Nick Willings rewrites of these classics serve to give them striking new interpretations. The spin he conducts on Peter Pan is to place everything onto another planet where people have been transported there by a mysterious artefact. This offers an ingenious explanation of the world of J.M. Barries Neverland where pirates sat alongside American Indians and children that never aged. Barrie offered no particular explanation for such, whereas Willing has the characters being transported there from various eras of history where the planet causes them to never age thus explaining Peters everlasting youth. Other aspects of Peter Pan are given ingenious rationalisations or reinterpretations Peters ability to fly comes from a substance on this world; or where Tinkerbell is one of a series of native tree spirits.
Neverland should perhaps be seen more as a prequel to the events of Peter Pan than a remake/reworking of the story itself. There is no Wendy in this story, for instance, although it is implied that this story ends just before the point where she would enter the scene as Peter returns from Earth and the others notice that his shadow is missing. The mini-series is concerned with the events leading up to Peter and Hooks arrival in Neverland and this is where Nick Willings writing is at its most ingenious. All other adaptations of Peter Pan interpret Captain Hook as a traditional black hat villain, whereas Neverland makes the case far less certain. I particularly liked the way that Willing reconceived the relationship between Peter and Captain Hook with both of them now having an intertwined past where Hook masterminds a gang of urchin street thieves in Victorian London, which is headed by Peter who initially desires to become Hooks equal. Throughout, the relationship between the two follows an arc of the child worshipping his idol and gradually coming to see him as less than honourable before they end up as opposed nemeses. We also see Hook going from outsider to eventually taking command of the pirates and, it is presumed in the events that would follow, becoming Captain Hook.
You suspect that Neverland might have worked better as a feature film than as a mini-series designed to fill two two-hour slots. What it doesnt have is the Steampunk designs and ornate alternate world sets of either Tin Man or Alice; rather Neverland is a fairly bare (albeit CGI enhanced) series of outdoor locations for the most part. Once the set-up out of the way, much of the middle of the mini-series involves perhaps too much running around and schemings and counter-schemings. There are some generally good effects, including a particularly ferocious looking giant alien crocodile. On the other hand, Nick Willings handling of the action scenes is uneven the scenes with Peter flying never look like anything more than Charlie Rowe hanging on a series of wires, while the climactic swordfight between Rowe and Rhys Ifans looks particularly unconvincing with one of the parties strung up in mid-air.
The cast is somewhat variable. Charlie Rowe has a perky likeability as Peter, while Rhys Ifans has never managed to look more dashing and sexy on screen as Hook. Anna Friel valiantly struggles with a provincial accent as the pirate queen. Most disappointing is Qorianka Kilcher as Tiger Lily where Kilcher comes across as stiff and wooden most of the time. In a cute in-joke, the mini-series also casts Bob Hoskins as Smee a role that Hoskins played once before in Steven Spielbergs Peter Pan sequel Hook (1991).
Nick Willings other genre works include:- Photographing Fairies (1997) about the Cottingley Fairies hoax, the occult thriller Doctor Sleep/Close Your Eyes/Hypnosis (2002), the thriller The River King (2005), tv mini-series such as Alice in Wonderland (1999), Jason and the Argonauts (2000), Tin Man (2007) and Alice (2009), and the ghost story Altar (2014). Willing also conceived/produced the tv mini-series The Infinite Worlds of H.G. Wells (2001).
Other adaptations of Peter Pan include:- the classic Disney animated version Peter Pan (1953); Peter Pan (1955), a live tv play; Peter Pan (1976), a tv movie version with Mia Farrow!!! playing Peter; the animated tv series Peter Pan and the Pirates (1990); Peter Pan (tv movie, 2000); and the big-budget live-action Peter Pan (2003). There was also the fascinating but little-seen Neverland (2003), which gave Peter Pan a modernised interpretation with Peter a kid suffering from bipolar disorder. Other variations of the story include:- Steven Spielbergs live-action sequel Hook (1991), which concerns itself with a grownup Peters return to Never-Never Land; Disneys animated theatrical sequel Return to Never Land (2002) and the series of Tinkerbell dvd-released films with TinkerBell (2008), Tinker Bell and the Lost Treasure (2009), Tinker Bell and the Great Fairy Rescue (2010), Tinker Bell: Secret of the Wings (2012), The Pirate Fairy (2014) and Tinker Bell and the Legend of the Neverbeast (2014); and the live-action prequel Pan (2015). Finding Neverland (2004) was a biopic about J.M. Barrie and offered a heavily fictionalised account of the writing of Peter Pan.