Peter is smitten with Moira and decides to stay with her on Earth as an ostensibly centuries-old man-child (child-man?). His memories of Neverland, adventure, and Peter Pan fade until he becomes Peter Banning; an impossibly hairy, overweight adult with children of his own. It’s then that Peter’s age-old nemesis, Captain Hook, chooses to return, kidnapping Peter’s children from their home on Earth (just how he does this is never explained), and holding them hostage until Pan comes to claim them in a final fight to the death. Tinkerbell locates Peter, takes him to Neverland (yet another in a long string of abductions), connects him with the Lost Boys, and it’s off to the proverbial races.
With the introduction of the Lost Boys come some of the film’s most unsettling moments – little pockets of horror hidden just beneath “Hook”s friendly veneer. The Boys are lead by Rufio – the blade-wielding, adult-murdering head of a child army – who terrorizes Peter before eventually indoctrinating him to the group’s ways.
The Lost Boys bring with them a veritable tidal wave of idiosyncrasies, all pointing to tragic beginnings and all-around horrible lives in the magical land. Each seems to be a transplant from wildly different eras: the mobster child in 1920s attire, the 1940s-era Boy Scout twins, the slave children clothed in rags, the– wait, what? Mixed in with the Lost Boys are at least two children who, if their clothes are any indication, are former slaves from the American South. There’s Pockets, seemingly the youngest of the gang, and Thud Butt, whose clothes are in somewhat better condition, even if he himself is mistreated.
Let’s get something straight: “Thud Butt” is not this child’s given name. It’s not even his slave name. “Thud Butt” is a scathing commentary on this child’s 200-plus year struggle with morbid obesity. Every time the Lost Boys refer to this (forever) young man, they’re making fun of him just by virtue of his name. At every meal they’re letting him stuff his face with imaginary wonder food while his bloated body stays in a state of artery-shuddering stasis.
Thud Butt has been in Neverland for roughly two centuries, surviving murderous pirate attacks, the harsh jungle, and the constant verbal jabs of his fellow Lost Boys, and somehow Peter Pan’s triumphant return only makes matters worse, proving just how little concern everyone has for this lovable lardy lug. Once Peter’s status as the returning Pan is cemented, the Lost Boys immediately put him through an intense exercise regimen to get him back into fighting shape, and Thud Butt suffers in silence. Peter rediscovers himself and learns how to fly while Thud Butt flounders in a permanent mid-heart attack state. Worst of all, the entire time, Thud Butt is lonely. He tells Peter, in confidence, that he misses his family, that they’re his “happy thoughts”, and seemingly no one has made him aware that while he’s remained ageless in Neverland, Earth has continued as normal in his absence. Everyone he’s ever known is dead and buried, likely in unmarked graves after they fell beneath the whips of evil slave masters. If Thud Butt ever discovers what became of his “happy thoughts”, an eternity of survivor’s guilt is all that awaits him. I can’t help but believe, in the film’s final moments when Peter hands Thud Butt the sword of leadership, that he’s made a terrible mistake. As the credits roll on “Hook”, there is a reckoning happening among the Lost Boys, at the point of a steel blade and beneath the crush of unwashed thighs.
At “Hook”s close, the Lost Boys are victorious, Hook has been vanquished, and Peter leaves Neverland for the final time with his children in tow. But what of the rest of the world? What of the pirates? As the only adults in an eternal struggle against Neverland’s children, the pirate’s life is all any of these men (and women) have ever known. In this case, that statement is very literal, due to one of Neverland’s most sinister qualities; one rarely acknowledged, even in the film itself: Neverland makes you forget.
Under Hook’s watch, Peter’s son Jack suffers a gradual mental decline. He forgets his mother, forgets his father, and generally becomes the shiftless thrall of a mincing boy-hungry predator. But the memory loss isn’t limited to just Jack. Peter, the man whose sole mission in this film is to save his children’s lives, regresses into a childlike state during his training with the Lost Boys. By the mid-point of the film, he’s holed up in an old tree house, clutching an old teddy bear, and lost in the memories of his care free life as Peter Pan of yore. By the time he manages to recover from his Nerverland fugue state, the Lost Boys’ attack against the pirates has already been planned; a wild guerrilla strike consisting of paintball guns and mirror tricks that manages to scrape by by the skin of its teeth and results in Rufio’s needless death by the sword, this opening the aforementioned power vacuum soon to be filled by Thud Butt the Terrible.
“Hook” is, at least on the surface, a children’s movie It is, at least in theory, about the value of retaining one’s childlike nature and wonderment even into adulthood. However, lurking beneath the surface is a tragedy of Shakespearean proportions, and horror that would not seem far out of place amidst the canon of Lovecraft. Fond childhood memories of “Hook” turn into twisted nightmares after a second viewing, and the world of Peter Pan and Neverland is forever darker for it.