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In the present day, Peter Banning (Robin Williams) is an overworked mergers and acquisitions lawyer whose work keeps him from his wife Moira and his two kids, preteen Jack and little Maggie. The family travels to London, England to attend the dedication of a new wing of the Great Ormond Street Hospital, to be named after "Granny" Wendy Darling (Maggie Smith) — Moira's grandmother and the woman who raised the orphan Peter before placing him with American parents. While most of the adults are at the dedication ceremony, the children are mysteriously kidnapped, and the ransom note left behind is a scroll pinned to the door with a dagger, requesting Peter's presence and signed by one James Hook, Captain.
Wendy informs Peter that she and her brothers John and Michael, were not only the ones who gave their neighbor James M. Barrie the inspiration to write Peter Pan, but that their stories about adventures with Pirates, Indians and Mermaids was all an account of true experiences. She also reveals that Peter himself is the now-grown-up Pan, and Captain Hook still wants to battle with him, so he kidnapped his children as revenge to summon him back to the island of Neverland. Having no memory of life before he was twelve years old, he does not believe this — but later that night, he is approached by Tinker Bell (Julia Roberts) herself, and she hauls him off to Neverland (as he has no happy thoughts to make the fairy dust work).
Hook himself (Dustin Hoffman) is disappointed and disillusioned when he discover what's become of his nemesis — Peter hasn't just forgotten how to fly, but has a fear of heights and remembers nothing of his childhood in Neverland. Tinker Bell makes a deal with him to straighten Peter out in three days so that the war the villain always wanted can take place. Peter is taken back to the hideout of the new generation of Lost Boys (now led by the cunning and mischievous Rufio) to relearn his old ways. As his skills slowly return to him, he comes to remember both why he left Neverland and what he lost and gained in doing so. But in the meantime, Hook discovers and plays upon Jack's resentment towards his dad to prepare the ultimate revenge...
Highly anticipated, but with a difficult shoot and a big budget to earn back. The film got a mixed critical reception when it opened a few weeks before Christmas 1991 (Disney's Beauty and the Beast opening beforehand to great reviews likely didn't help. While it did well at the box office, it is now regarded as one of Spielberg's weakest films; some critics did not let the fact that the film appears to be Steven Speilberg working out his real life issues onscreen go unnoticed. It does have its own charm nevertheless, due in part to its, well, different take on the Peter Pan mythos. Among the current generation of 20-somethings, who grew up with it, it has all the makings of a very well known Cult Classic.
This film contains examples of:
- Absence Makes the Heart Go Yonder: Wendy tells Peter that she was in love with him as a young woman and even wished that he would've came and broke up her wedding.
- Actor Allusion: Tootles shouts "Seize the day!" in the final scene, a reference to Dead Poets Society and Robin Williams' character.
- And also Smee shouting "GOOD MOOOOOOOORNING NEVERLAND!", in reference to Good Morning Vietnam.
- One that is also a case of Real Life Actor Allusion for Robin Williams occurs when Peter learns to use his imagination again. Rufio gets pissed and throws a coconut at him. Someone throws Peter a sword; he sticks the sword out and executes a perfect spinning blade attack.
- Adult Child: Peter after he regains his memories. Inverted slightly with Rufio.
- Adult Fear: Not only does Captain Hook kidnap Peter's children and threaten to do the same to his descendants, he tries to brainwash them into loving him instead.
- All Myths Are True: As much as Mr. Pan/Banning would like you to not believe in such silly things, the Wendy Lady's totally telling the truth.
- All-Star Cast: Most of the adult performers.
- An Asskicking Christmas: And how.
- Anti-Hero: Rufio
- And This Is For:
- "...never letting me blow bubbles in my chocolate milk!"
- "...making promises and breaking them!"
- "...never doing anything with me."
- And You Were There: As a likely Shout-Out to the original play's invocation of this trope, the trash sweeper at the end is also played by Bob Hoskins. A subtle joke early on is that the captain's voice on the plane to England is Dustin Hoffman's, and it's the same voice he uses for Hook.
"This is your Captain speaking."
- Antagonist Title
- Bamboo Technology: Including armour, which is not unlike wooden armour used by Samurai.
- Big Fun/Boisterous Bruiser: Thudbutt. This is probably why, after Rufio's death, Peter chooses him to lead the Lost Boys.
- Big No: Peter, when Rufio is killed.
- Big "Shut Up!": Combined with Kick the Dog.
Peter: Moira, will you get (the kids) out of here? I'm on the phone call of my life!
- Bloodless Carnage: For all the swordplay, there isn't much blood, not even when Rufio is killed. However, there's visible blood during the Pan-Hook duel.
- The Cameo: Several.
