Rebelle Re-Views: ‘Hook’ and Where Magic Comes From

In jolly ol’ London Town where I’ve been residing off and on for the past year Spring is just beginning to get into its groove despite it being nearly summertime, foxes are pooping in forgotten pint glasses outside the pub, and an old rich white man was draped in gold and stolen precious gems in a grotesque ritual – paid for by the taxpayer – to seal his “destiny” to remain an old rich white man. Amidst this backdrop I decided to rewatch Hook, the 1991, Steven Spielberg-directed epic adventure sequel to J.M. Barrie’s  guide on how to cope with life and avoid death in unhealthy ways, “Peter Pan.” As a kid I loved the idea of a continuation of well-known fairytales and with enough of a nod to the 1953 animated Disney film to not feel confusing to my tiny brain, it seemed a plausible imagining of what could have happened in the years following the Darling children touching back down to earth from Neverland. The rewatch was an altogether pleasant one. I welled up at the sight of Williams, felt appropriately critical of the boring and outdated tropes and roles written for the girls/women/fairy, and bubbled with pure unadulterated joy with every Where’s Waldo cameo of an actor or musician I would not have recognized at first watch at 5-7 years old. What took me by surprise however, was neither my feelings about the film nor any bright bulb of insight after viewing it again after so long, but in what I found as I was doing more research on it for this post. 

The Lost Boys give zero f*cks about critics. Dante Basco, Jasen Fisher, Bogdan Georghe, Raushan Hammond, James Madio, Isaiah Robinson, Ahmad Stoner , Thomas Tulak , and Alex Zuckerman in Hook (1991)

One quick Google search and I was inundated with titles of articles proclaiming Hook to be a complete disaster while the more positive reviews are framed not as standalone’s but defenses against the onslaught of negative critique. The film has a spit take-worthy 29% rating on Rotten Tomatoes, but when speaking to folks IRL there is nothing but fondness for it. So, what gives? Based on the implications in some of these reviews one would think an atrocity of filmmaking had occurred. Some critics felt bored by the timing with others just not caring for the plot itself. Film critic icon Roger Ebert’s original review’s only specific feedback was a wish that Neverland felt more magical instead of like he was watching people on a movie set. Fair enough. This all got me wondering about mediocrity: who gets to determine what is mediocre, why, and whether it’s as bad a thing as the messaging we get proclaims (I, personally, nominate Brett White based on this fantastically queer review from 2020). In the oeuvre of Steven Spielberg, Hook falls smack in the middle of the transition from the Indiana Jones blockbusters and into a more grand and serious era of Jurassic Park and Schindler’s List. Hook doesn’t have the same masterful sheen of these other films compared to so many others in what had already been a storied directorial career. What it does have is some good fun and the most interesting of the “Peter Pan” imaginings in the last 30 years. 

Hook has us checking in on Peter Pan’s (Robin Williams) life post-Neverland as a Grownup™. In this magical realism-imbued world, Pan is now Peter Banning a tightly wound lawyer with a wife, two children, and thicc cell phone with a guy named Brad who lives on the other line. Banning has fully succumbed to corporate American life at the steep price of losing memories of his previous one and in so doing, losing touch with himself and his ability to connect with others. Banning develops a palpable fear of flying and seems almost allergic to play based on the instant inflammation he develops around it. Banning’s journey back to his story and authenticity begins when Captain JAS Hook (Dustin Hoffman) sensing his return to London, kidnaps Banning’s children Jack (Charlie Korsmo) and Maggie (Amber Scott) as the adults are out at an event celebrating Granny Wendy (Maggie Smith) and her devotion to finding families for the orphans she took in throughout her life. As many middle-aged coming-of-age stories go, Banning is put through his paces in silly and heartfelt ways. He eventually saves his children with a new lease on life remembering what makes it worth living is presence and joy. Tale as old as time (different Disney fairytale adaptation, but you get it). 

Peter Pan/Banning (Robin Williams) faces nemesis Captain Hook (Dustin Hoffman) in Hook (1991)

There’s a reason why these stories are timeless. In each stage of a person’s life that message can continue to resonate presumably with more depth and complexity as time goes on. For a kid watching this film it could be a message validating that stage in their lives where playing and engaging in their imaginations are vital for their developing brains and immerse themselves  in the wish fulfillment of getting to exact revenge on adults who attempt to take the fun away from them. I still find it hugely satisfying seeing a bunch of kids get the better of adults in the silly ways: tomato torpedoes, egg guns with actual chickens laying ammo, and being as loud and goofy as they want. As for the adults, it can serve as a contemplation – as light or as deep as one wants to go with it – on the ways in which we either forget our own mortality or are far too aware. It seems apt that a story of Peter Pan’s growth is titled after Captain Hook rather than something like “Peter Pan and How to Find Joy Surviving Late-Stage Capitalism While Also Not Being a Terrible Parent.” Though Hook has been an adult much longer than Banning has, they’re now on a more equal playing field as Peter can look his sworn enemy in the face with more life behind him than ahead. As the former’s preoccupation with avoiding the ticking clock makes Hook’s grand-looking life actually quite small and superficial, Pan remembers a different kind of future is possible. Death may be a grand adventure or a completely debilitating thought, but what if we chose to pour that energy into making something of this one life? 

