With the popularization of the term “hate-watch” has come a misconception that if you watch something, and don’t like it, you therefore are a hate-watching hater who hates. That is reductive; most of the time, people are just watching, period, and came away with a negative opinion. In fact, as with The Sound of Music Live, I went into this really wanting it to be great, because I LOVE that NBC is building an event around earnest musical theater on this national scale, and I would love for it to survive as an annual tradition. But I just didn’t think this was a very good production, and it’s not because I’m a Hater or anything so trendily tossed-around as that. It’s partly the performances, and partly a huge realization that I had just recently: Peter Pan itself isn’t very good. In fact, like Peter itself, once you grow up you simply can’t look at it the same way.
But first, I need to point out something from the poster, which is that Allison Williams as a boy is basically actor Armie Hammer. Exhibit A:
Within the last year, I got excited to show my kids the Disney Peter Pan because I remember — in that vague, gauzy way — that I adored it in my own youth. I also couldn’t have told you the last time I actually SAW it, though, and as we sat down to watch, I was reminded of a few unpleasant things. One, that it’s so slow. Glacially slow. It makes global warming feel like a 100-yard dash. There is SO MUCH blah-blah, and then suddenly you’re in Neverland and then the second thing rears its head: HOLY GOD THE RACISM. NBC hired a Native American consultant who helped them reshape the songs for Tiger Lily and her friends, who are still tribal (though with a Polynesian flair, whether or not that was intentional) but are no longer treated as stereotypes. Smart of them to deal with that head-on instead of taking a Dan Snyder/Washington Football Team approach.
So through adult eyes, it struck me how basically this is a story about a weird old dude who’s hot for murdering children, and a woman who has a terrible adventure with a manchild and then willingly pimps out her own daughter (and, in her professed fantasy, generations of her female progeny) to the same manchild. It’s… not great, Bob. As an adult it’s hard to — as Allison Williams asked — put in your childhood eyeballs and see it that way, and even if we tried, we’d have been bored by the half-hour-plus it took to even GET to the damn flying.
I’ve not seen the musical itself (or if I have, it was a long time ago), so I don’t know if the stage show suffers the same way this did. Peter Pan Live never gets any momentum, even from the few performances that have zip, which I blame in part on the decision to spread it across three hours – granted, it IS long — and pepper it with all those commercial breaks (a business necessity, but still). Worse, this means the plot stops making sense. What you can track doesn’t really hit you, and what you can’t is usually because lines were delivered in a throwaway manner or trims made it suffer. They heavily edited down Tinkerbell, in a way that gave her character little point and no endearing nor enduring value. She’s just a twinkly device who sounded like an iPhone. Tiger Lily doesn’t connect, either, and in the end the only emotional moment that hits is when Wendy and her mother wistfully sing an unwitting duet about missing each other. And although Allison Williams has a lovely voice and does fine in a REALLY technically challenging role for which I applaud her moxie, she lacks the boyish charisma and charm to play a kid who could win the hearts of all and sundry and have them literally follow him to the ends of the earth (and into battle, and nearly down the plank). When her Peter sings “I Gotta Crow” about how awesome he is, all you think is, “Oh, pipe down, Pan, you inflated blouse.”
In fact, the completely spaced-out stylings of Christopher Walken are what saved it. He HIMSELF sleepwalks through half his scenes, but the result is the only part of the production that has any compelling entertainment value. It’s the only part that moves. I had to watch this entire sucker three times – once live, once to get screen grabs, and then because the beans caught me grabbing a photo and made me start at the beginning – and by the end of the final pass, I was actually grateful to Walken for bringing such a completely random, fluctuating, and indiscriminate amount of cowbell to his scenes. Sometimes it’s tons, sometimes it’s none, sometimes it’s in the middle, but the mystery as to what you’ll get certainly keeps your attention. Fug Husband Kevin told me that he read once about how Christopher Walken takes every script he gets and re-punctuates it to infuse it with maximum Essence of Walken, and I COMPLETELY believe that here in this particularly batshit clip from the end (no ads, I promise):