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Finding Neverland

It's 1903 and James Barrie (Johnny Depp) — the most famous playwright of his generation — is coming off a flop, but his producer (Dustin Hoffman) insists that they can salvage their investment by mounting a new play as quickly as possible. As movie luck would have it, Barrie stumbles upon a charming widow named Sylvia (Kate Winslet) and her adorable brood of sons, all of whom offer the writer ample opportunity for flights of fancy… which, naturally, turn into bits of "Peter Pan." Never mind that Barrie's married , and that his sexually neglected wife (Radha Mitchell) is resentful of the time her husband spends both on his writing and with the pretty widow's children. Meanwhile, the production of "Peter Pan" starts rehearsals, with the actors understandably hesitant about mounting a play featuring ticking crocodiles and fairies and children who fly. Screenwriter David Magee and director Marc Forster (Monster's Ball) teeter perilously on the edge of the overly precious throughout Finding Neverland (2004), occasionally succumbing entirely to sticky-sweet clunkiness. What with the painfully obvious imagery that supposedly inspires Barrie's writing and with Sylvia's lapse into that old standby illness, Mysterious Movie Coughing Disease (whenever a film heroine starts to discreetly cough into her handkerchief, you just know she's doomed), the film is overwritten from the old Screenwriting Clichés 101 textbook to the point of belligerent stupidity, all accompanied by a syrup of thick, manipulative music courtesy of Jan A.P. Kaczmarek. Would that the film actually had a little of the magic and genuine sentimentality that it promises — a little more fairy dust, perhaps — it might have deserved some of the seven Oscar nominations that it received. Buena Vista/Miramax's DVD release offers a lovely, anamorphic transfer (2.35:1) that beautifully captures the impressive cinematography. The picture quality is often quite soft, but deliberately so, and the rich colors are nicely reproduced. The Dolby Digital 5.1 audio is impressive — if you actually like Kaczmarek's score, you'll appreciate the representation is receives here. Extras include a commentary track with director Marc Forster, producer Richard Gladstein and writer David Magee; a promotional featurette, "The Magic of Finding Neverland" (21 min.) with soundbites from the producers, director and primary actors and other actors talking about how swell Johnny Depp and Kate Winslet are; "Creating Neverland" (24 min.), a nice featurette on the visual effects; "On the Red Carpet," (26 min.), another promotional self-congratulation showing clips from the films multiple premieres; three deleted scenes with optional commentary by the filmmakers; and the apparently requisite 34 minutes of outtakes, the best of which involve Depp attempting to act with the dog and a giggly dinner-party scene whose mood was enhanced by director-supplied fart sounds. Keep-case.
—Dawn Taylor

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