Ash has a bachelor's in English Lit. She loves analyzing fiction and obsessing over books, film, and television.
Hook is a 1991 Spielberg film that functions as a sort of sequel to the original Peter Pan children's story written by J. M. Barrie. It stars Robin Williams as a cranky adult Peter Pan and Dustin Hoffman as Captain Hook, as well as Maggie Smith as an elderly Wendy and Bob Hoskins as Smee.
As an 80's baby, I essentially grew up with Robin Williams on my screen. I looked at his fairy tale show, on which he was known as Prince Robin, and I have seen Popeye a thousand-and-one times. So of course I'm intimately familiar with Hook.
I noticed it on Netflix recently and decided to watch it for old time's sake, and now here I am again with my theory about Peter Pan and his inability to grow up.
That's right. It's my belief that Peter Pan was incapable of growing up. It wasn't a choice he made but a spell he was under. And Moira, not Wendy, broke the spell. In fact, in the original books, Wendy grows up to marry Tootles, and Moira is their descendant.
I believe Wendy and Peter were in love for a time when they were children, but Wendy was always more of a mother figure. Moira was Peter's true love.
The movie Hook is supposed to be what life was like for Peter after he finally broke his curse/spell and won his Happily Ever After.
The True Story Behind "Peter Pan"
But first, let's examine the actual truth behind the story.
I have always been fascinated with the story of Peter Pan, a little boy who felt neglected and abandoned and in rebellion, ran away to be a child forever.
The truth behind the story is that J.M. Barrie's brother died in an ice skating accident. His mother became depressed and as result, ignored him (neglected him). When he grew up, J. M. Barrie then wrote a story about a boy who stayed young forever (his brother) after running away from home because his mother neglected him (himself).
Added in were the Lost Boys, who apparently were loosely based on the sons of a woman J.M. Barrie had an emotional affair with while married. This woman became the "Wendy" of his stories after she passed away, leaving her sons lost and in need of a mother.
In the movie Hook, Peter Pan is no longer a mischievous boy in green. He is now Peter Banning, a businessman with two kids, and is married to Wendy's granddaughter, Moira. He is out of shape, wears glasses, remains in a constant state of anxiety, and is afraid to fly . . . He is basically now everything his younger self would have detested.
As the film explains, Peter Pan deliberately tumbled out of his pram when he was a baby because he overheard his mother talking about everything he was going to be when he grew up. He did not want to live a wage slave life, so he ran away. Tinkerbell saved him and took him to Neverland.
"Me? Forget? Never."
One recurring theme with Peter Pan in the original plays and books is that he always forgets . . . everything. It's an on-going theme and one of Peter Pan's greatest flaws.
As I mention up higher, I proposed a theory on another article of mine that Peter Pan was under some kind of magical influence (a curse or a spell) that prevented him from growing up. By this I mean that he was basically incapable of aging both emotionally and physically because he had been in Neverland too long, a place of magic and by its very nature, stagnation.
In Neverland, nothing changes. The pirates don't age and die, they stay the same. The Native Americans also featured in the story never change, either. Princess Tiger Lily never grows up. The Lost Boys never grow up. There aren't even seasons unless Peter Pan comes or leaves (his absence causes Winter, which goes to show how magically bound he was to Neverland).
Early in the film, after Maggie and Jack have been taken, Wendy tries to make Peter remember himself, but Peter can't remember anything that happened before he was thirteen. So in essence, he can't remember his adventures in Never-Neverland, he can't remember Tinkerbell, he can't even remember Wendy when she was young.
It is almost as if kissing Moira and breaking the spell erased his memory.
Wendy even tries to remind him that they were once in love, that she was his first. He completely freaks out in a hilarious scene, jumping from the bed and screaming for Moira after awkwardly whispering, ". . . Grandma?"
Probably one of the best segments of the film is Peter Banning's return to Neverland.
When he first arrives, Captain Hook is astonished that he is now fat and middle-aged, having apparently forgotten everything. The entire seen where he says over and over that Peter Banning can't be Pan is hilarious.
