All children grow up
Imagine a world like nothing you’ve ever seen, where every day is an adventure, where you never have to grow up or grow old. That’s the world of Peter Pan – the clanging swords of furious rivals, the quivering plank of the Jolly Roger, the transcendent thrill of flying … and the magical power of a hidden kiss.
A lasting tale of adventure, discovery and dreams, Peter Pan has thrilled audiences around the world since it premiered on a London stage 100 years ago. J. M. Barrie’s classic story of the boy who wouldn’t grow up – and the girl whose family insists that she must – has had many popular incarnations over the years, but has never been fully realized on-screen.
Until now. Universal Pictures, Columbia Pictures and Revolution Studios have joined forces to present this bewitching story with an epic-sized production focused on capturing the essence of a great writer’s work. With unbounded imagination, a hearty appetite for adventure and the modern magic of visual effects, writer-director P. J. Hogan (My Best Friend’s Wedding) and producers Lucy Fisher and Douglas Wick (Gladiator, Stuart Little) have brought all the wonder, danger and excitement of Barrie’s original vision to the screen in the first live-action feature film version of Peter Pan since the silent era.
“Brace yourselves, lads!”
For the first time, a boy – Jeremy Sumpter (Frailty) – stars in the title role, opposite Jason Isaacs (The Patriot, Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets) as Captain James Hook. The fairies will twinkle and Neverland will fill you with wonder, but don’t drop your guard. The battle between Hook and Pan has never been fought by enemies so evenly matched.
The story begins on a chilly night in buttoned-up Edwardian London as Wendy Darling (Rachel Hurd-Wood) mesmerizes her younger brothers with tales of swordplay, swashbuckling and Captain Hook, the legendary pirate who fears nothing but a ticking clock. But a clock is ticking for Wendy, too. Her father has decreed that it’s time for her to grow up. After tonight, no more stories. She’s to be groomed for womanhood and marriage by strict Aunt Millicent (Lynn Redgrave).
Unknown to the Darlings, Peter Pan loves Wendy’s stories, too, and travels a great distance to hear them. His appearance in their nursery that night, along with a jealous little fairy called Tinker Bell (Ludivine Sagnier), triggers an awfully big adventure for Wendy and her brothers. Following him out the window like a small flock of birds, the children swoop over London’s moonlit rooftops, through a galaxy of radiant planets and stars, to the magical Neverland, where they begin an exhilarating new life free of grown-up rules with Peter and the Lost Boys in their secret underground home. Confronting depraved pirates, malicious mermaids, a monstrous crocodile and, worst of all, the vicious steel claw dangling from Hook’s right arm, Wendy and her brothers find out what they’re made of. And the ongoing battle between Peter and Hook escalates to a thrilling climax, played out against the fantastical backdrop of the enchanted world of Neverland.
The Peter Pan cast contrasts veteran character actors at the peak of their craft with remarkable break-out talent and a number of brand-new discoveries. In addition to Sumpter and Isaacs, the film stars Olivia Williams (The Sixth Sense, Rushmore) as the elegant and empathetic Mrs. Darling, Academy Award® nominee Lynn Redgrave (Gods and Monsters) as socially-minded Aunt Millicent, Richard Briers (The Good Life) as Hook’s sly sidekick Smee and French sensation Ludivine Sagnier (Swimming Pool) as the mischievous fairy Tinker Bell. Rachel Hurd-Wood, discovered at an open casting call in London, makes an assured and impressive screen debut as Wendy.
P. J. Hogan co-wrote Peter Pan with Michael Goldenberg (Contact) and was intent on remaining true to the spirit of Barrie’s original work. The film’s producers shared this passion. Lucy Fisher had been trying to make Peter Pan for 20 years and has now made a dream come true with her husband and partner, producer Douglas Wick, their Red Wagon Entertainment, and producer Patrick McCormick.
Filming in his native Australia, Hogan collaborated with world-renowned behind-the-scenes artists including cinematographer Donald McAlpine (an Academy Award® nominee for Moulin Rouge), production designer Roger Ford (an Academy Award® nominee for Babe), costume designer Janet Patterson (a three-time Academy Award® nominee for The Piano, Portrait of a Lady and Oscar and Lucinda) and composer James Newton Howard (Oscar®-nominated for five films including My Best Friend’s Wedding). Garth Craven (Legally Blonde, Restoration) and long-time Steven Spielberg collaborator Michael Kahn (a six-time Oscar® nominee and winner for Saving Private Ryan, Schindler’s List and Raiders of the Lost Ark) edited Peter Pan. Industrial Light + Magic’s Scott Farrar (an Oscar® winner for Cocoon and a nominee for A.I. Artificial Intelligence and Backdraft) headed the visual effects team. Mark Forker headed Digital Domain’s team, which also contributed key visual effects, and Clay Pinney was special effects supervisor. Mohamed Al Fayed, Gail Lyon and Jocelyn Moorhouse are the film’s executive producers. Charles Newirth is co-executive producer.
