The Hero’s Journey in “Hook”

“Peter Banning” is a busy executive with more time for his cellular phone than for his children, until fate launches him back once again into combat with Captain Hook. Robin Williams plays the harassed businessman, and Maggie Smith is the old granny who’s able to suggest the most wonderful possibilities when she whispers, “Peter, dear – don’t you know who you are?” Actually, he can’t remember a thing that happened before he was 12, but Hook can and kidnaps Banning’s two children because he wants to lure Peter back to Neverland for a rematch.

Spielberg sets the scene in modern-day America, where the executive lifestyle leaves no time for fathers to spend with children. Then Robin Williams takes his wife and children back to London to visit Granny Wendy, who adopted him as an orphan, and as the kids sleep in the very same bedroom where the original story began, we get the Spielberg visual trademark of the blinding light on the other side of the rattling window: The promise of magic, just outside.

After the children disappear and Peter finds Hook’s kidnap note and is told by Granny Wendy who he really is and why he must follow. The other key characters appear: Hook, played by Dustin Hoffman, Tinker Bell, played by Julia Roberts and Smee (Bob Hoskins) who is sort of Hook’s official sidekick.

The funny thing is, this seems to be a common experience among those around my age (okay, maybe not the couch-jumping). Clearly Hook struck a nerve with folks in a very specific developmental period, and it’s not too hard to see why. The sets Spielberg constructed for the Neverland sequences were massive and, from a child’s point of view, magical. The world building is impressive, as Spielberg crafts a Neverland that is lush with colors and larger-than-life characters, brought to life by Robin Williams, who was coming off a more dramatic period in his career.

Indeed, Hook marks a sort of turning point for Williams who, following three intense pictures—Dead Poets SocietyAwakenings, and The Fisher King—found his inner child to bring adult Peter Pan to life. He would follow Hook with iconic performances in Aladdin and Mrs. Doubtfire, and it’s that sly playfulness (even when he’s being a jerk) that I think I and many others responded to in his portrayal of Peter Banning.

Poignancy. Lessons to be learned. Speeches to be made. Lost marbles to be rediscovered. Tears to be shed. there’s something about Hook that almost transcends nostalgia. There’s a reason this movie was absolutely adored by kids when it hit theaters despite widespread critical disdain, and there’s a reason it endures today. Is Hook a good movie? Not really. But even as I see its flaws in abundant clarity, they don’t negate the fact that this movie makes me happy. Really, seriously happy, silly storytelling be damned. That’s something that can’t—and shouldn’t—be lost.