Then the hilarity turns to sadness when Peter is told to fly up to his trapped children and touch their fingertips. An out-of-shape, middle-aged, and desperate Peter crawls feebly up the mast and strains to touch his children's outstretched hands. The scene is as heartbreaking as it is funny, given that Maggie (Amber Scott) shouts, "Come on, Daddy! Mommy could do it!"
After Peter fails to save his children, he winds up getting steamrolled by the Lost Boys, who try to kill him, believing he is a pirate. Eventually, the Lost Boys decide to vote on whether or not Peter Banning is actually Peter Pan.
All of them believe Banning is an imposter . . . Except for one Lost Boy, who, in a very touching scene, molds and shapes Peter's face, until he can see the young Peter inside.
The rest of the Lost Boys join in, as a confused Peter Banning kneels in the middle of their excitement.
The scene where Peter Banning first starts to remember being Peter Pan is during the food fight scene.
After a long and hilarious training sequence where the Lost Boys try to get Peter in shape, everyone sits down to a feast. Except . . . the bowls and plates are empty.
Peter doesn't understand that in order to join in the meal, he has to tap into his inner child and use the magic of his imagination . . . The magic in this case being quite literal.
It isn't until Peter wins a childish insult contest with Rufio (Dante Basco), his replacement (and a kid who looks like an extra in Michael Jackson's "Bad" music video), that he taps into his inner child. This reawakens his power to imagine, and suddenly the food is really there, conjured from his playful mind.
In revenge, Rufio hurls a coconut at Peter, thinking to hurt and humiliate him. Someone tosses Peter a sword, and his old sword fighting skills kick in when he spins around and slices the coconut in half. Everyone at the table sits there in awe, remembering the old Pan, who was talented with a sword.
Neglected by Two Mothers
So given all this, when Wendy decides to grow up and leave Peter Pan behind, it is devastating because Peter cannot grow up. He is simply unable. And for him, having Wendy decide to leave him and Neverland behind is like being neglected by his mother all over again: he simply can't take it.
And indeed, the movie Hook makes Wendy out to be a mother figure to Peter. The film suggests that Peter never grew up by choice rather than because he was incapable, but I still think there's some truth to my theory.
I believe Peter Pan really was incapable of growing up so long as he remained bound to Neverland. By choosing to be with Moira in Hook, he broke his tie to Neverland, and with a Magic Kiss (as shown in the film when he kisses Moira), his spell is broken and he grows up.
The Magic Kiss
Another thing to back my theory is the fact that the Magic Kiss trope is found throughout the original story.
In the original tale, Wendy wants to kiss Peter because she likes him, but Peter doesn't know what a kiss is. Wendy doesn't want to hurt his feelings, so she gives him a thimble instead. Peter then thinks that thimbles are kisses.
This was an amusing way to keep Wendy from actually breaking Peter's spell: had she kissed him, he would have been able to grow up. In the 2003 film, Wendy does kiss Peter, but he is still enchanted at the end of the story.
It's because Wendy is not Peter's True Love but his First Love.
If we follow the timeline of Hook, Peter returns to Wendy several years later (after the events of the 2003 live action film) to meet Wendy's granddaughter, Moira, who he instantly falls in love with and kisses on the lips. This breaks his spell, and he grows up.
That's my theory.
Happily Ever After?
With his spell broken, Peter marries Moira and makes the ultimate sacrifice for her: he becomes a wage slave. Now his life is consumed by cutting deals and making money. He has no time for his wife and his kids. He's out of shape. He's nearsighted. He anxious. He's afraid to fly. . . . He's everything his biological mother imagined and worse.
But of course, growing up meant that Peter Pan's terrible memory had to work in reverse, so he has completely forgotten his mother's predictions. When once his bad memory prevented him from remembering his mistakes and learning from them (and thus growing and maturing), now his bad memory serves to repress his carefree past.
He forgets what it's like to have fun. His body stops running and leaping in its intended purpose and instead becomes a blobby meat vehicle for him to shuffle back and forth between business meetings.
Peter Pan forgets . . . how to fly.
There's a scene after the children, Jack and Maggie, are kidnapped by Hook where the police are in the house. Tootles says to an officer, "I've forgotten how to fly."