About the Production …
“ … for children and for those who were once children …”
The story of Peter and Wendy’s trip through the night skies is rooted in the collective consciousness like a recurring dream – intoxicating, fantastical, irresistible. Much more than romantic nostalgia or a simple bedtime story, Peter Pan represents our most primal hopes and fears. Its powerful emotional truth springs from a fantasy of flight and adventure that is both universal and timeless.
Technologically, the time has never been better to tell this story on screen. Philosophically, the world’s need to dream, imagine and believe, as Peter Pan urges us to do, is greater than ever.
Nevertheless, it was a long time coming. The partnership that finally brought Peter Pan to the screen convenes players who have been loyal to the project for many years. Lucy Fisher first procured the film rights 20 years ago and has nurtured the project through development with producing partner Douglas Wick. Sharing a passion for the story, Revolution's Joe Roth and Todd Garner and Columbia's Amy Pascal alchemized the project with P. J. Hogan on-board as director and co-writer. Universal's Stacey Snider, Mary Parent and Scott Stuber completed a team whose energetic and muscular collaboration realized this version of Peter Pan for audiences everywhere.
“…when the world of make-believe becomes real …”
A beguiling duality ripples through Peter Pan. Are we meant to imagine that the Darling children actually stepped off their window ledge and flew to Neverland one night when their father had been especially stern? Or should we instead assume that Wendy bid her childhood a poignant farewell with a fantastic dream on her last night in the nursery? Either scenario offers audiences an awfully big adventure.
With P. J. Hogan at the helm, a calibrated balance between the magic of storytelling and the magic of effects was always the mandate. Set in a world that appears “normal,” his visually lavish film has the romantic tone of a turn-of-the-century painting with fresh, authentic performances and a lively respect for the original material – as well as children who fly, a ticking crocodile the size of a double-decker bus and a fencing duel set in the sails of a pirate ship high above the ground. The contrast between the story’s two worlds – prim Edwardian London and larger-than-life Neverland – is sharply drawn. The city’s gray, cold formality melts from the children’s memories as soon as they breathe in Neverland’s surreal jungles.
P. J. Hogan’s openness to magic and imagination, along with his ability to draw others into that special world, were balanced with a scholar’s mastery of J. M. Barrie’s work.
“The book is amazing – dense and full of great characters and marvelous moments. You get the feeling that J. M. Barrie put everything that ever occurred to him in it,” Hogan observed. “And the play is so different from what I remembered – the story is strong, filled with adventure and action, and very funny, but also very, very moving. What drew me to making the film was realizing it had not been done. Yes, it’s literally been filmed, but the full story hadn’t been done. There were wonderful things that had not been put on-screen before.”
Hogan’s intimacy with the material made the script sing – he rewrote an earlier draft by Michael Goldenberg (Contact) after coming on-board as director. “I think P. J. has the entire play and the book in a sort of mental Palm Pilot that he can draw up anytime,” said actress Olivia Williams, who plays Mrs. Darling. “I don’t think there is a phrase spoken that isn’t somewhere referenced back to Barrie. To have produced something so natural and modern and filmic from a story written 100 years ago is amazing.”
Hogan’s knowledge was also a valuable arbiter on-set, guiding the director and his actors during the inevitable moments when something that works on the page doesn’t hold up in performance. “Whenever there was a creaky bit we couldn’t quite get through, P. J. would always go back to the source material,” said Jason Isaacs, who had also immersed himself in writings by and about Barrie to prepare for the twin roles of Mr. Darling and Captain Hook. “What P. J. has done is what Barrie would do today if he had a Hollywood studio at his disposal.”
Oscar® nominee Lynn Redgrave plays the Darling family disciplinarian, Aunt Millicent, a character Hogan invented with Redgrave in mind. “Aunt Millicent is not in the original, but she fits right in,” said Redgrave, who saw the play many times as a child in England. “She’s a desperate romantic, and a funny, full character.
“P. J. is endlessly inventive,” she continued. “If he were a painter, he’d be inventing new colors that had never existed before. He has been fantastically true to J. M. Barrie while bringing in some original touches that are so Barrie-esque that it would be hard for me to say whether something was in the original or not.”
Producer Lucy Fisher shared the devotion to Barrie’s work. “It is a privilege and an honor and a burden to do something that so many people love,” she confessed. “You want to do it justice.
“Peter Pan is not just about kids having an adventure and playing with fairies,” Fisher emphasized. “The actual Barrie material, while completely accessible to children, also has a depth and mystery to it, which is why I think it has sustained for so long. The myths that sustain themselves are the ones in which people face fear and come through it. ”
For Fisher, the story has always been Wendy’s as much as Peter’s. “The play is called Peter Pan,” she noted, “but the book is called Peter and Wendy because it’s really two stories. Peter is certainly the star but the point of view was always Wendy’s – jumping out the window and coming back in.”
The filmmakers all agreed that what happens in between Wendy “jumping out the window and coming back in” had to feel believable for their Peter Pan to make its mark. “One of the great ambitions from the very beginning was to give the audience the pleasure of letting it seem true, letting us all really go to Neverland, letting us inhabit a real version of a fantasy place,” said producer Douglas Wick. “We knew that with today’s technology we could create that kind of strange reality in a way that’s never been possible before.
