Nostalgiaville: “Hook”

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January 7, 2011 by abbyo

Of all the posts I’ve been doing on this blog, the Nostalgiaville posts are quickly becoming my favorite ones to write. Not only do they give me an excuse to look back fondly on my childhood, they allow me to revisit movies I haven’t seen in years, and watch them with new eyes. Each time, it’s been a unique experience, this week more so than previous weeks. This week, I’m looking at “Hook,” the 1991 Steven Spielberg movie (it would seem Spielberg had a large claim on my childhood) about an adult Peter Pan (Robin Williams) who’s forgotten his roots, and is forced to return to Neverland to save his kids after they’re kidnapped by his old enemy, Captain Hook (Dustin Hoffman).

It turns out (much to my surprise) that “Hook” was a box-office tank. It had a budget of $70 million—still pretty small by today’s standards—and earned only between $13 and $14 million in its opening weekend—small by any standard. For years I wasn’t sure why, since by the time I saw it in the mid-90s, it was beloved by most of my friends, and remains a favorite childhood movie of many people I know. I still don’t quite know why people wouldn’t find the idea of the movie immediately appealing, especially since it brought together the popular talents of Spielberg and Williams—although it did have some spectacularly lame trailers.

Now, when I give a movie like “Jurassic Park” or “Matilda” a closer viewing, I expect to notice more than I have on previous viewings. Sometimes I understand things I didn’t get the first time around. Sometimes I notice details that add to the experience of the movie. “Hook” provided me with both, but in bizarre ways. Watching it again, it was clear that this is a flawed movie. Overall, it retains most of the charm it had for me at age 8—you can thank the production designers and Spielberg’s top-notch directing for that—and there were some parts that worked really well. But there were plenty of others that didn’t, and plenty more that was just plain odd.

It should be noted that “Hook” is chock-full of really bizarre cameos. Check it out: Phil Collins, David Crosby (of Crosby, Stills and Nash), Jimmy Buffett, Gwyneth Paltrow and Glenn Close (playing a man) all make appearances, as well as unnoticeable and uncredited appearances from George Lucas and Carrie Fisher, so IMDB tells me. The weirdest part: none of these cameos (save Paltrow’s) are important or memorable. Observe:

Collins plays a police inspector who’s completely forgettable except for the fact that he looks and sounds like Phil Collins. Blink and you’ll miss Crosby and Buffett (Ironic, since they play pirates, and of all the cameos, Buffett, the self-proclaimed “pirate” would have had the biggest in-joke possibilities). Close is almost unrecognizable, since she’s playing a male pirate with a beard. The only thing that gives her away is that she’s not very good at doing a man’s voice. Paltrow’s performance as Wendy in a flashback simply serves to prove she’s always been an irritating actress.

And speaking of irritating performances, there are a few more of those here, too. The child actress playing Maggie, Peter’s daughter, is cloyingly sweet, and her performance never once feels heartfelt. She’s like the anti- baby Drew Barrymore from “E.T.” There were times when I really wanted Hoffman’s Hook to give her a sharp smack and really give her something to cry about. Caroline Goodall, as Peter’s wife Moira, is practically a non-entity (although to be fair, she’s not given much to work with).

And somehow, weirdly enough, Steven Spielberg made it easier to believe Robin Williams as an uptight lawyer than as a fun-loving man-child. Something about his transformation from a well-dressed, strict and responsible professional to an energetic, childlike adventurer just didn’t resonate with me the way it should have. Maybe it was the tights that did it.

But, aside from all these issues, there’s still plenty to love about “Hook,” and plenty of subtext I saw as an adult that I completely overlooked as a child. For example, consider the way Peter behaves in his real-world corporate life and the way he behaves after he reconnects with his old self in Neverland. In both situations, he’s enjoying a life in which he’s a charismatic leader (and kind of a selfish one, to boot). He’s reminded repeatedly in Neverland that he loved playing pretend, and it seems like Peter’s buttoned-down adult life is ultimately just that: a great big dress-up game.

There are also plenty of messages about mortality. Neverland, of course, is a place where no one ever ages. The Lost Boys, perpetually young, get to enjoy a carefree life where every day is an adventure, and every night is a campout. Captain Hook, on the other hand, is an old man, increasingly shown as vain, pathetic and terrified of death. His hatred of clocks could be just as easily seen as a hatred of anything that reminds him of how old he is as much as it’s just a weird phobia. In some way, he’s probably jealous of those cocky, young Lost Boys. They will always have the best years of their life in front of them, whereas Hook’s best years will always be behind him.

And for all the performances that don’t work, there are plenty that make up for them. Hoffman is at his scene-chewing best as Hook, preening, mean and hilarious. He has some excellent chemistry, too, with Bob Hoskins, who plays Smee.  The two play off each other superbly, even if the dialogue isn’t always up to snuff. Here’s a clip that sums it up pretty well:

Julia Roberts also gives a surprisingly charming performance as Tinkerbell. I was certain before I started watching that she’d annoy me, but she didn’t. Roberts is positively adorable in the role, plucky and sweet and funny.

And, of course, the movie looks great. The Neverland in “Hook” is designed to appeal to modern kids, and it succeeds hugely. The Lost Boys live in a giant tree, and they have a skate ramp and a basketball court. I wanted all those things at that age. Hell, I still do. At least the living in a giant tree part.

“Hook” is a curious creature, and that may be why it tanked on its opening weekend. It’s an interesting concept, but an uneven film whose ambitions don’t always match its performance. But I have a feeling it’ll always be a favorite with kids (at least, I hope that’s the case), since it’s still a rollicking adventure with a decent dose of brain, though perhaps a little too much heart.

Random Observations:

-I never realized the names of some of the Lost Boys before, but they sure are odd. Some of them get adorable names like “Pockets.” Others get names like “Thudbutt.” C’est la vie, I suppose.

-When I was a kid, my friends and I all thought Rufio was the coolest. We all wanted to be him. I think it was a combination of his awesome hair and his way with words. Never underestimate the potency of calling someone a “week-old maggot burger with flies on the side.”

-About those trailers: Is it just my imagination, or does the full-length one look like it’s advertising some bizarro cousin of “a Nightmare on Elm Street?”

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3 thoughts on “Nostalgiaville: “Hook”

  1. dan says:

    Any movie that can get me and my best friend calling each other nearsighted gynecologists in school without knowing what it means, is going to remain one of my favorites forever. Bangarang, Rufio.

  2. […] watched this movie about a million times when it came out. I haven’t seen it recently, but word on the street is, it holds up. I’m sure I would enjoy it through sheer nostalgia factor […]

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