- Catch Phrase: "Bangarang!", the Lost Boys' rallying cry.
- Celebrity Paradox: In this universe, Peter Pan is the same much-loved story it is in ours; it just happens to be based on actual events.
- Cheerful Child: Maggie. It's probably her optimism that allows her to see through Hook's claim that her parents don't love her, whereas it works on Mouthy Kid Jack.
- Chekhov's Boomerang: Clocks. Hook's terrified of them. Every time he even thinks he hears one ticking, he flips his wig. And what did the dumb old man turn the hand-eating crocodile into? A GIANT CLOCK TOWER. Not that that's gonna be important...ever.
- The Chosen Zero: Peter Banning, it seems at first.
- Clap Your Hands If You Believe: Not exactly played straight — during their initial meeting in Wendy's house, Peter says he doesn't believe in fairies and finds himself having to clap when Tinker Bell fakes her death throes. Also referenced when Hook warns her that if she doesn't hold up her end of the deal, "[No] amount of clapping will bring you back from where I'll send you."
- Clock Tower: Hook not only killed the giant crocodile while Peter was away, but had it stuffed and turned into this, albeit one that doesn't actually tell time and certainly doesn't tick.
- Cloudcuckoolander: Elderly Uncle Tootles in London appears to be this to most of the other characters, and he admits he's "lost [his] marbles." But as anyone familiar with Barrie's original work could guess, he's one of the original Lost Boys who went with Wendy and her brothers back to London to grow up. He's been scatterbrained ever since because he left a bag of real marbles, his happy thought, behind in Neverland.
- Covered in Gunge: Some of the Lost Boys' weapons are designed to result in this. Peter also suffers this when he first tries to fly, and then there's the food fight.
- Crowd Chant: "Ru-fi-o! Ru-fi-o!"
- Banning! Banning! Banning is Banarang!
- Cut Song: According to lyricist Leslie Bricusse, this film was written as a musical, but due to length and budgetary concerns this was dropped, and only two songs are sung onscreen — "We Don't Wanna Grow Up" as part of the school play and "When You're Alone" by Maggie in Neverland (explained as a lullaby her mom taught them). The happy-whimsical theme that plays throughout and closes the film's action was originally the melody of a song titled "Childhood", which later appeared in a sheet music anthology of Bricusse songs.
- Cutting the Electronic Leash: Moira throws Peter's cell phone out the window early on; Nana buries it. At the end, Peter retrieves it but subsequently throws it away himself.
- Deadpan Snarker: Hook, on the few occasions he isn't being a Large Ham
- Deus Ex Machina: At the end of Peter and Hook's duel, the crocodile begins to act almost lifelike again as it falls atop Hook and "eats" him.
- Disproportionate Retribution: Really, Jack? You're smashing the gold pocket watch your dad gave you because he wouldn't let you blow bubbles in your chocolate milk? It's a wonder he lets you have anything nice at all.
- Does Not Like Shoes: Tinker Bell is barefoot throughout.
- Distressed Damsel: Maggie winds up serving as this; justified in that she's too young and small to help herself.
- Driven to Suicide: Having no nemesis since Peter's departure, Hook regularly contemplates and attempts suicide out of boredom with life, leaving it to Smee to stop him every time.
Hook: Don't try to stop me this time, Smee.
- Easy Amnesia: Hooboy, Jack had this in spades. Justified in that as Maggie says so aptly, "Neverland makes you forget."
- Peter gets it too- When he remembers that he's Peter Pan, Tink has to remind him that he has children.
- Of course, the amnesia the other way is what gets the film going: Peter Banning doesn't believe that he ever was Peter Pan.
- Neverland has always been implied to be something of a dreamworld, which is why it is hard to remember in the real world, and vice versa.
- Peter gets it too- When he remembers that he's Peter Pan, Tink has to remind him that he has children.
- Evil-Detecting Dog: Nana is the first to notice that Hook is about to arrive at Wendy's house. Amusingly, her bark even sounds like, "Hook! Hook! Hook!" which tips Tootles off.
- Flash Back: To Peter's life as Pan, from originally choosing not to grow up to the moment he decided to do so after all, once he regains his memory.
- Evil Lawyer Joke
Ruffio: We kill pirates.
- Flat Earth Atheist: Peter at first. He tells a fairy he doesn't believe in fairies, to her face, for crying out loud!
- Food Fight: Which turns out to mark a breakthrough for Peter, because Neverfood is imaginary and doesn't even exist to those who don't pretend it's there.
- Foreshadowing: After Smee prevents Hook from killing himself (again), the gun accidentally hits a model of the Jolly Roger. The model which is set on fire and sinks into the model sea, a clear sign that the upcoming battle will not go well for the pirates.
