151011PanposterThe story of Peter Pan has always been filled with wonder and imagination, but never before has it been as visually spectacular as the new film in theaters, “Pan.”

And I don’t recall ever seeing the story of Peter Pan as a picture of the gospel … until now.

Stretching the limits of computer animation and the creativity of its live-action team, “Pan” is a film that goes for sensory overload – every set is stunningly detailed, every costume vivid and colorful and bedazzled, the action nonstop and over the top … and I didn’t even see it in 3-D! There’s even a massive, musical number that is just jaw-dropping and worth the price of admission all by itself.

Of course, there are many in this reading audience that might find it all too much. And I’ll admit, there were times I wished the filmmaker would have included longer and more quiet moments, just so I could recover from the last scene.

Not that I’m speaking from experience, but “Pan” is what I imagine a psychedelic drug trip might be like – part Willy Wonka, part “Pirates of the Caribbean,” and part Fourth of July fireworks show, where someone accidentally sets off all the fireworks at once.

But then, I suspect “Pan” is to this generation what the circus was to previous generations – a sensory overload spectacular on purpose, complete with cotton candy, something to dazzle and frighten and go back to school and tell your friends all about while their mouths hang agape at the tales you have to tell.

Alas, far more attention was paid to the special effects in “Pan” than the script, which doesn’t quite carry all the action and leaves the audience a bit hanging, especially as one key thread of the tale is left unresolved at the end (I’ll say no more to avoid spoilers). Visuals and technowizardry aside, “Pan” just doesn’t have the dialogue and character depth to really satisfy.

Yet ultimately, despite my criticisms, I commend “Pan,” not just for the visual spectacle, but for the central theme of the story.

“Pan” is a tale about identifying what defines you as a person. For young Peter, left at an orphanage as a baby, his first challenge is to overcome the messages of the cruel nun who runs the place. She belittles him as unwanted, abandoned, unloved and unlovable.

“Every orphan thinks they’re ‘special,'” she mocks in condescension. “You’re not. You’re not even special ‘in your own way!'”

But a letter from his birth mother reads, “Don’t doubt yourself. You are more than extraordinary.”

Which message will Peter choose to believe?

Later, after Peter is abducted by pirate who enslaves thousands of boys, the pirate proclaims all the slaves are actually “free” now, part of a “family,” even though they are also “puppets.” While this may seem self-contradictory, in the film it isn’t and in fact is an easy metaphor for the promises of “freedom” that Satan offers, all the while actually offering bondage.

Still later, Peter is told he’s the “chosen one,” a boy of “prophecy,” even a “messiah” who has come to set all the fairy people free from the pirate.

Will Peter accept these messages? Just who is he?

The climax of this internal conflict comes in one of the film’s best scenes when Peter [SPOILER ALERT] returns the people longing for liberation and declares he may not be their long-awaited savior, but he knows who he is, the “son of his mother,” a brave, warrior heroine in the story.

It’s a goosebumps moment in the movie, the primary theme of the story and a compelling metaphor for finding our identity in Christ, despite the messages – of condemnation or hopeful expectation – the world throws at us.

The makers of “Pan,” I expect meant merely to tell an epic tale of a boy finding his heroic identity, but in touching upon such noble themes, the makers also touched upon the gospel – at least the part about the love of a parent drawing a child from the bondage of Satan to freedom in love, from utter depravity to a child of the king. This isn’t a “Christian” movie, but the echoes of the gospel are there, and it’s hard to find a picture of the gospel in a more glittery package.

Content advisory:

  • “Pan,” rated PG (which I think should have been PG-13), contains only one instance of minor profanity, but it also includes Peter flashing an obscene gesture to his captors.
  • The movie has some minor flirting, but no real romantic storyline. There are shirtless guys, a line in a song about the singer’s libido and a female character who bares some skin and midriff in a small, but not particularly revealing, outfit. There are also some topless mermaids, who may show a bit of side boob and bare backs, but whose flowing hair covers most of their chests.
  • The film has a significant amount of violence, however, including warfare, physical combat, cannon fire, swordplay and gunfights. Characters fall to their death, are stabbed to death and several would be fatally shot … but in “Neverland,” they instead explode into a cloud of colored dust when the gun fires upon them. It’s nonsensical and (if I can be cynical) only there to cut the rating down to PG, since they aren’t technically “shot and killed” on screen. But they are shot and killed – you just don’t see the blood.
  • The bulk of the film’s religious references are in the orphanage run by the “Sisters of Eternal Prudence,” and it’s not pretty. The chief nun is cruel, condescending and an insulting caricature of the Catholic faith. She has a mocking line about a child climbing on the roof, arguing, “When you’re ‘closer’ to the Lord, you can reflect on your festering souls.” The orphanage contains various trappings of a Catholic institution, including a statue of Mary that plays a brief role. There’s also a few lines about death and eternity, the use of the word “messiah” to mean earthly savior and instances of fairy magic and the crystals that seem to give them their power.

Note: Read our discussion guidelines before commenting.