Neverland More Than Just Peter Pan, Sunday, Dec. 4

Courtesy ABC

NEVERLAND

Friendly Rating: Elementary age and older, might be too scary for younger viewers.

Safety Rating: Some violence, pirate cannons, sword fighting with killing, minimal blood.

Quality Rating: Excellent.

Mini-series special airs tonight and Monday, Dec. 5, at 9 p.m. on Syfy.

Neverland is supposed to be a prequel to the loved J.M. Barrie classic Peter Pan. But, as envisioned by writer/director Nick Willing, it’s also a mash up of Charles Dickens’ Oliver Twist, with traces of Harry Potter, Lord of the Rings and Star Wars thrown in for good measure.

It starts with a magic orb and two comets, which captures Pirate Captain Elizabeth Bonney (Anna Friel) and her crew. From there we go to London, 1906, in which Jimmy Hook (Rhys Ifans) has his crew of pick pockets, led by Peter (Charlie Rower), a flute playing adventurer. Pre-empting Jimmy, Peter and his young crew stage a burglary on an antique store, only to find out there really was a reason why Jimmy didn’t want Peter taking it on. Also, the actual object of the burglary is a magic orb, that eventually sends Jimmy and most of the boys to a mysterious land, where they are picked up by Captain Bonney.

Peter later finds the orb and transports himself and the remaining boy, Fox (Lorn MacDonald), to another part of the mystery land where they fall in with a band of Indians who bear a far more accurate resemblance to real Native Americans than anything the good Mr. Barrie ever wrote. There, Peter learns that they were brought to this place called Neverland by the same magic orb.

In the meantime, Jimmy and Captain Bonney seem to be getting on. Not that she trusts him, but she does let it slip that the tree spirits in the land are guarding a magic dust that will enable one to fly. So Jimmy, falling in love with Bonney at the same time, agrees to help her. However, Peter has other plans – he rescues the other boys, losing Fox in the process, and then decides to head off and find the source of what’s going on in this strange place in the hope of going home again.

Safety-wise, it’s not an overly-violent story, but there’s a fair amount of sword play and some shooting, and more than one character gets skewered, but not too many more than that. Oh, and one scene involving cannons and boats – it’s a pirate ship, remember? There’s a borderline sexy scene with Jimmy and Bonney, but you can’t see anything and it should go over the youngest heads. Younger children might find it too intense and there are a couple parts that could be considered scary, including several at the end that I can’t really describe because I don’t want to spoil the surprise. Just be aware there could be some angst until Monday night.

But overall, it’s a very well-done piece of work. The character development is fascinating, especially Jimmy’s. Ifans plays the con man beautifully, with the kind of skill that you can tell the actor knows what’s going on even if we don’t. It’s one of those intangibles that results in a clean, reasonably consistent performance, rather than something a little on the muddy side.

Willing’s script, at first, seems a little unwieldy. But be patient. It will come together. He has a lot of strands to collect, but a very clear idea of his world and it works really well. The best part are the references to Potter, Star Wars, Rings, etc. They’re not obvious or in your face – this isn’t that kind of comedy. They’re more in the tribute range – little sly hints that remind you of rather than reference directly. It’s a fun bit of work and well worth watching, though you may want to watch with your younger children, especially. It’s a much darker vision of Peter Pan than we’ve seen before, but a much more interesting one.

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