Spinning this tale of life, death, and magic is a stellar cast. The wild talent of Robin Williams with that familiar warm and mischievous glint in his eyes was the right choice to crack Peter Banning open and allow his inner child to burst forth from his corporate cage. Dustin Hoffman is magnetic and truly unrecognizable as the titular character. I was shocked at how captivatingly he held my attention now just as he had when I first watched that gilded hooked hand conduct cheers of loyal scallywags nearly three decades ago. He finds the exact blend of camp, narcissistic ineptitude, and levity to Hook that makes him both a commanding presence and joy to behold and eventually, see fall. The partnership between him and Mr. Smee (Bob Hoskins) was surprisingly tender as Hoskins played his character less as a bumbling underling but a caring companion or parental figure who knows Hook better than the captain knows himself. As mentioned before, the women’s roles leave much to be desired. They are are limited to 1. The mother (Moira Banning played by Caroline Goodall), nagging yet effortlessly beautiful so it’s easy to forgive the nagging 2. The matriarch who dedicates her life to caretaking others 3. The good girl and 4. The literal manic pixie who devotes her life to people who reject her and/or cannot love her the way she needs to be loved. The one-dimensionality of the characters and their storylines are unsurprising when considering the context of the period in which it was set, made, and the works it is based on but disappointing nonetheless. 

Maggie Smith serving granny in that iconic way that only she knows how at the ripe old age of FIFTY EFFING SEVEN (I just can’t even with Hollywood, y’all). Though missing the acerbic wit her later notorious matriarchal roles she still commands a room. Julia Roberts’s presence and megawatt smile, as well, rarely fail to light up the screen. But their talent feels stunted and underutilized in these roles having to play out some majorly cringe storylines. Granny Wendy just looking on as Peter Pan kisses her sleeping daughter elicit feelings of big ick and every awkward moment of Tinkerbell expressing her love and proclamations of always being there for Peter despite being blatantly rejected in horrifying ways makes me want to wrap an arm around her with an, “Oh honey…” and lead her in a direction far far away from that situation. The kids, Banning’s and the Lost Boys, are loads of fun. Full of sweetness, sass, although a tad too much anti-fatness trash talk. And of course, the world was introduced to Dante Basco and his multi-mohawked warrior skater boi, Rufio. Rufio held so much more real estate in my memory than he actually gets in the film, which is testament to a powerful performance by Basco. Though, I do wish his role was more fleshed out and as prominent as I remember it being. The last thing I’ll point out that I am able to appreciate much more as an adult viewer was catching all the cameos. Phil Collins! David Crosby (RIP)! GLENN CLOSE IN DRAG!? David Crosby getting kicked in the balls?? Pre-Goop Gwyneth Paltrow (not technically a cameo, but I still forgot she was in this movie)! High scores for overall fun and nostalgic value.

Gutless (ICON Glenn Close) in Hook (1991)

I don’t believe that every creative work people produce needs to be a work of high art, whatever that even means. Nor do I know whether it’s even possible to accurately compare one work to another with any kind of objectivity. An enormous part of the creative process and of developing skills is sometimes making work that’s not going to wow you or others. It’s going to play with oft-repeated themes and reuse boring and outdated tropes until another way becomes more clear. It’s a normal and necessary part of the process. So, when thinking about how poorly this film was critically received it reminds me of how warped our concept of what the product and purpose of creativity is meant to be. Currently, many of us are socialized to see it through a lens of profit or perfectionism, but the beauty of creation is in the messiness of the process. Sometimes the completion of one work is to develop more skills, to transition us from one phase to the next, sometimes the real charm and impact doesn’t hit til decades later, if ever. Just because what we make may not be what others want from us each time, it doesn’t mean that it’s not worth doing or putting out there anyway. The real magic is in the making. 

Interview With Author K. Ancrum

K. Ancrum is the author of  the award winning thriller THE WICKER KING,  a lesbian romance THE WEIGHT OF THE STARS and the upcoming Peter Pan thriller DARLING. K. is a Chicago native passionate about diversity and representation in young adult fiction. She currently writes most of her work in the lush gardens of the Chicago Art Institute. I had the opportunity to interview her, which you can read below.

First, how did you come to realize you wanted to be an author

 I’ve written books since I was 13, but I never really considered it to be a viable professional option until I was around 19. At the time I was writing on tumblr at lot and had started to write a web-book on there that was gaining a surprising amount of popularity. An agent who predominantly represented non-fiction began following the story and eventually reached out to me and encouraged me to consider submitting my work to agents who represent fiction. I think if she hadn’t approached me I probably would have continued writing just as much as I do today, but it would probably just be for my own satisfaction, instead of as a career

Who or what stories inspired your own personal realization as a writer?

