Hook Has Enough Unforgettable Moments to Cover Its Considerable Flaws

Drew Struzan’s poster for Steven Spielberg’s 1991 film Hook.
Drew Struzan’s poster for Steven Spielberg’s 1991 film Hook.
Image: All images TriStar
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Like many of us, Steven Spielberg’s Hook was one of my favorite movies growing up. When it was released in 1991, I was 11 years old, the perfect age to be completely in awe at how Spielberg took one of the most famous stories of all time, J.M Barrie’s Peter Pan, and gave it a big-budget sequel. Everything about the movie wowed me and I kept that adoration long into adulthood.

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Then came July 14, 2013.

That was the day my now-wife and I went to a screening of Hook that was also a Movie Interruption by comedian Doug Benson. Benson’s Movie Interruptions basically consist of him and a few friends Mystery Science Theater-ing a movie. I figured a classic movie I loved, a few comedians, what could go wrong? Two and a half hours later, I walked out shellshocked at how Benson and his pals eviscerated the film so beloved in my childhood. Some hints of nostalgia remained but Hook, to me, had been destroyed.

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Fast-forward to 2020 and Hook has come to Netflix. I knew it was my duty to give it another spin and see who would win: the 11-year-old Germain or the 33-year-old Germain. The answer ended up being neither, but the two now have a better understanding of each other.

Ru-fi-oooooooooo.
Ru-fi-oooooooooo.

Hook stars Robin Williams as Peter Banning, a lawyer who struggles to balance work and family. On a trip to London to visit a close family friend, Peter’s children are kidnapped and brought to Neverland. Peter is forced to follow and discovers he’s the real Peter Pan and must fight Captain Hook (played by Dustin Hoffman) to get his kids back. It basically asks and answers the question “What if Peter Pan grew up?”

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To this day, I still find that entire idea fascinating. It’s just a simple, genius way to take a well-known fairy tale, update it and expand it. The formula has since been duplicated and tweaked ad nauseam with films like Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland, Maleficent, and a bunch of others. Hook lead the charge though and as my rewatch began, I instantly found myself wrapped up in its conceit. Yes, Hook hooked me.

The first thing that stands out is Spielberg absolutely made Hook for the kid I was when it first came out. Nothing about the movie is remotely subtle. The entire opening act is filled with foreshadowing akin to cutting off someone’s hand and putting a hook there. From the hook-shaped window clasps to the pirate ship in a bottle to dialogue literally using the word “hook,” if you watched this film not knowing where it was going, you’d be silly not to see it coming. That, coupled with a high level of schmaltzy melodrama, make the film’s opening necessary, but a little taxing.

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Hook meets the old Pan.
Hook meets the old Pan.

After the children are kidnapped and the aforementioned family friend Wendy (played by Maggie Smith, looking exactly the same as she does today) tells Peter the truth about who he is, the film starts to make a difficult but successful transition. The introduction of Julia Roberts’ Tinkerbell does the bulk of the work taking a movie set in a very familiar reality and moving it to a place of infinite possibility. It’s a huge pivot, one that could have gone horribly wrong, but Spielberg absolutely nails it and eases the viewer from one tone to another.

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When Peter gets to Neverland, the immediate takeaway is the sets. I mean, holy shit. From Hook’s ship and its dock to the Lost Boys’ tree and all the interiors, Hook’s Neverland is a visual feast that was rightfully nominated for a Best Art Direction Oscar. It’s a world you want to walk around in and explore every nook and cranny of. Which, for or better and worse, you kind of get to do.

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While Hook successfully transitions between tones, and the Neverland sequences are gorgeous, the movie gets a bit bloated in its second act. First, there’s the main plot of old Peter having to become Pan again (he has no idea how to fight or fly). Then there’s Hook trying to gaslight Peter’s kids. Tink is in love with Peter. Rufio is insecure. It’s just a lot. Most of it works because the performances are so on point but there is a sense that some of the plotlines are a tad unnecessary. A lot of the scenes are a bit stagnant and drawn out too. So, by the time Peter actually becomes Pan and goes after Hook with the Lost Boys, you’ve all but forgetten the very real-world stakes that, back in London, a family is searching for kidnapped kids.

There you are, Peter.
There you are, Peter.
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Thankfully, as this is all happening, Hook has so many unforgettable moments peppered in that the faults are almost completely overshadowed. There’s Rufio’s incredible introduction via wooden windsurfing, the joyous imaginary food fight, the manic baseball game, the touching moment of Pockets touching Peter’s face. These, and others, are perfect scenes that are so delightful, the fact they just keep coming and coming makes everything OK.

That said, what you realize watching Hook today is that there are also lots of not-so-great moments. For example, when you finally find out how and why Peter Pan left Neverland, it’s more than a little uncomfortable and creepy. (He kisses Wendy’s granddaughter, his eventual wife, while she’s sound asleep without having ever met her.) The big finale also isn’t nearly as magical when you realize Williams learned how to sword fight but Hoffman almost certainly did not, as we see almost the entire Hook vs. Pan sword fight from behind him.

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There’s also the painful realization of Tink as a tragic character, stuck with a love she’ll never be able to act on; the oddity that the Lost Boys don’t mourn the death of Rufio; and that we’re meant to believe Peter “ran away” from his real mom as a baby and then Tink kidnapped him. There’s a laundry list of bad choices made in the movie and though the ending brings everything together fairly well, there’s plenty to leave you scratching your head in confusion.

Spoiler: Peter gets his kids back.
Spoiler: Peter gets his kids back.
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All things considered, though, Hook remains a fun, watchable movie. I can’t imagine a better person to play Peter than Robin Williams, and watching him go from stern adult to a playful child is completely lovely and makes you miss him so, so much. John Williams’ score is also aces. He’s done a lot of classic scores, of course, but few instantly bring tears to my eyes like Hook’s does. It’s akin to weaponized nostalgia. Rufio and Smee, played by Dante Basco and Bob Hoskins, are also mega-standouts. Though neither is in the film a lot, they create such unforgettable, magical characters that each has stood the test of time and remain truly iconic.

As the credits rolled on Hook, I was left with mixed emotions. Yes, many of the flaws pointed out to me by comedians in 2013 remained. This is not a typical, airtight Spielberg masterpiece as I’d once thought. And yet, there’s so much good throughout that I absolutely walked back my “Hook is bad” mindset. Hook isn’t bad. It’s just flawed. And the good things are numerous enough that I think it’ll continue to endure long after it’s taken off Netflix.

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Entertainment Reporter for io9/Gizmodo

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DISCUSSION

I love Hook dearly (hell, I had the novelization!), but it is indeed a flawed movie. I remember thinking, even as a ten-year-old in 1991, that the Lost Boys felt dated the instant they hit the screen, and that a lot of the slapstick and humor was overwrought and obnoxious.

However. It has what is legitimately one of my favorite movie moments of all time.

When we first see Maggie Smith appear at the top of the stairs, it’s pure, 100% magic, and I will forever count her “Hello, boy” as one of the best line readings I’ve ever heard. It’s stunning how much emotion she packs into those two words, without making them overwrought: simple, sweet affection; wistfulness; and self-satisfied amusement at the inside joke she’s kept up for 80 years and that even Peter doesn’t remember anymore, and for the audience it instantly connects the elderly woman before us to the young girl we grew up with in the original story, and gives us a sense of the decades of history between the two. And when Peter responds, we see a completely different side of him than we’ve seen before: he slows down, relaxes, and speaks with less tension than we’ve seen him say or do anything up to that point, and we get a glimpse of the Peter who is not a capital-A Adult. Seriously, that small, brief exchange floors me every single time I see it.