Hook ★★★

Steven Spielberg's "Hook" is a film out of balance. While the idea of a grownup Peter Pan returning to Neverland to rescue his children from Captain Hook has appeal for both adults and children, the film skews strongly toward the latter. Spielberg makes a film for children, leaving little room for adults.

"Hook" finds an adult Peter Banning nee Pan having forgotten his life in Neverland and having matured into a respectable, business-minded adult. He is a parent but has forgotten what it was like to be an eternal child. When his children are abducted, Banning must return to Neverland, regain his Pan-ness, face Captain Hook, inspire the lost boys, and rekindle his friendship with Tinkerbell. He must also rescue his kids, but that is secondary to the aformentioned adventure. The story is broad and obvious. There are small touches of magic, and the ironies of the characters are, at least, interesting before disappearing altogether.

The film revels in hollow, kid-friendly adventure, and it never able to balance its darker, more authentic moments with its sense of candy flavored whimsy. The superficial is at a premium here as reflected in everything from the story to production design. Sets are big, practical, and artificial looking. There is a plastic quality to everything on screen. It is as if the film was shot at a theme park and not at a studio. Flash, color, and energy are on display, but depth is only minimal.

Spielberg's cast also underscores the film's sense of flash and superficiality. Robin Williams, Julia Roberts, and Dustin Hoffman occupy the film's biggest roles. This is not necessarily because they fit the parts, but it is because they were huge names circa 1991. They work for the most part, but subtler casting may have served the film better.

What works for an adult audience, the heart and irony of "Hook," is subverted by the film's need to play to juvenile and broad sensibilities. Mixed themes and messages, an overly straightforward narrative, and the artificiality of the film's look may play well for a younger audience but will leave adults wanting. There are enough moments to make the discerning audience forgive "Hook" for its artifice, but those moments are few and far between. When it is at its best, however, the film offers an above average viewing experience.

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