When I was but a nine-year old Waukesha/Pewaukee native, few things equated to the thrill of being able to stay up late. The only thing that could possibly surpass this sensation was being able to leave one’s house for a late night activity-staying up late was amazing enough at the age of nine, but when you’re doing that somewhere other than where you live, it will unquestionably elevate any youth to the varsity level of Awesome Childhood Activities. And who didn’t want to play varsity?
It was on such an evening in late 1991 that my mom took me to see a 9:00pm showing of a movie during a vacation break from school. The checklist was in full swing at that moment-staying up late, being out and about, and the fact that this was happening on what should have been a school night all set the tone for a memorable evening.
The element that cemented this status was the all-important detail that the movie we were seeing was Hook.
Steven Spielberg’s Hook follows a simple premise-what if Peter Pan grew up? In this case, he turns into a career-obsessed corporate stooge named Peter Banning, now married to a woman named Moira and father to children named Jack and Maggie. With no memory of his Neverland past and his thoughts occupied by an important business deal, he travels to London to spend the holidays with Moira’s family as well as to assist in the dedication of a hospital named after Wendy Darling-yes, that Wendy. As it turns out, Wendy is the reason Peter met Moira, her granddaughter, in addition to his shedding of Peter Pan. Unlike Peter, she recalls everything, and is more than a little disheartened as his shift from carefree boy to cold-hearted man.
However, a turn of events bring Peter (literally) face-to-face with Hook’s namesake after he kidnaps Peter’s children in an attempt to conclude his long-standing grudge against Peter Pan by initiating a duel to the death. Unfortunately, decades away from Neverland have produced an out-of-shape Pan, one who must rely on his beloved Lost Boys and faithful sidekick Tinker Bell to both get back in shape and, more importantly, remember where he came from. From there, it’s as trademark a Spielberg film as it gets, with plenty of father-son themes, an exciting John Williams score, and elaborate set pieces that serve the action well.
Hook is a cornucopia of tried-and-true ingredients, all of which balance each other out extremely well to produce a film that is not only one of my favorite Spielberg films, but one of my favorites overall. The late Robin Williams inhabits the role of Peter Pan/Banning as if it were written solely for him, with a performance that’s mostly devoid of the hyperactivity seen in many other characters he portrayed throughout the course of his vast career. In doing this, his depiction of an older Boy Who Could Fly feels heartfelt, natural and a perfect fit for the story. Julia Roberts is a perfectly acceptable Tinker Bell, while Bob Hoskins’ Mr. Smee may be the finest on-screen version of the character ever seen-whimsical, silly, and full of swagger. His Smee is absolutely wonderful-so memorable, in fact, that he played the character again in the 2011 Syfy reboot Neverland.
But it’s Dustin Hoffman as the villainous Captain Hook who delivers, without question, the film’s standout performance. With a spot-on British accent, an incredible costume, and an ability to flawlessly give his Hook both humor and terror, this is the interpretation of the character by which all future representations should take note.
The direction of Steven Spielberg is, as always, on point, giving the film his signature touch and uplifting scenes another director might have otherwise glossed over. Every moment in Neverland, such as a notable dinner scene involving Peter and the Lost Boys and the inevitable duel between Pan and Hook, showcase a world ripped straight out of the imagination of children while still presenting a realm that still feels not all that far removed from our own. Devotees of the original source material will enjoy the many callbacks to the works of J. M. Barrie, and Hook’s numerous cameos from professional musicians are welcome, if a bit head-scratching at times-is that Phil Collins I saw at one point?
Hook, much like The Rocketeer, unfortunately didn’t resonate well with critics and is widely viewed historically both as a misstep in Spielberg’s career & a generally unwelcome entry into the pantheon of Peter Pan adaptations. Luckily, most children of the era found many things to appreciate in the film, and it has undeniably aged remarkably well, especially within that equally-aged demographic. The ending also serves as a fitting epitaph to Robin Williams, as well as a nice message to anyone looking for the child that still exists in us all.
It is for this reason, and many others, that I remain grateful for movies like Hook, and if this movie helps you to feel even a fraction of the same way, it has succeeded.