“Pan” – not even fairy dust can make the prequel about the boy who never grew up magical.

Peter Pan has always been one of my favourite fairytales, and is a Disney classic. I love the story about never growing up, befriending fairies, defeating the villains, and best of all, being able to fly. Hook, the live action sequel to the animated film which features Robin Williams as a grown-up Peter, also managed to capture my imagination. But, Pan, the story of Peter the orphan, how he ended up Neverland, and became besties with Captain Hook, just doesn’t fly. In fact, it never gets off the ground.

The story begins where baby Peter (played by newcomer Levi Miller) is left in a cradle outside an orphanage in London by his mother, whose face is glowing with tears. Tucked into his blanket she leaves a letter promising she’ll return for him one day. Years later, during the Nazi bombings of the city, Peter and dozens of other boys are ruled by hideous and evil nuns at the Dickensian orphanage. Amid this, boys keep mysteriously disappearing from the orphanage, with rumours they are being adopted. Peter and his best friend decide to investigate, and, one night, they watch how pirates descend on ropes through the roof, snatching boys from their beds and their teddies.

Peter too is kidnapped, but rather than it being a traumatic experience, for him, it’s a magical ride on a pirate ship that floats through the sky, between the stars, and onto the island of Neverland. Many of the boys are only too happy to be rescued from the nuns, even though they are now forced to work under slave-like conditions by the fearsome pirate overlord, Blackbeard (played by an unrecognizable Hugh Jackman). Underground, the boys, and men who probably arrived there as boys, mine tirelessly for sparkling rocks called Pixum, or, crystallised fairy dust. Blackbeard’s secret, you see, is that he needs to melt the substance on a spoon, rather like ‘tik’ (crystal meth for the non-South Africans), and then inhale it, in order to stop ageing. Having committed genocide against the fairies, Blackbeard become increasingly desperate to find the last remaining Pixum.

The inquisitive Peter tries to make friends with a strapping, fully-limbed, but rather rude fella, called James Hook (you see where this is going). Hook (Garrett Hedlund) isn’t interested becoming buddies, until Peter is thrown off the gangplank, and halfway down to his death, he starts flying. Blackbeard is scared. An old fairy prophecy says that one day, a boy who can fly will come to Neverland, kill Blackbeard, and lead the island’s “native” people (who thankfully look more like colourful hippies than the degrading depictions of Native Americans in the original film).

After finding himself in a prison cell next to Hook, the two, along with one of Blackbeard’s lackeys, hatch an escape plan, involving Peter’s underdeveloped flying skills. What follows: the three escape, with Hook promising he’ll help Peter find his mother, whom the boy firmly believes is somewhere on the island. They find the “natives”, including the warrior-princess Tiger Lily (Rooney Mara), who tries to help Peter discover who he really is. His destiny is to help save the remaining fairies who have gone into hiding, and of course, find his mum. Blackbeard follows the escapees. There are battles. Hook, meanwhile, crushes on Tiger Lily. Peter is nearly eaten by a massive crocodile and then a mermaid (Cara Delevigne) saves him. It’s all a bit helter-skelter and really tedious.

The narrative feels like it doesn’t flow from one scene to the next. And there is no emotional connection with any of the characters. Even brave little Peter, and his tears for mum, could not tug at my heartstrings (I’m not heartless; the other critics felt equally bored).

The film is meant to be a fun fantasy-adventure, but it fails. Dismally. The only redemptive feature about Pan (and it’s not nearly enough to save it), is Jackman’s portrayal of the murderous, yet surprisingly emotionally tortured Blackbeard. Oh, and when the slave-boys start chanting the chorus to Nirvana’s Nevermind when Blackbeard arrives at the mines to tell them how he’s freed (but not really freed) them.

Mashable has called Pan “a movie so resoundingly god-awful that you have to see it.” I’m not sure I’d go that far, but I doubt even children, who are now spoiled with clever films like Inside Out, will be fooled by this weak attempt to do the backstory to Peter Pan and Hook. Hook sets himself up as a scoundrel but really turns out to be loyal and lovable. No hint, that later the two who end this film as besties, would become sworn enemies, or any hint about why Hook would become a murderous asshole. Perhaps this is because the studio had intended for this to be blockbuster and to make a franchise of it. Little luck of that. Even before its worldwide release today, the US weekend box office predictions have not been good.

Director: Joe Wright

Cast: Hugh Jackman, Levi Miller, Rooney Mara, Garrett Hedlund

Rating: 1½ out of 5

SA release date for Pan 3D and 2D is 9 October 2015.

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