Finding Out About Finding Neverland

As we here at GWW reflected on the Red Sox fantastic 2013 campaign, we realized that October 2014 will mark ten years since our beloved BoSox broke the Curse in the fateful fall of 2004. As a result, we felt old. In an attempt to feel even older, we will from time to time remember other favorites celebrating their tin anniversary in 2014. Remember, the next ten years could be even better, but don’t get your hopes up.

This commemorative piece may not seem to have the same weight as our others, but Finding Neverland shocked and shaped my young mind, for better or for worse I cannot say. The film will not celebrate its true 10th anniversary until November, but lots of interesting things happened in 2004, so we have to shift some things around. ANYWAY, beware the nature of this post — truly more of a memory rather than a review of the movie itself. Finding Neverland garnered seven Oscar nominations, including a Best Actor nod for Johnny Depp, and won for Original Score. My experience in theaters, however, was not one filled with critique or analysis but rather shock.

Roughly how we felt while watching.

When Finding Neverland hit theaters, I was still young enough to be taken to the movies by parents, and even young enough to sometimes enjoy them being there. One of my closest friends, who will remain nameless (by my choice…he’d probably love being named), asked for a special playdate. Going to the movies? On a weekday? Count me in! To be honest, I would still probably be overjoyed by a proposition like this, but my preteen self was absolutely ecstatic. Moreover, I learned from my friend and his mother that we would be seeing a new movie with Johnny Depp about Peter Pan! I could not have asked for anything more, what was sure to be a fantastic day filled with the wonder of one of my favorite childhood tales. I immediately thought this would become one of my favorite movies as we drove to the theater, my friend and I anticipating great action and adventure.
I was wrong.

Depp just couldn’t get enough of pirates at this time in his career.

As we walked into the theater (the wonderful Dedham, MA Community Theatre, to be exact), I noticed some strange details. The movie’s poster showed no signs of green tights or people flying or magical dust being sprinkled, instead containing what seemed to me at the time to be a shaved Jack Sparrow and that annoying girl from Titanic. Also, the small theater was packed, but with adults, not the kids we expected for a Peter Pan movie. As we watched, it became increasingly clear we were in over our young heads. Little did we know the movie actually told the inspiring but sad, sad story of Scottish writer J.M. Barrie gaining inspiration for Peter Pan from the Davies family, led by Kate Winslet as the mother in this case. My friend and I sat there, simultaneously disappointed by the plot and devastated by the sickness and eventual death of Winslet’s Sylvia. What had seemed to be a perfect Thursday afternoon was suddenly tarnished by the weight of the film, bearing down on us. We loved football at recess and dreaming of being heroes and superstars, and we were not prepared for the pain that drove Barrie’s creation.

Highmore stood his ground next to Depp, making for some wonderful moments.

I don’t mean to knock Marc Foster’s movie. Watching years later, I understand why it received so much praise, and Johnny Depp shines despite his role being a little…subdued compared to Captain Jack Sparrow. Freddie Highmore was a delight then and continues to earn acclaim, moving from Neverland to Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and August Rush (underrated gem) before settling into his current home as Norman Bates on A&E’s Bates Motel. Just thinking about Highmore being 22 makes me feel old, reminding me of just how young he was alongside superstars like Winslet, Depp, and Dustin Hoffman. Ten years ago, I was heartbroken by my misunderstanding. I now realize the adult crowd was heartbroken as well, though for far more informed reasons.

The story of Barrie befriending the Davies, especially Highmore’s Peter, is a powerful one. By the time we got to the beautiful play scene near the end of the story, I was confused and uncomfortable, and every adult in the crowd was in tears. The boys inspire Barrie, who then proceeds to remind a theatre of adults what it means to believe in magic, or at least to believe in allowing children to believe. Every scene in the final moments of the film has a tinge of tragedy, but hope shines through.

It turns out the movie was really about family and loss. Only took me ten years to learn.

A little less than ten years ago, I was sad not to get to witness a journey to Neverland filled with fairies and Lost Boys. Now I am too old to believe in Neverland, or at least too old for it to be socially acceptable, but I hope people keep watching Foster’s film. You won’t find Neverland, but you’ll remember why we look in the first place.

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About Author: Brian McMahon

Brian is an author and co-founder of GoodWillWatching. He likes to write and is deathly afraid of bugs. His Great American Novel, not yet titled or existent, will be shocking the world some time or another. He once stayed up for two days straight because of poor information regarding the arrival of Halley’s Comet, which was not due for approximately 57 years. You can follow him @bm1313 on Twitter, or in real life from a safe distance.