“The emotional reality was the other great challenge – and finding a director who could deliver both,” Wick continued. “Our mission was to avoid any kind of arch version of a moustache-twirling Hook or a silly Peter. We knew P. J. would bring a tone of emotional reality and credibility. His script was very focused on a credible Hook, a credible Mr. Darling and a family that interacted in a recognizable way so that it wouldn’t seem like remote people in a remote place and time.”
“Proud and insolent youth! ”
“Peter Pan is this kid who’s free and gets to do anything he wants. He gets to fly, he gets to sword fight, he gets to kill pirates – it’s what every kid wants and Peter Pan has it.”
So says Jeremy Sumpter, who ought to know. The young American actor chosen to perform this iconic role is the first boy ever to portray Peter Pan in a major production.
Hogan appreciated the opportunity to put a boy on-screen as Peter Pan. “Peter Pan has been a cartoon character, and onstage he’s mainly been played by women,” the director explained. “In the silent film version, he was played by a woman, and in Hook, he was 40 years old. Now a kid is finally getting to do the greatest role ever written for a kid. Jeremy is Peter Pan. He is wild, confident, boisterous, fun – all those things that were so difficult to find in one kid. I was looking for the 12-year-old Errol Flynn, which was very difficult because 12-year-olds usually don’t know who they are, and are not confident. We searched a long time. But I knew as Jeremy walked through the door that he was it.”
Jason Isaacs, the versatile British actor who plays Peter Pan’s nemesis, felt the impact of Sumpter’s energy every day. “They can’t hold him still to put the make-up on him in the morning,” Isaacs joked. “He’s a terrible influence on me and the Lost Boys, which is why he’s such a great Peter Pan. He never looks down, he never looks back. He’s like a supernova – you have to try and keep up with him.”
Sumpter relished acting out the rivalry between Peter Pan and Hook. “My favorite shot in the whole film is when Peter says, ‘To die would be an awfully big adventure.’ It makes Hook so mad and then – tick tock! – Hook looks back and there’s the crocodile!”
But Sumpter understood that Peter Pan isn’t always crowing. “Jeremy has the face of an angel, but also has the face of an animal,” observed producer Lucy Fisher. “He has complete energy, a leadership quality and unbounded personal charisma. Yet he has a tender side, too, so there are scenes where he is hurt or sad, and he is a breathtaking natural actor. He delivers the lines with a naturalness that never sounds stagey. He is fearless and yet has a lot of heartfelt emotion, too.”
For his villain, Hogan followed the tradition observed since the very first stage production of Peter Pan nearly a century ago by casting one actor as both Captain Hook and Mr. Darling.
It made perfect sense to Jason Isaacs. “Hook’s an incredibly dangerous man. He’s been played for laughs in other versions, but Barrie wrote a book that adults and children can enjoy, and at its center is a frightening character. It’s no surprise that this creature, who represents the scariest things about being grown up, looks a lot like Wendy’s father.”
Both of these frightening men are also very fearful themselves. “Mr. Darling is ruled by Aunt Millicent who tells him what everyone will think, how everyone will judge him,” Isaacs explained. “And Hook’s scared that he’ll never fulfill his destiny. He should be ruling the Seven Seas and have the respect of his men, and yet this irritating little boy doesn’t seem to be scared of him.”
Isaacs, whose recent work includes roles in Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, The Patriot and Black Hawk Down, was one of the first actors Hogan cast. “It’s a star part,” the director said, “but I didn’t want someone children would be familiar with. I want kids to be afraid of Hook and I think they’ll be afraid of Jason’s portrayal. His Hook is driven, psychotic, charming and capable of anything.
“Jason is very versatile,” Hogan continued. “He changes so much from film to film but I think Captain Hook is the role he was born to play. He’s got a great way of combining true menace with charm and wit and that’s a really tough combination.”
Isaacs’ transformation into the narcissistic madman required 90 minutes with his hair, make-up and wardrobe team. A carefully coiffed follower of fashion, Hook wears only the finest velvets, silks, leather and jewelry, while his dissolute men cover themselves in stinking rags. His tangle of cascading ringlets, sculpted from virgin Russian human hair, is styled to resemble melting black candles. But his most important accessory is his deadly hook – or rather, hooks, for he keeps a variety on hand. “Our sculptor made a contraption that goes all the way up my arm and tightens with a ratchet,” said Isaacs. “It’s like a torture chamber instrument, very sharp and dangerous.”
Second unit director and veteran stunt coordinator Conrad Palmisano said the device resembled “a can opener for 55-gallon drums of fuel. It’s quite vicious-looking when it comes at you and I think seeing Peter Pan stand up to this ferocious enemy with the claw in one hand and a sword in the other will be very exciting.”
Hook’s other most prominent appendage is his sidekick Smee, played by the venerable Richard Briers. “Smee and Hook are like an old married couple,” said Isaacs of the ruthless pair.
