Pan is a film that could be a Mad Max for kids, with clear influences from the Thunderdome and Fury Road’s War Boys, as well as incorporating inspirations as diverse as Return of The Jedi’s Ewoks, and cherished children’s works like Charlie & The Chocolate Factory, Oliver Twist and Matilda.
Described as a prequel to the well-known tale of Peter Pan – the boy who never grew up, Pan kicks off with a swaddled baby in a basket being left at the door of a London orphanage in the years preceding WW2.
His mother returns to give him one last kiss and leave a note explaining how special he is before disappearing into the night.
We jump forward 12 years to the time of the Blitz, and Peter (Levi Miller), the now teenage boy from the basket, is larking about the boys home as best he can with his best mate Nibs (Lewis MacDougall), under the spiteful glare of fierce Head Nun Mother Barnabas (played with deliciously wicked conviction by Kathy Burke).
When his request for a customary serve of “weekend” bacon to accompany his grey oatmeal is denied, Peter suspects the Head Nun of hoarding rations. He and Nibs infiltrate her office during an air raid and uncover a stash of food that they plough into, as well as a treasure trove of files including the letter to Peter from his mother. Mother Barnabas has quite a cache of goodies including a chest full of loot, leading Peter to suspect that she is selling off the orphaned boys in return for money.
In bed later that evening after a dose of corporal punishment, Peter is awoken by the stealthy intrusions of a band of men who are indeed abducting boys from their beds in the dead of night.
Along with his mate and a handful of other boys, Peter is whisked up into the night sky onto a flying pirate ship where Nibs makes a desperate escape, jumping onto the roof of the Orphanage.
Peter is too scared to make a leap of faith and stays on deck as the pirate ship makes its way up into the clouds, dodging a fierce fighter plane dogfight between the Brits and Luftwaffe on the way through.
Peter and the ship reach their destination, a giant mine inside the island of Neverland, where we meet the pit’s population singing a rousing version of Nirvana’s Smells Like Teen Spirit (Nevermind… Get it?) to their beloved leader Blackbeard – “The Original Nightmare”.
Blackbeard, in a consummate performance from Hugh Jackman, reads out the rules, written on a pig’s ear no less, explaining that hard work digging in the mines for Fairy Dust will be rewarded with prizes and confectionary.
The pirates break into a Ramones song, “Blitzkrieg Bop”, and get stuck into the task at hand, digging feverishly for the valuable “Pixum”.
Peter is soon on the plank, wrongly accused of various crimes, and it’s here that he inadvertently reveals his ability to fly, avoiding plunging to a certain death and instead waking in Blackbeard’s chambers.
Peter must escape from the mine with the help of Hook (played somewhat awkwardly by Garrett Hedlund) and he continues on to his adventures locating the Island’s native population in the hope of tracking down his mother who has been revealed as a much revered member of Neverland’s Royal Family.
Peter must prove to Tiger Lily (the excellent Rooney Mara) that he is indeed the boy from the prophecies, who is destined to battle the pirates to reclaim the island for the original inhabitants.
The film wonderfully reveals layer after layer of character attributes along with incredibly rich locations, and the costumes and art direction are first class.
There’s a reason Blackbeard holds the Fairy Dust in such high regard, as we learn when he is interrupted during a “rejuvenation”.
As rich and colourful as a David Attenborough documentary on acid, Pan is equal parts exciting and enchanting, and is destined to enthrall the young and young at heart.
Recommended for kids 7 and up, it is going to go gangbusters this school holidays.