A WRINKLE IN TIME was extremely influential and was the reason I started writing in the first place. I read it when I was 12 and I remember thinking “I want to make something that makes other people feel the way this book made me feel.”. I’ve mentioned this one quite a lot in interviews, but HOLES was also massively influential to me in regards to understanding that writing can be an intensely technical skill, from a very young age. 

A large theme in your books, especially in The Wicker King, is on negligent adults who either refuse to recognize teens in need or are oblivious to it? Could you expand on this topic?

There are so many ways that parents can be “not there” for their children and I think that a lot of the time only a few ways are discussed. 

The Wicker King was unique in that it showed many kids without present adults and how that impacted them, rather than orphaning the main characters for convenience. August had a mother who was physically there but emotionally unavailable in a way that wasn’t really her fault. Jack’s parents were physically absent and emotionally absent, but provided for him financially. Roger and Peter’s parents absence was more periodic but they formed a bond between each other that didn’t allow for outsiders very similar to Jack and August’s but less destructive. Rina’s parents straight up moved away to England and left her living in squalor as a barely-adult teenager.  She’s perilously lonely and friendless and pushes people away.  This book is filled with isolated children trying to make a house into a home: Rina letting August and Jack into her apartment and integrating them into her routine. August and Jack playing house and clawing each other to the bone searching for warmth. Peter and Roger letting August into their world and slowly forming a bond of trust with him. 

I had a lot of friends in similar situations and a lot of them didn’t make it out okay in the end. It was a bit of a relief to have this make believe space to pretend that there could have been a world where they were okay.

Your books, while all grounded in the real world, seem to contain otherworldly elements, relating to magical realism like in The Wicker King, literally being out of this world in The Weight of the Stars, or even fairy tale elements like in Darling. Did you intentionally set out for this or did the style organically evolve this way?

Its intentional. I like fabulism and I feel more comfortable there than in strictly fantasy or contemporary. A lot of real life seems to straddle the ordinary and extraordinary and I enjoy playing with that in my own work. 

Your upcoming book, Darling, is said to be a modern twist on the classic Peter Pan story. In what ways will the story touch upon the original tale and what ways are you planning to invert it? Also, fellow queer author, Aiden Thomas, is also coming out with a Peter Pan based novel, Lost in the Never Woods. Any theories for why this story seems to be resurging all of a sudden?

This is going to sound strangely straight forward, but it’s because the Peter Pan book copyright expires January of next year. There’s going to be an explosion of Peter Pan content for probably a year after. I plotted DARLING in 2013 and have been waiting for this to happen to release it. 

Hypothetically speaking, if the characters of your books or you yourself could interact with characters from any fictional universe, where would they be from?

This is less characters and more about the fictional universe but, I’m very enamoured with Narnia and the melancholy freshness of the worlds in that IP. The concept of life-supporting worlds/universes at different life stages: Some barely budding with small creatures in the light of a weak young sun and some in desolation and burdened under the weight of time cast red in the light of dying stars. The newness of creatures trying to find a home in these places, living their own individual creation myths. There is a lot about the books that is worth giving one disapproving pause. But I think I would like to be that place in the magician’s nephew where the world was so new that anything you plant becomes a kind of tree.

Within your writing and work in general, what messages do you want to give to your readers? What do you wish you had received from books as a young reader yourself growing up?

I wish there had been more LGBT  content. I actually went into this in a paper I recently wrote about fanfiction and I want to include an excerpt: 

We are in an interesting age of resurgence of mass produced LGBTQIAP+ media. As you all know, progress isn’t linear and its a bit too early to boast that “Things have permanently changed”, but currently we’re doing a lot better than we were just ten years ago. It’s recent enough for me and many other LGBTQIAP+ YA authors to vividly remember the time before these changes. It has also existed briefly enough that we can dubiously envision a time in our future without it. The maintenance of a place where marginalized communities can create and share artwork is vital, and has always been a part of LGBTQIAP+ culture. Fan fiction, small indie publishers and self publishing communities have been supporting marginalized writing for almost a century and show very little sign of being eroded by the shifting tides of public moral opinion or whims of mass production. Fan fiction in particular, is the cheapest and lowest risk form of community building within this art form. It is not a mistake or coincidence that nearly all of the mainstream published authors who admit to their past participation in fan fiction culture are women, people of color and LGBTQIAP+ people. Groups that have been historically underserved by mainstream media. Fan fiction isn’t a stepping stone to “real writing” or a place where people write weird NSFW. It’s a hurricane shelter: A place we can play in on an average day, and the most important place for our survival when the weather begins to look dangerous.

Are there any other projects or story ideas you are currently nursing and would be at liberty to say?

Yes! I’m working on an UNTITLED  Train Heist Novel. A cool UNTITLED cult novel for Scholastic and an adult novel about immortality called  WE STOOD ALONE, that hasn’t been purchased yet but my fingers are crossed!

Finally, what are some LGBTQ+ books or authors you would recommend to the readers of Geeks OUT?

Please please please buy Cemetery Boys by Aiden Thomas and Felix Ever After by Kacen Callender. They are both stunning and written with so much love.