Casting Briers as the sly old rogue was particularly satisfying for Hogan. “I grew up watching Richard Briers on television, on The Good Life in the 1970’s,” the director recalled, “which I think a lot of Australians did, and it was always a dream of mine to work with him. He is one of the funniest, warmest screen presences, and when I was working on the screenplay, I couldn’t imagine anybody better for Smee.”
“One girl is worth twenty boys …”
The three-continent search for a young actress to portray Wendy was ultimately the filmmakers’ biggest challenge in casting Peter Pan. Hundreds of girls were seen at open calls in the United States, United Kingdom and Australia before Rachel Hurd-Wood, who had never acted before and lives in England’s Home Counties, was found at an open call in London.
“Rachel was the last one cast,” said Hogan. “We needed a girl who felt right for the period – a 12-year-old girl with dignity, strength and wit. Kids are different now.”
The filmmakers were more concerned with emotional truth than professional credits. Nevertheless, the role of Wendy was technically challenging. “It’s a very difficult part because she has to change during the movie,” Fisher explained. “When we found Peter, we thought, ‘Who is going to be able to look good next to him?’ Then we found this girl who has the same degree of presence as he does, and she pulls off a very complicated part with vigor and elegance.”
According to Isaacs, who shared many scenes with Hurd-Wood, her lack of training proved an asset. “Rachel doesn’t have any craft to hide behind,” he noted. “It’s got to be real for her or she can’t do it. That’s why her performance is so truthful.”
Hurd-Wood’s trip to Neverland began one day after school when her mother met her at the door with a tape measure. “My grandparents heard about the part on television and told my mum they were searching for a typically English Wendy of this height and that sort of thing. I’d never done any acting. Mum said I wasn’t going for the part but for the fun of seeing what an audition for a film would be like.”
After the open call, she was called back to audition on camera, called again to read opposite Isaacs, called a third time to work with an acting coach, and then flown to Australia for a screen test. Next, she spent four days in Los Angeles to see the producers and work with John Kirby, the acting coach for all the children in Peter Pan. Finally, after a long spell of waiting, she learned that she had the part. In the course of filming, she acquired skills she’d never imagined, from fencing to flying, and only complained about one thing.
“It’s not fun to cry,” she said. “Your friends from the set can’t talk to you because it will get you distracted from the scene, so it’s hard and tiring and just not fun. One time I spent a whole day crying and the next day I could have broken an arm and wouldn’t have cried because I was just totally drained of all crying.”
Laughing or crying, she admired her character. “Wendy’s a really great person,” she said. “She loves adventure, but still has a girly side. If I had lived then, I would have loved to be her friend.”
Kids and Animals
Although the Peter Pan cast boasts respected actors of excellent pedigree in many key roles, the ranks of the Lost Boys and the young members of the Darling family are filled with newcomers.
“The children are fantastic and have an amazing influence on the set,” said Olivia Williams, “because when something spontaneous and childlike happens, there is a wonderful sense of celebration. P. J. has cast kids who aren’t trained to be cute, so all those truthful moments are spontaneous and it’s been a real education to watch them work.”
Harry Newell, who plays the Napoleon-obsessed John Darling, explained the special challenges presented by working with Rebel, the St. Bernard who appears as Nana in the film. “It can be quite hard working with a dog,” he observed. “Sometimes you do a perfect take and the dog mucks up, not going on his mark or something, and sometimes the dog would do a perfect take and you wouldn’t. But it was good fun having Rebel around.”
Neither Newell nor Freddie Popplewell, who plays little Michael Darling, had acted before. Of the six Lost Boys, only Harry Eden, who plays Nibs, had previous professional experience. Three of the Lost Boys – Theodore Chester, George Mackay and Rupert Simonian – were discovered by a casting agent in one location, the Harrodian School in London. The school’s curriculum and methods encourage creative expression, but possibly more auspicious is the fact that Harrodian’s headmaster is named James Hook.
Director of photography Donald McAlpine, who has shot 50 feature films, discovered that working with the kids could result in technical choices that surprised him. “It was a running gag with P. J. and me,” he recalled. “I would select a focal length which is long and takes in a smaller view. Then he would immediately say he wanted the widest angle lens I could get. Those lenses created some immense lighting problems for me, but I’ve generally got to say that he was right. The distortion these lenses create on adults goes unnoticed on these beautiful young children. And on top of that, you see the whole world, so you end up with an extreme close-up and a wide shot – two for the price of one.”
Chapter and Verse
“J. M. Barrie wrote Peter Pan during a period that’s endlessly fascinating to me,” said director P. J. Hogan. “When I started looking at artwork from that time, I got very interested in the Romantic period, particularly the work of John William Waterhouse and Sir Edward Coley Burne-Jones. The colors are very bright, people appear to be illuminated from within. And I thought, ‘These are the paintings J. M. Barrie would have been looking at, paintings he would have seen on exhibition.’
“When I describe the film as looking very romantic,” he continued, “it’s not in the strictest sense of the word. It’s more that everything is bigger than life, the colors are brighter and warmer, everything is very rich.”
