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Depp shines as the author behind Peter Pan classic

Chris Kepner | Tuesday, November 30, 2004

“Finding Neverland” explores the life of Sir James Matthew Barrie (Johnny Depp) and the experiences that inspired him to write the classic story of Peter Pan, the boy who refused to grow up.Depp’s stardom has recently soared to new heights on the incredible success of “Pirates of the Caribbean,” a trend that promises to continue with his forthcoming role as Willy Wonka in “Charlie and the Charlie Factory” and another stint as Captain Jack Sparrow in “Pirates of the Caribbean 2.” But as one of the finest craftsman in modern American cinema, the depth of Depp’s acting extends well outside the Hollywood blockbuster. One’s attention is called to another of his nonfictional characters: the brilliant portrayal of eccentric author Hunter S. Thompson in “Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas.” Depp prepared for that role by spending four months with Thompson, learning his mannerisms and vocal inflection. He borrowed Thompson’s car and some of his clothes for the film, and even let the author shave his head. Now that’s dedication.Unfortunately this approach wasn’t available to Depp for “Finding Neverland,” as J.M. Barrie passed away in 1937. The famous playwright’s absence might actually work to Depp’s advantage, however, as he is afforded the opportunity to interpret the character in his own way, adding subtle nuances and really making the character his own.The resulting performance is another bright gold star on the ever-more-impressive list of cast credits for Depp. He captured the film’s prevailing theme of undying youth brilliantly, setting the tone for the rest of the cast – even the children.Barrie is already a successful playwright in turn-of-the-century London when the film opens. He is just coming off a flop, however, when he meets a widower and her four sons at the park. Before he knows it, he’s helping the boys to put on impromptu performances in their backyard. As he becomes more and more a part of their family he distances himself further from his already unhappy wife. While simply trying to show these kids how to grow up without losing their childhood innocence, Barrie is inspired to write “Peter Pan.” This classic children’s tale tells the story of a magical place called Neverland, where children can hold onto their innocence.Kate Winslet shines as Sylvia Llewelyn Davies, the mother of the four boys. Dustin Hoffman also appears as Charles Frohman, the producer of Barrie’s plays, but his screen time is unfortunately sparse. “Finding Neverland” is clearly Depp’s film from start to finish.Freddie Highmore does an excellent job playing the character of Peter Llewelyn Davies, the inspiration for Peter Pan. Depp enjoyed working with Highmore so much that asked director Tim Burton to cast the young man as Charlie Bucket in next year’s “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.”Powered by Depp’s performance, “Finding Neverland” is as innocent and touching a tale as the original “Peter Pan” classic.