When Warner Bros.’ live-action megabudget Pan flew into theaters last October, it was an instant and humiliating D.O.A., crash-landing into a sea of red ink—an estimated $130-$150 million worth of it. (As prequels go, it was no match for the Tony-winning musical Peter and the Starcatcher, which opened on Broadway in 2012.) Just months before that, Peter Pan Live! belly-flopped for NBC. A 2003 Peter Pan movie barely earned back its $100 million budget and, as for the 1991 box-office underachiever Hook, let’s just say that if director Steven Spielberg ever wins a lifetime achievement Oscar, the clip reel won’t go heavy on that leaden dirigible starring Dustin Hoffman, Julia Roberts, and the late Robin Williams.
But, hey, why should any of those red flags stop Disney from going full-throttle on yet another multimillion-dollar take on J.M. Barrie’s classic works about a cheeky boy who wouldn’t grow up and was horrified of growing old? If ever a theme resonated to Hollywood’s core, that’s it right there.
Way, way back in the day, Walt Disney himself scored a big box-office success with his 1953 animated Peter Pan, a film which disappointed the mogul artistically but today ranks as one of the studio’s legacy titles. Never ones to let any exploitable title go to the waste, Disney’s current bosses have sprinkled fairy dust (and, presumably, a fair chunk of change) on director David Lowery (Ain’t Them Bodies Saints) and newbie screenwriter Toby Halbrooks to give a proper liftoff to a new Pan franchise. (Also in the Mouse House hopper: a Tinker Bell project set to star Reese Witherspoon.) Lowery and Halbrooks are two of Disney’s new Golden Boys, recently putting finishing touches on a new spin on Disney’s 1977 live action/animated musical Pete’s Dragon, and that redo’s generating very positive pre-release buzz. Says a source whose own studio deep-sixed a Pan-inspired big screen musical project, “David and Toby’s good work on Pete’s Dragon is definitely the engine here and, look, they’ll probably make a good Peter Pan movie. But even with a so-so movie, Disney’s marketing team could make an insane haul on Peter and Tink toys, stuffed crocodiles, and pirate gear? Talk about Never-Neverland.”
Maybe so. Or maybe it’s more like the old clichéd definition of insanity: doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results?