Of all Steven Spielberg‘s creations, I hold a special place in my heart for this overlooked gem, no matter what the fat cats at Rotten Tomatoes think. Hook (1999) proposes a simple question in response to J. M. Barrie‘s iconic creation, Peter Pan. What if the Boy Who Never Grew Up did just that? Robin Williams plays Peter, now going by the name of Peter Banning, a hotshot corporate lawyer with a pathological fear of flying. Struggling to make time for his family, Peter returns to England to meet his adoptive mother Wendy Darling (Maggie Smith) only to have his children kidnapped by the dastardly Captain Hook. Returned to Neverland through the efforts of Tinkerbell (Julia Roberts), if he is to rescue his children Peter must recall his true identity as The Pan (you may have realized this writer has perhaps taken the concept of Forgotten Childhood too literally) in time for one final clash with his nemesis.
I won’t deny that Hook has its flaws. Spielberg admits himself that he never quite felt satisfied with the Neverland set designs, opting mostly for scattered woodland shots with the occasional tree house during Peter’s training regimen. The film is also rather lacking when it comes to its female cast, making minimal use of Peter’s wife Moira, (Caroline Goodall) and is surprisingly sparing when it comes to Maggie Smith‘s screen time, considering the pivotal role of Wendy in Peter’s departure from Neverland. The relationship between Tinkerbell and Peter is, to be blunt about it, rather creepy. However, I don’t think these defects should necessarily damn Hook to film purgatory when they’ve been forgiven of many others 90s films (name one female character in Shawshank Redemption, for example).
With an already ambitious premise, Hook is accompanied by an array of energetic character performances which can’t help but charm any viewer. A formidable number of cameos are spread across the film, featuring George Lucas, Carrie Fisher, Glenn Close, Nick Tate, Phil Collins and a young Gweneth Paltrow. Seasoned stage veteran Dustin Hoffman chews the scenery as the eponymous villain, inverting Peter Pan’s youthful energy and optimism with a moody and world-weary attitude. The Captain is worn out, having grown disillusioned with his unaging buccaneer existence, adequately summed up in his rant “I hate being disappointed Smee, and I hate living in this flawed body, and I hate living in Neverland and… I hate Peter Pan!” Hook’s only desire is one last brawl, a final clash with his great adversary, desiring Peter’s regeneration as much as Tinkerbell to facilitate this.
It seems Neverland’s least youthful resident has suffered the most from never growing older, having grown unstable and occasionally suicidal in Peter Pan’s absence. Hoffman‘s role is supplemented with a winning performance by Bob Hoskins as Smee, and the relationship between the two seems less like a villain and his lackey than a bickering married couple. Indeed, Hoskins and Hoffman famously described Hook and Smee as “a couple of old queens” and the film absolutely reflects this relationship in a scene I can only describe as a camp masterpiece. The film also features a 16-year-old Dante Basco (Prince Zuko, Avatar) as Rufio, the new leader of the lost boys, adding a new punk vibe to Peter’s motley crew. Of course, the film would not be complete without the enchanting performance of our dearly missed friend, Robin Williams, as Peter Pan. The comic actor’s famous stage-energy helped enormously in communicating Peter Pan’s humour and hyperactivity, but his performance also possessed a deep pathos, explaining Peter Pan’s reasons for fleeing to Neverland and becoming a father in a stirring monologue at the cusp of the final act.
Sadly, perhaps, the reason Hook is so dear to me is partially linked to my experience watching the film shortly after Williams‘ death. “How could this happen?” I thought to myself as I began the film. The message of Hook becomes a comforting, hopeful one within his context. Peter first escaped the real world to Neverland as he feared growing up. This fear, crucially, is not of the responsibilities of adulthood, but of the mortality which haunts it. Growing up means admitting that you will one day die. However, when attempting to fly Peter recalls that he left Neverland because he wanted to be a father (holding his newborn son is the happy thought that gives him the power to fly again and if you don’t think that’s one of sweetest things ever you are probably Captain Hook), evidently deciding the desire to move forward and grow was worth facing the danger of mortality. Peter forgot Neverland because he didn’t need it anymore: he has a family who he loves. With this in mind, I can never resist getting watery-eyed every time Peter closes the film with a quote from the original text.
To live would be an awfully great adventure.