- Jack's picture on the plane. "How come I didn't have a parachute, Jackie?" "Take a wild guess." The intention was that Jack wanted his father to drown and die, but it takes on a whole new meaning when it turns out the latter is Peter Pan.
- Flying Dutchman: Played with: Peter comes back to Neverland as an adult, and the crux of the film is his search for a niche (cf., Growing Up Sucks or Stranger in a Familiar Land) in a Neverland he doesn't remember.
- Generation Xerox: "Boy who dislikes home life ends up in Neverland, forgets his semi-neglectful family and decides to stay, only to come to his senses once he realizes that the outside world is more important" certainly describes both Peter and Jack pretty well. There's also a few dropped hints that Maggie would have been the perfect successor of her grandmother Wendy.
- Groin Attack: Peter gets hit with one of the Lost Boys' fruit-tipped arrows, and cries "I've been shot!" in a falsetto voice. Thudbutt delivers this to one of the pirates in the climactic "war".
- Growing Up Sucks: Subverted. While it's vital that Peter rediscover his inner child, he must also remember why he grew up in the first place. He chose to grow up when he realized there were things in life that only a grown-up could properly experience: falling in love, getting married, and having kids. The memory of becoming a father turns out to be the happy thought that restores his ability to fly.
- Hannibal Lecture: "You know you're not really Peter Pan.This is just a dream! When you wake up, you'll be Peter Banning: a cold selfish man who drinks too much, is obsessed with success and runs and hides from his wife and children!"
- He's Back: The whole goddamn point of the movie.
- Hey, It's That Guy!: Gwyneth Paltrow as young Wendy.
- Dante Basco (Rufio) went on to voice Jake Long and Prince Zuko. This also makes But I'm a Cheerleader a hell of a lot more funny.
- The guy who played Eddie Valiant and Mario is British?!
- Um, hello? Dame Maggie Smith as older Wendy — it's Professor McGonagall!
- That flying couple appearing as Tinker Bell sends Peter to Neverland? It's George Lucas and Carrie Fisher!!
- Phil Collins as the police detective.
- Glenn Close as Gutless, the Boo Box pirate. No, really.
- Hook Hand: Naturally. Presenting the Captain with a new hook is a big deal in Pirate Town (Hook even has his own grindstone to sharpen it on). He also has items he can swap the hook out for as needed — including a baseball glove, and a wine goblet!
- Identity Amnesia: Peter for a good chunk of the movie. Only Jack's home run ball manages to help him get back on his feet.
- Interacting with Shadow: Peter's shadow points him to his old house in the hollow tree.
- I Surrender, Suckers: After Hook is disarmed a second time (with Peter deciding to leave him instead of finishing him off), Hook pulls out a knife and tries to take out Peter.
- I Want My Mommy: Maggie's initial protest; Hook's last words.
- Peter in the first act.
- Rufio is initially a pretty big one too, probably because Peter threatens his seat of power.
- Karmic Death: Hook, remember the crocodile? For good measure, he is almost crushed by the giant clock as well.
- Kill'Em All: Hook literally says it when he realizes Peter Banning isn't a worthy opponent. The only reason it doesn't happen is because Tinker Bell convinces him that he'd only be remembered as a bully if he just had the Bannings killed.
- Large Ham: Dustin Hoffman as Captain Hook; Smee and the other pirates also qualify.
- Don't forget Tink as she fakes her death to garner some applause.
- Literary Agent Hypothesis: In this universe Wendy and her brothers recounted their adventures with Peter to J.M. Barrie, and the book and play we know was the result.
- Living Shadow: Another sign of Peter regaining his abilities is his shadow separating from him again, leading him to the old Hangman's Tree hideout.
- Lost in Imitation: Largely averted. The movie is significantly more effective if you're familiar with Barrie's original novel/play as opposed to, say, the Disney adaptation. That said, the Captain's hook is on his left hand instead of his right, as in the Disney version, and a few Plot Tumor elements (such as happy thoughts and the second star to the right) that appear in other adaptations persist here (see the trope entry for details).
- Love At First Sight: This happened to Peter when he first saw Moira.
- Love Floats: As Tinker Bell flies the grown-up Peter Pan to Neverland, she leaves a trail of pixie dust in her wake. We see it fall on a couple embracing on the tower bridge, and they begin to rise.
- Malaproper: Smee says "apostrophe" instead of "epiphany", among other things.
- Mind Screw: The groundskeeper at the end who may or may not be Smee.
- Mood Whiplash: The battle between the pirates and Lost Boys is largely lighthearted and triumphant — then Hook kills Rufio.
- Mouthy Kid: Jack and Rufio.
- Mythology Gag: At one point, Peter says to the Lost Boys "It's Hook or me this time". This is the name of one of the chapters from the original Peter and Wendy novel.