To give Peter Pan the visual mood he desired, Hogan assembled a team of award-winning behind-the-scenes artists. Long before that, however, he laid the groundwork by building a book of images that suggested aspects of his vision.
“P. J. has a very precise visual sense of how a story needs to be told,” explained producer Patrick McCormick. “His book of references covered every detail of the story – London streets, Neverland, cloud sequences. We created everything in this movie. There isn’t any moment or sequence where we said, ‘Okay, we have that location, or it’s easy for us to build a set like that.’ Everything is fabricated to resonate with the rest of the movie.”
In the early days of pre-pre-production, the filmmakers had considered shooting Peter Pan on location, which would have meant filming in a jungle, aboard a ship, at sea and on the streets of London. But because so much of the story takes place at night and so many cast members were children whose schedules were governed by strict child labor laws, location plans were abandoned. Instead, production was based at Warner Roadshow Studios in Gold Coast, Australia (Queensland) and the film’s sets were constructed on a number of massive soundstages. The only exception was the London streets set, which was built outdoors on the lot in Australia and occasioned the schedule’s single instance of night-shooting by the main unit.
At times, Peter Pan occupied all eight of the facility’s stages. In addition to answering concerns about the children’s schedules, shooting on the stages allowed production to create and execute the elaborate locations under controlled circumstances, unhampered by local exterior conditions such as cyclone season. It also allowed the filmmakers to set the story in a larger-than-life world of heightened reality.
Hogan’s early research gave his team the much-appreciated chance to hit the ground running. “P. J. must have spent a year pulling together what we call the bible,” said production designer Roger Ford. “Most of it was culled from paintings or illustrations in books which expressed his feeling for how he wanted to see the film. The time it takes to find out a director’s vision when a document like this doesn’t exist is considerable. I’ve never come across a director who had gone this far before the team was put together.
“Peter Pan is a designer’s dream,” Ford continued, “because it’s many films in one: Edwardian London, pirate ship, tropical jungle, an ancient castle with dragons and water – any of these settings could be a film on its own. The whole thinking behind the look was to start with reality, then push and exaggerate it to get to the level of magic – to push the most extreme things you’d find in nature. You’d never get the combination of things in a real forest that we have in ours. And you never know if it really happened or was a dream.”
Director of photography Donald McAlpine, who shot the visually daring Moulin Rouge, elaborated on how the bible enhanced this process. “P. J. presents you with an image that may be a glorious golden glen but through that you realize what he really needs is a dark blue back-lit scene,” he explained. “Sometimes it’s about color, sometimes it’s design, but it’s always about the emotion that the vision has stirred in him and he hopes will stir you. It’s the old picture and a thousand words thing. Words are so limiting in communicating visual concepts.
“Roger Ford designs sets that seem to be made to shoot,” McAlpine added. “When you get the camera on the set, you find he hasn’t just put elements there, he has visualized how things may be shot. When you walk onto a really well-designed and constructed set, you are inspired to do something. With the pirate ship, there’s just no way that somebody won’t do their absolute best to make this wonderful piece of construction look great.”
Early on, the filmmakers had considered building the Jolly Roger at sea. Instead, the deck of the beautiful but neglected old vessel that Hook captured from Spanish or Portuguese sailors came to life on a soundstage, with early design concepts hatched at ILM in Northern California. “Every time they sent us something, we asked them to push it,” said Ford. Naturally.
Set designer Jim Millet oversaw the ship’s construction. At 85-feet – 90 with the rigging at the ends included – it was the maximum length the soundstage could accommodate. It was built on a gimbal to simulate the movement it would have had on water. Meanwhile at ILM, a staff of carpenters and designers replicated its own 20-foot version of the ship, adding the keel and the hull, for effects shots.
“I do believe in fairies! I do, I do!”
In the hundred years since Peter Pan was first performed on a London stage, technological advances have occurred that would have sounded like science fiction in 1904. Even 20 years ago, when Lucy Fisher first acquired the Peter Pan rights, a live action film could not have been made that depicted the story’s fantasy elements with the surreal seamlessness that the filmmakers had in mind.
Donald McAlpine’s experience on the lavishly designed Moulin Rouge, which included many effects shots and was also filmed primarily on soundstages, aided the Peter Pan team immensely. “There are massive logistical, financial and creative implications when a truly human, dramatic story has to be told with the technique of today’s computers and computer graphics running all through it,” said the cinematographer.
The filmmakers took full advantage of technology to hit their marks – but not at the expense of the story’s heart. After all, Peter Pan is not science fiction. Hogan was also adamant that the signature fantasy elements of Peter Pan be depicted as a child might imagine them.
“I wanted to work with people who are interested in magic over technology and the people I found at ILM were the right people for this,” said Hogan. “Scott Farrar really gets it and loves the material.”
Farrar was a key member of the team from pre-production through post. “It’s a difficult style of film to do, because it really isn’t fantasy,” he said. “It’s very much photo-real, but told in a storybook fashion. Everything is based on our real world, except it’s larger, more colorful and more dramatic. P. J. had it in mind to be very painterly in the style of this story, so that was a huge cue for us. I knew from the outset that he loves strong color.”
