“Pan,” the new Disney movie creating a backstory for the beloved Peter Pan, is visually satisfying. In it, Peter (Levi Miller) is 12 years old, living in an orphanage in London under the blitz of World War II and wondering who his parents might have been.
The nuns in Lambeth Home for Boys, on whose front steps Peter was left as a baby, are stereotypical—the mean and greedy Mother Barnabas and her underlings: most are strict with the boys; only one shows any tenderness.
Peter wears the pan flute pendant his mother left on him as a baby. The boys work hard at their chores but get little to eat—ostensibly due to rationing. (Dormitory and dining hall scenes may remind you of the movie “Oliver!”) During a German bombing raid, Peter and a friend try to find the food they believe the nuns are hoarding, and as they feast on what they do discover, they find their individual files. In Peter’s file he finds a loving letter his mother had written and left with him.
After these dark opening scenes the magic starts to happen. The boys are stolen from the orphanage by the pirate Blackbeard’s men. This escape from the terrors of the bombing of London has terrors all its own. Initially, there is the thrill of riding in a flying galleon. But upon reaching their destination, the boys learn that Neverland is a pit mine (looking a lot like the city in “Mad Max”) where fairy dust is mined for Blackbeard’s use. All the miners there were once orphan boys. They know no joy in the mine but that of taking part in the perverse pleasure Blackbeard (a convincingly evil Hugh Jackman) gets from punishing violators of his simple rules for the mine.
Peter is made to walk the plank but survives when he seemingly stops mid-air or flies. Soon after, he escapes with the help of Hook (Garrett Hedlund) and Smiegel (Adeel Ahktar). The flying galleon they steal traverses the island of Neverland, crash lands them in beautiful forest (inspired by “Avatar”) and they end up in the Tribal lands, where live the arch-enemies of the pirates. Tiger Lily (Rooney Mara), the princess-style leader of the tribes, challenges Hook to fight their best warrior. She, then, challenges Peter to fly, as he was able to do at the mine just once. Blackbeard is still after the boy Peter, believing he is the prophesied “chosen one” predicted to cause Blackbeard’s death. Blackbeard’s ultimate goal is to destroy the Tribes and ruin the fairies to claim all the fairy dust for himself. Turns out Peter’s flying skills are real. Then there are mermaids and crocodiles and battalions of fairies…
Convoluted plot? A bit. But along the way the scenery and special effects are quite beautiful. Though a bit dark for young kids and rated PG, the movie will entertain upper elementary aged children and older folks. It’s worth the price of admission for the visual effects alone, but it won’t necessarily win any awards.