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Finding Neverland (2004)
Rated PG

Starring: Johnny Depp, Kate Winslet, and Julie Christie

Rating:
***
out of
*****

It's 1904 and playwright J.M. Barrie (Johnny Depp) has just watched his latest play bomb. Suffering from writer's block, he retreats to the park to try to get some work done. He happens across Sylvia Llewellyn-Davies (Kate Winslet) and her four boys playing in the park. Barrie becomes enamoured with the boys and their mother. The catch is that he's married to the cold Mary (Rahda Mitchell). In Sylvia and her boys, he finds a conduit for his imagination and, in the process, comes the inspiration for his most successful play, "Peter Pan."

Barrie's attention to a woman to which he's not married and his infatuation with children's games might seem a little strange and the movie acknowledges that fact -- albeit with little more than a nod -- but, overall, the movie shows that he's not a creep but a genuinely sweet, if odd, character who really did care for these people. With any movie that's "inspired by actual events," the story does play a little fast and loose with the facts but, overall, the changes make the story more moving than it might be otherwise.

Johnny Depp's performance is quiet and gentle but effective. He continues to amaze in his varied career. While not as spectacular as his work in Pirates of the Caribbean, Once Upon a Time in Mexico, or even Ed Wood, it shows yet another side of an actor who continues to rack up one good movie after another.

Kate Winslet and the boys who play her children (especially Freddie Highmore as Peter) serve up their roles with appropriate gusto. Dustin Hoffman is nice and droll as Barrie's producer, who's doubtful that "Peter Pan" is what the theater-going public wants to see when they're out for a night on the town.

All-in-all, Finding Neverland is a by-the-numbers bio picture with a refreshing dose of fantasy thrown in to save it from being too predictible. It does serve as a reminder that things that are child-like don't necessarily have to be childish and that's not a bad thing at all.

Trivia: During the formal dinner scene, Johnny Depp placed a "fart machine" under Julie Christie's chair. He had a remote control that he used to trigger a fart sound from the device. The children are laughing more at that than from playing with the spoons. (Source: The Internet Movie Database)

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