The film ultimately used approximately 1,200 effects shots with the majority produced by ILM. Teams at Digital Domain and Sony Pictures Imageworks also handled significant work. R!ot Pictures, Pacific Titles and CIS Hollywood contributed additional shots.
Striving to craft a world that reflected the unlimited possibilities of a child’s imagination, Farrar and his ILM team took pleasure in realizing how much their work would thrill the children in their lives. “Kids will carry these visual images with them for a long time, and there’s a huge amount of satisfaction in that,” Farrar reflected. “I love thinking about my kids – or anybody’s kids – looking at this film.
“There was a period in my life when I felt like the master of disaster – one blow-them-up picture after another,” he continued. “Those are fun, but this one has been completely new and different. It is so rich in its imagery. You’re not restricted in your thinking about design issues because you’re asking yourself, ‘What would children think?’”
Practical know-how allowed the magic to reach the screen. “No matter how good the animation is, no matter how good the model is, if you don’t light it right, it will never work in the film,” Farrar allowed. “So we record everything that is done on the set – how it’s lit, how far away the lamps were, what the gels were, everything. Otherwise our shots won’t cut in.
“P. J. has wonderful ideas and anytime there’s a problem, he usually has a better idea as a solution,” Farrar reflected. “He had not done a lot of blue screen work, so we helped with that, but he steers the ship and it’s always about the performance.”
Farrar’s expertise was critically important with Tinker Bell’s scenes, but his early opinion about how to depict this small twinkling character changed. “Initially, I advocated a full CG character for Tinker Bell,” Farrar recalled, “because we were talking about controls of flight and that sort of thing. That scenario still required an actress for building and capturing performance.
“But then P. J. found Ludivine Sagnier, who is fantastic. She can do faces and portray emotions in a kind of silent era sense, and her talent lends itself to physical comedy. So now we have the wonderful personality of Ludivine on-screen, primarily in close-up. If she has to fly around and do a lot of very fancy stuff, that’s her CG character, but wherever we can have Ludivine act, we do.”
In several mid-distance shots, Tinker Bell is actually a hybrid that features Sagnier’s head on a CG body.
“Happy thoughts and fairy dust …”
The moment that Peter, Wendy, John and Michael form a human comet and burst through the stratosphere on their flight to Neverland is truly exhilarating. Making that flight credible was a team effort requiring ingenuity from the stunt department, magic from special effects and intense dedication from the actors.
“Practice, practice, practice – that’s the key to flying,” said Jeremy Sumpter, who logged more time in the air than anyone in the cast. “Peter Pan is a perfect flyer. His body is perfectly straight and that’s hard to do. I had to lie flat in a harness. I’d use the strength of my back to keep my feet from coming down. I spent months training to get my back muscles strong enough to hold myself straight for longer.”
Stunt doubles were rarely used for Sumpter’s flights. “P. J. didn’t like using them because I fly differently than everyone else.”
Like Wendy, Rachel Hurd-Wood took her flying very seriously, but could also enjoy it. “It can be really hard, but if you’re laughing and having fun, then it’s great.”
Second unit director-stunt coordinator Conrad Palmisano and his team were responsible for getting the actors into the air and spent months preparing them. “We wanted a weightless look to the flying,” he explained. “It’s not like some of the other more recent cartoon-type characters who can fly at will and that’s part of who their character is. We said, ‘How does fairy dust make you fly? Is there a learning curve?’ We spent time developing that nuance of when they’re not flying so well – without having it look like we’re flying them poorly.”
There’s much more to it than happy thoughts and fairy dust.
“Trying to get four or five kids flying perfectly in one shot is quite a challenge,” Palmisano continued. “If they’re on blue screen, we have what we lovingly refer to as the blueberries – guys dressed in blue suits who run around and grab them here, turn them there, lift just so until we get them all in perfect position.”
Training began at ground level. “We started the kids on trampolines and other gymnastic equipment to get them used to their bodies in the air,” he said. “We took Jeremy to a circus in the States and had him fly off the trapeze so he could get a sense of what it really felt like to fly and fall. On the Russian Swing, he’d shove off on the forward push and fly 25 or 30 feet through the air, then land on an airbag. Then we’d put him in rigs and asked him to recapture that feeling.”
Farrar’s ILM team also played a major role. “Very few live-action pictures have really achieved good flying,” Farrar acknowledged. “In an aerial shot, when you’re photographing a plane flying against buildings in a close background, there is a very tied-together relationship between the camera’s pans and tilts on the foreground subject and what is happening in the background. If that doesn’t lock, it doesn’t look right. In the past, you had to do the best you could with an aerial plate that was pre-photographed and get the essence of the plate, the motion and maybe a broad sweeping pan or sudden dive down. But it’s very difficult without actually manufacturing the background. Now, we try to get good choreography with the foreground subject (our heroes), and tie the background in to what the camera is doing.”
