A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Finding Neverland is a 2004 movie in which Johnny Depp plays J.M. Barrie, a struggling playwright who finds the inspiration to write the timeless classic Peter Pan after befriending a young widow played by Kate Winslet and her four sons. While it's about the background to the creation of Peter Pan, this is an emotional drama rather than lighthearted fare for kids. Barrie's marriage is falling apart as he spends more and more of his leisure time playing games with the four boys (causing some in Barrie's neighborhood to gossip about a possible affair with the widow and even inappropriate relations with the boys), and his wife has a new lover. These boys are still struggling to come to grips with the death of their father and face even more challenges when their mother becomes sick. While they're playing cowboys and Indians, there are some outdated references to Native Americans ("redskins," "Injuns"). As he observes through a curtain how bored the audience is with the play he has written before Peter Pan, Barrie asks an usher if he thinks the play is "shite" and "crap." In terms of violence, during a Peter Pan rehearsal, one of the boys, raised aloft by the ropes that create the illusion of Peter Pan "flying," is accidentally dropped from high in the air, resulting in a broken wrist.
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What's the story?
The story of the man who wrote about the boy who would not grow up has inspired this movie, loosely based on Peter Pan author James M. Barrie's relationship with the Davies boys and their mother. Playwright Barrie (Johnny Depp) has staged a recent flop, his producer (Dustin Hoffman) is getting impatient, and his wife (Radha Mitchell) finds him frustratingly distant. Then Barrie meets the Davies children. Captured by their boyish imagination and touched by their loss, he begins to tell them stories and is eventually inspired to write a play about a boy who stays young forever. His relationship with the boys causes trouble with their grandmother (Julie Christie), who worries it will ruin her daughter (Kate Winslet)'s chances for remarriage. It further strains his marriage. Outsiders wonder if there is something improper going on. But all Barrie wants is to play pirates and cowboys and Indians. The boys help him find enchantment -- they show him Neverland, and he shows it to the world.
Is it any good?
The movie has some lovely images: Barrie and his wife open their separate bedroom doors. Behind hers is a bed. Behind his is Neverland. And, as in the timeless play itself, the pleasures of endless childhood in a world in which we lose a little more youth every day are movingly portrayed.
Depp, Winslet, and Christie give touching performances, but the question for a movie like this is whether it's as illuminating or entertaining as the work we see created. In this case, the answer is no. The fantasy sequences have more power, and the glimpses of the play itself are more appealing than the framing story. You keep wanting to tell them to get out of the way so that you, too, can get back to Neverland.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about the ways in which J.M. Barrie and the children he befriends in Finding Neverland discover the importance of play, creativity, and imagination as ways to find joy and happiness in the midst of despair. How can engaging in behaviors that might seem childish and immature on the surface actually provide another avenue for kids (and adults) to learn about themselves and the world around them?
How does the style of the movie change when Barrie and the children engage in imaginative play? What would be lost, for instance, if the movie didn't switch to the dreamlike scenes of imaginary pirate ships when they play pirates and simply showed them playing in a backyard or park?
What might be the challenges of depicting the working life of a writer?
- In theaters: November 12, 2004
- On DVD or streaming: March 22, 2005
- Cast: Freddie Highmore, Johnny Depp, Kate Winslet
- Director: Marc Forster
- Studio: Miramax
- Genre: Drama
- Topics: Book Characters, History
- Run time: 106 minutes
- MPAA rating: PG
- MPAA explanation: mild thematic elements and brief language
- Last updated: September 17, 2020
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