The police officer, instead of regarding Tootles as a crazy person, simply responds with all seriousness, "Well . . . one does."
That small exchange, which takes place at the very beginning of the film, pretty much sums up the entire movie in two sentences. This is a film about staying true to ourselves and who we really are, despite whatever mold the world tries to cram us into.
I remember I was looking at a YouTube video and the narrator said something to the effect of, "No one is born hating their body. We are taught to!"
It really made me stop and think of how the world shaped me as a person and how I blindly went along with it. I never hated my body when I was a child. I just existed and was happy. Then people started making fun of me and making comments, and I've hated myself ever since.
A consequence of growing up is being shaped by the world that influences us. We are the inescapable result of our upbringing, and Peter Pan, who ran away from home because of his parents, is a classic example of this.
But I think the film is trying to say that we must learn to embrace and love who we really are regardless. Peter Banning goes on this journey, embracing and loving who he truly is while also embracing the fact that he has grown up.
Hook is an Analogy
Or a metaphor. Whatever.
The film is called Hook because Captain Hook is the pentacle of allowing the world to shape and mold who you are. Captain Hook is a wicked man, but he wasn't born that way. Instead, he allowed himself to become dark and wicked, killing children and kidnapping them, randomly killing and torturing members of his own crew. ("The Boo Box. Yes . . . the Boo Box . . .")
Many adults tend to do this (not kill and torture, per se, but forget who they really are), which is why all the adults in Neverland are pirates (evil and cruel) while all the children are depicted as innocent, mischievous but pure, and carefree.
Peter, in essence, became a pirate. It's even stated outright by Wendy in the beginning of the film when she smiles sadly and says, "Peter . . . You've become a pirate!"
Peter's Happy Thought
As the film progresses, Peter Banning slowly unlocks his memories, and thus, unlocks his happiness as he reconnects with who he truly is. He meets his old friends, fights his old enemies, and explores the old treehouse where he used to live.
Finding his old teddy bear triggers the memory of his happy thought: the thought of becoming a father. This gives him the strength to fight and fly again, and in the end, he manages to rescue his children from Hook.
The Dark Side of the Tale
People recovering from childhood trauma and abuse are often advised to rediscover who they really are. The trauma and abuse tends to make people forget themselves, and being disconnected from the self can be detrimental to our adult lives.
If you search the internet for such sources, you'll find a plethora of books, videos, and articles on healing the inner child, reconnecting with the self in order to heal from the past, etc. Peter Banning's journey encompasses all of that. This is a man healing from a fragmented and lonely childhood, one where everyone he ever loved neglected or abandoned him.
Think about it for a second.
Peter Pan was unable to grow up for many decades. He lived through an endless cycle of recruiting children to Neverland, befriending them, and then watching them eventually leave him and grow up. The end result was a continuous cycle of loneliness and isolation that lasted for decades. This on top of being hunted constantly by predators (pirates) makes Peter Pan's story a little less adventurous and carefree and more . . . dark and troubled.
A Twist on the Classic Fairytale
Peter Pan is a twist on the classic fairytale. Peter himself is both the damsel-in-distress and the hero at once. He has all the appearance of a swashbuckling hero, fighting heroically against Captain Hook and his evil pirate crew, but at the end of the day, he's the one who needs rescuing! And this is shown again and again in every interpretation and iteration of the story.
In the original play, Peter was a sad, lonely boy who was sensitive and cried. Wendy's first words to him are, "Boy, why are you crying?" (He had physically harmed himself, but his loneliness and sadness were apparent in the story.)
In the 2003 live action film, Captain Hook successfully realizes that Peter's "weakness" is his inability to grow up, despite his secret desire to do so in order to be with Wendy. Hook then uses this to demoralize Peter, to the point that he allows Hook to beat him to the ground. He is saved when Wendy kisses him because he realizes she really loved him all along.
And finally, in Hook, Peter is saved by his love for others. His love for Moira broke the spell over him, while his love for his children restored his sense of self.
So in the end, the boy who ran away from a neglectful, controlling parent, bumbled in the dark through his fairytale and came out on the other side whole.
Hook is one of those films that simply can't be remade. The actors, the setting, the writing . . . all of it is irreplaceable.