The backgrounds Farrar had to match in Peter Pan included the streets and rooftops of London, clouds, planets, the landscapes of Neverland and the Jolly Roger.
The filmmakers had very definite influences in mind when they set about establishing the tone of the fighting in Peter Pan. “Some of my favorite films are the Errol Flynn movies of the 1930’s and ‘40’s and I thought if I could equal or top those sword fights, I’d be very pleased,” the director said. “They are marvelous fun and the actors really know what they’re doing. So when Captain Hook and Peter Pan were dueling, we wanted them to recall the flash and fire of actors like Basil Rathbone and Errol Flynn.”
To achieve this end, the crew was fortified with a trio of today’s top action experts: second unit director Conrad Palmisano, fencing master Gary Worsfield and fight coordinator Brad Allan.
The duelists in Peter Pan fenced, using swords with points. “It’s not the type of swordplay where they slice at each other until somebody gets it,” Palmisano explained. “They tell a story in the fight choreography with a series of attacks and parries and retreats, all aimed at getting the opponent to do something. Gary is a wonderful swordmaster who gets people to work very fast and tight. It’s very, very fast-handed and close contact, which is exciting. When Hook has Pan cornered or in trouble, then Pan does something special to get out of it, and that’s where Brad comes in. The whole end battle is done in the air, amidst the sails of the Jolly Roger. Some of this is like an aerial dog-fight for brief moments. Pan’s advantage has always been his quickness and ability to fly—but we’re taking that away from him at the end, raising the stakes of the final battle between him and Hook.”
Worsfield savored the opportunity to bring the beauty of swordplay to the screen. “We’ve put in almost every fencing action there is,” he said. “There’s rapport or communication through swords, as well as insults, humiliation, disgust, anger, deception – much more than brute strength. There’s been no film that I know of with sword-fighting and flying together. Fencing is very linear but Pan can fly so the possibilities are mind-boggling.”
Brad Allan, who has worked with the Jackie Chan stunt team for seven years, maximized the impact of the flying fights. “The Hong Kong style is not congruous with the look of Peter Pan, but the filmmakers wanted to add some airplay to the Errol Flynn style,” he explained.
“I think Jeremy wants to be the next Jackie Chan,” Allan added. “Sometimes we have to hold him back – he’s really good.”
For four months before production began, Sumpter devoted four hours a day to fencing. “Peter controls his fights – he’s skillful, he’s smooth,” said the young actor. “I learned proper fencing with the mask. Once you do that, you can work on your feet and knees and how your body position and lunges are supposed to be.”
Jason Isaacs came to the project experienced in swordplay, but did not have as much advantage as he expected. “I’d done sword-fighting in a few films. I was a little bit cocky about it, until it became clear that I had to sword fight with my left hand – because Hook has a hook on his right hand.”
Ultimately, it only increased his ferocity. “Jason has a great deal of dexterity with his hook,” said Palmisano. “He’s like the Mix Master of cutting edges coming at you when he makes the moves. Trying to rehearse him, about three moves into it, you just want to drop the sword and run outside and wait for it to be safe again.”
Wendy and the Lost Boys were less threatening, but all received serious training. “We’d bring the Lost Boys into the rehearsal stage with 10 fully-grown adult stuntmen,” said Palmisano, “and hand them all metal swords and say, ‘Here, attack those guys!’ For months, we’d do practice and play routines and each boy found something that he really liked to do the best, and we’d work that into their fight scenes.”
Actor Bruce Spence, who plays the pirate Cookson, dueled with Wendy. “The crew here are great swordsmen and now when I observe people like Errol Flynn, I’m thinking, ‘Tsk, tsk, is that really all you can do, Errol?’ Of course, fighting Wendy is a little different than fighting Errol Flynn, but when Wendy is up against it and has to get her courage, it’s a moment I really enjoy. She has to move from being the little girl she was to being more grown-up and take control.”
Accidents? A few. “Sometimes you get hit fencing and it hurts,” Sumpter reported matter-of-factly.
“Yes, we’ve gone wrong a few times sword-fighting, Jeremy and I,” Isaacs concurred.
But both actors were always ready for more. “Jason and Jeremy trained very hard to be the guys actually performing the stunts and we’re very proud of them for that,” said Palmisano.
“As a 30-year veteran of the stunt field,” he reflected, “I think there’s a little Peter Pan in all stuntmen. We don’t live in Neverland, but we really don’t have to grow up. We still get to play with boys’ toys, they’re just bigger than usual.”
Still, Sumpter’s fearlessness surprised even this seasoned risk-taker. “I was always the first kid in the neighborhood to jump off the bridge into the water, but I always went down and looked in the water first. Jeremy might just jump.
“Casting him was a sharp move. He is a pied piper of kids. Even around the studio lot you’ll find them all kind of running around after him.”
“A pink dress to die for …”
Dressing the Peter Pan cast was another massive undertaking with aesthetics, authenticity and practicality all demanding their due. Like the sets, the clothes had to underscore the contrast between the chilly constriction of Edwardian London and the fantastically liberating atmosphere of Neverland.
