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Tuesday, 13 October 2015

Editorial: Why Pan Is Terrible.


Editorial: Why Pan Is Terrible
(Or Four of the Many, Many Reasons It Is, At Least).

This is very much a 'preaching to the choir' kind of editorial. I admit that, and we all know that - I doubt anybody who's reading this is gasping in shock and saying to themselves 'But I thought that Pan was an amazing film!'

For people who have blissfully managed to avoid hearing anything about Pan, though, it's a recently released Warner film, directed by Joe Wright. A prequel to J.M. Barrie's Peter Pan, it tells the story of a young(er) Peter Pan, his first trip to Neverland, and his friendship with a young James Hook.

That synopsis alone kind of tells you that Wright has missed the point of Peter Pan and who he is, but that's a topic for another editorial. For now, we have four reasons that Pan is terrible:


1. Whitewashing!

You know, I was going to say 'this is the one big horror of this film that everyone knows about', but when I was looking up reviews for it, I found that almost no reviews mentioned it, and the few that did hastily moved on as soon as they did.

When casting Native American character Tiger Lily, director Joe Wright decided that instead of doing the obvious thing and casting a Native American actor (indeed, reports from Native Americans who actually tried to audition for the role revealed that the casting directors were actively turning away Native Americans), instead cast Rooney Mara, who is so white that she could be used as a commercial for Daz.

When confronted about this, Wright did what nearly every director who gets caught whitewashing does: Claimed that we'll understand when we watch the film, and that his setting is incredibly racially diverse - a claim which, predictably, translates to 'there are people of colour, but only in non-speaking roles in the background.' Wright also claimed that he wanted the tribe in Neverland to be 'the indigenous people of the whole planet', which is a contrived, ridiculous excuse if I ever heard one.

Rooney Mara's response wasn't much better, with her claiming to sympathise with the people who were angry, to feel "really bad" about it, and to have been concerned about this problem when she was first approached. Just apparently not concerned enough to not take the role.


2. Great Ormond Street received no money from Pan.

Great Ormond Street is the hospital that J.M. Barrie left the rights to Peter Pan to in his will. It's a children's hospital, and although it's been granted a perpetual copyright - that is to say, it can take royalties from any use of Peter Pan from now until the heat death of the universe - there are still those in the US who insist that the play is out of copyright there, and refuse to give Great Ormond Street the money that is rightfully is. 

Money that would go to the medical care of children, because who cares about children, right?

Many companies do, however, still donate generously to Great Ormond Street, and the hospital doesn't tend to pursue its copyright if they do, even if they would get less money from the donation than from the royalties: Disney's Peter Pan, Spielberg's Hook, Columbia's 2003 film, Syfy's Neverland, and Finding Neverland all either provided royalties or donations to the hospital. Warner, apparently taking its cue from Disney's petulant refusal in more recent years, chose not to.

So, in case whitewashing wasn't enough - and frankly, it should be enough - this film also grabs money away from a children's hospital. Charming, really.


3. It's bizarrely set in World War II.

While the first two points on this list are actually quite horrible, suggesting ethical and moral deficiencies on the part of the people who worked on the film, this one is more annoying than anything, and a shade insensitive.

Despite being a prequel to a book set and published long before World War II was a twinkle in the Axis' powers' collective eye, Wright has for some reason chosen to set it in the midst of the war itself. It doesn't seem to add anything to the storyline, or the aesthetic of the story, or really anything - it just seems to have been done because Americans really like World War II.

I say it's a shade insensitive because Great Ormond Street was actually bombed during World War II, and when taken in combination with Warner's refusal to pay the hospital their dues, it all comes off as not just strange, but a little mean-spirited, even if it's probably unintentional. Whether that was intended or not, though, it's still a strange, creatively bankrupt choice.

So, in case whitewashing and stealing from sick children wasn't enough - and we are literally in cackling vaudeville villain territory with those two things alone - this film also indulges itself of one of the most irritating and bizarre cliches. 


4. At the end of it all, it's just not very good.

Pan has been a tremendous box office flop, picking up only fifteen million in its opening week - barely a tenth of its one-hundred-and-fifty million budget. In a cinematic environment where live-action adaptations of children's stories and fairytales are almost guaranteed to bring in decent amounts of money (even Cinderella and Snow White and the Huntsman made back considerable amounts of their budgets in their opening weekends alone), that is a fairly cataclysmic flop.

It has also been critically panned, with the L.A. Times describing it as "the most joyless revisionism since Disney's The Lone Ranger" (another film which whitewashed a Native American character and subsequently flopped), while RogerEbert.com described it as "a pandemic of poor choices", the Guardian called it a "dull, dreadful, unasked for prequel", and Mashable described it as "resoundingly rotten in every way."

No amount of quality would have redeemed this film, but luckily, we don't have to see that truth in action, because this film is terrible.

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