- Peter repeats one of his best-known lines during the climax: "To die would be a great adventure."
- The housekeeper Liza is one to the Darlings' oft-forgotten housekeeper from the play.
- The Native Rival: Rufio
- Nice Job Fixing It, Villain: What would the world be like without Captain Hook? It would have one more dysfunctional family. Peter would never have gotten the wake-up he needed toward his fatherly duties, and his worth would be slowly diminished in the eyes of his children.
- A more direct example is the fact that Peter doesn't start trying to actively remember his past until after seeing Hook claim Jack as his son during the baseball game.
- Parental Bonus: The three women (who build up to the third wearing makeup as thick as stage paint) who are happy to see Smee are, to an adult, quite obviously prostitutes (in ~20th century parlance, hookers), and likely happy to see one of their best customers. If Bob Hoskins' intended portrayal of Smee as Hook's life partner or Pet Homosexual is taken into account, this adds a deeper layer of Parental Bonus to the characters.
- Plot Hole: How did Hook and Smee acquire Peter's medical records and knew so much about his kids before they kidnapped them?
- A possible clue regarding the kids comes as Peter is bidding the kids good night before leaving for the banquet. Maggie explains that a mean man who said he was a window washer took Jack's baseball — now, it turns out Captain Hook has a baseball in Neverland. It's possible that it's the same ball, and the window washer was a pirate spy...All this was some pretty high-quality paranoia fuel for kids at the time, especially whose fathers were named Peter. "Careful, kids, at any moment you could be being stalked by pirates."
- Punishment Box: pirates who have failed are put into the "Boo Box", a chest which is also inhabited by several scorpions.
- Replacement Goldfish: Peter's parents were pretty cold, forgetting all about their lost baby when they have another kid.
- School Play: The film opens at an elementary school production of Peter Pan in which Maggie is playing Wendy.
- Screw This, I'm Outta Here: One pirate when he realizes exactly who he's about to fight.
- Also Smee.
- Smooch of Victory: Maggie gives Peter a peck after he rescues her.
- Spot of Tea: House ransacked? People hurt? Great-grandchildren kidnapped by pirates? Wendy thinks that it's time for some tea. Go Look At the Distraction.
- Taxidermy Terror: Hook meets his end when the Crocodile he had stuffed and turned into a village clock comes back to life at the end of the movie, and swallows him alive.
- Technicolor Blade: The Pan's sword.
- Tempting Fate: Rufio's claim that he has the upper hand during his fight with and right before his death at the hands of Hook.
- This Is What the Building Will Look Like: Aside from the future tense, we just see the building of the hospital built thanks to Wendy.
- Throwing Down the Gauntlet: Hook to Peter when he tries to leave with his kids without finishing the fight.
Hook: Peter! I swear to you, wherever you go, wherever you are, I vow there will always be daggers bearing notes signed "James Hook"! They will be flung at the doors of your children's children's children, do you hear me?
- Totally Radical: These Lost Boys ride skateboards, play basketball in a makeshift court with (Neverland-specific) graffiti on the walls, etc. They also usually refer to Peter Pan as "The Pan" — even "Pan the Man" at one point. This was a major complaint in negative reviews of the film.
- Token Evil Teammate: Rufio.
- Trying to Catch Me Fighting Dirty: From Hook of all people. When allowed by Peter to get up and fight after being disarmed midway in their duel, Hook slashes him across the arm when Peter offers him his sword back. Jack is quick to call him out on this. See I Surrender, Suckers above for another example.
- Volleying Insults: Peter versus Rufio during the Lost Boys' dinner scene.
- Waif Prophet: Tootles is of the "elderly old guy" breed.
- Weaksauce Weakness: Hook's fear of ticking clocks, which dates back to his being chased by a giant crocodile that had swallowed one. Subverted when Peter points out that, with the croc long dead, that can't be what Hook is really afraid of; rather, Hook is now afraid of time slipping away from him. Sure enough, when Peter knocks the Captain's wig from his head, it's revealed that he's become an old man underneath it.
- When You Coming Home, Dad?: Jack is so bitter about his dad missing baseball games, not letting him jump on his bed, etc. that Hook doesn't have much trouble convincing him to turn to the bad guys' side.
- Who Wants to Live Forever?: Invoked during Pan and Hook's final duel.
Hook: Prepare to die, Peter.
- Worthy Opponent: Peter in Hook's eyes. Obsessively so, to the extent that Hook even attempts suicide when faced with the possibility that they won't be able to do battle again.
- You Have Failed Me: A variation of this when Hook has Gutless put in the Boo Box for betting against Hook succeeding in kidnapping Jack and Maggie.