Costume designer Janet Patterson’s production headquarters was packed with the appropriate turn-of-the-century velvet, silk and satin gowns, elegantly cobbled shoes and cozy children’s pajamas. She also maintained a large supply of wetsuits (the pirates had to wear them under their tattered costumes). And there were dozens of bonnets – for Nana.
There were also hundreds of nightgowns for Wendy. “That’s what she wears throughout most of the film,” Patterson pointed out. “Some of them are specifically for flying and there’s a beautiful big silky one for dancing.”
Patterson cast her net wide to gather what she needed for Peter Pan – London and Paris for fabrics and trims, Italy for shoes and hats, embroidery from Pakistan. All the socks were knitted in England.
The ladies in the cast were particularly thrilled. “Janet Patterson is a design genius,” said Lynn Redgrave. “The costumes are beautiful to wear. Everything is based on history and research. We are wearing the correct corsets, real antique jewelry, beautiful things of the period, which imbue it with a reality. It does a lot of the acting for you.”
Olivia Williams agreed. “Little girls of any age or time period love a pink dress and I am no exception,” admitted the actress. “I have a pink dress to die for in the ballroom scene and that was my happiest moment in the film.”
That pink dress made Patterson happy, too. “Mrs. Darling is a fantasy figure for a little girl – the prettiest mother in the world,” said the designer, who has been Oscar®-nominated for three different period films. “All of her clothes reflect her warmth.”
Hook’s wardrobe was the most elaborate of all. “Hook’s a splashy boy,” Patterson acknowledged. In addition to dressing him as the dandy he is, Patterson wove subtext into his garments. The coat and vest he wears when Wendy visits his cabin, for example, are the same velvet as Mr. Darling’s dressing gown.
A Century Ago
J. M. Barrie was born in the tiny Scottish town of Kirriemuir in 1860 and moved to London as a young man to make his mark as a writer. His earliest stories were colorful newspaper pieces about a fictional version of Kirriemuir. He also contributed to the National Observer, along with such contemporaries as Thomas Hardy, Rudyard Kipling, H. G. Wells and W. B. Yeats. Later, with several successful plays and novels to his credit, he lived across the road from the Kensington Gardens, where he took daily walks with his St. Bernard. It was during these rambles that he met the Llewelyn Davies children, the five brothers who inspired him to create Peter Pan. When the children’s parents died, Barrie adopted all five boys.
Peter Pan first appeared in J. M. Barrie’s 1902 novel, The Little White Bird, as the hero of a story the book’s narrator tells a child. Barrie was already a popular novelist and playwright in London when his Peter Pan play debuted on December 27, 1904 at the Duke of York’s Theatre. The premiere was not a children’s matinee, but a glittering West End opening night for an audience of sophisticated Londoners who had come to see the latest work by one of the top writers of the day. The patrons had no idea of what to expect from Peter Pan, nor did anyone feel prescient enough to predict the fate of the thematically daring and technically demanding production. But the producer’s faith in Barrie, and Barrie’s faithfulness to his own unique vision, made Peter Pan an immediate classic.
Barrie refined the play’s text for many years after it debuted and expanded the story for his Peter Pan novel, which was published as Peter and Wendy in 1911. The play was not published until 1928, after a full 24 years of stage productions – and revisions. Thanks to writer Andrew Birkin, a comprehensive volume of Barrie’s notes and drafts as he conceptualized, wrote and revised Peter Pan over this long period was collected in one massive document, affectionately known among the Peter Pan filmmakers as ‘the tome.’ ‘The tome’ was an invaluable aid in making this film.
An Ongoing Gift
Peter Pan is cherished around the world for its promise of an awfully big adventure, but in Britain there is something more. Several years before his death in 1937, Sir James Barrie donated all rights from Peter Pan to London’s Great Ormond Street Hospital (GOSH). The charismatic boy who would not grow up has been helping to save the lives of very sick children through this bequest ever since.
Built by Dr. Charles West in 1852 with just 10 beds, Great Ormond Street Hospital was London’s first hospital specifically designated for children. Charles Dickens lived nearby and read a chapter from A Christmas Carol on the front steps to help raise funds for expansion. The hospital was able to buy the house next door, doubling its size to 20 beds, and it has grown from there to 350 beds.
A National Health Service hospital, GOSH is funded by the government for day-to-day operations, but not for its many critical care specialty areas. “We get the sickest children, if their own doctor and district hospital can’t help them; it’s a place of last resort,” explained Kit Palmer, who looks after Peter Pan rights issues for GOSH. “We have 22 different specialties and offer the widest range of pediatric specialties under one roof in the U. K. Most patients see at least two specialists, some as many as five.
“The message of the play is eternal,” Palmer continued. “Who hasn’t worried about growing up and what the world has in store for us? This play has something to say to any nation, any individual.
“We at the hospital had always hoped to have the classic Peter Pan on film, based on Barrie’s original work. The timing is so wonderful, so now I hope we’ll have another hundred years of sharing this film.”