Look even a little past the surface, and Peter Pan is revealed as the tragic figure he is at heart. Yet only one version of the story has really acknowledged this. Not coincidentally, it’s by far the best one: P.J. Hogan’s 2003 film Peter Pan.
The Peter Pan of this film (Jeremy Sumpter) is a wounded creature. Like many troubled children, he reacts with hostility and violence when attacked, though the dangers that set him off here aren’t the physical kind posed by Captain Hook, but emotional ones that are threatening in their adultness. The film sees through his familiar traits, revealing his trademark cockiness and mischievousness as masks over underlying pain. When claims he wants only to be a boy and have fun, Wendy calls bullshit: “I think it is your biggest pretend.”
Remember that Pan’s ability to fly is contingent on not just fairy dust, but optimism; if he lets unhappy thoughts into his head, he will quite literally fall. This doesn’t result in a joyful character, but one in denial. When he plays a kind of word association game, pairing “jealousy” with Tinker Bell and “anger” with Hook, he claims ignorance at the word “love,” hissing that “the sound of it offends me.” While it’s never underlined in close-up, there’s a scar running across Sumpter’s heart.