Come Away

  • 21 Nov - 27 Nov, 2020
  • Mag The Weekly
  • Reviews

An airless film about childhood fantasies that comes to life only fitfully, Brenda Chapman's Come Away is aimed at children but so pickled in grown-up grief that few kids are likely to connect with it. Making her live-action debut after directing the 2012 Pixar hit Brave, Chapman finds some charming ways to visualise her young heroes' imaginings, but is less successful at connecting with the characters as flesh-and-blood children. A wealth of familiar storybook material and a cast including Angelina Jolie and David Oyelowo will draw attention, but a handsome production and beautiful cast aren't enough to get this fantasy off the ground.

The film's conceit is that Peter Pan (Jordan Nash) and the Alice who explored Wonderland (Keira Chansa) were brother and sister, who once lived an idyllic life in the English countryside with their brother David (Reece Yates) and parents Rose and Jack Littleton (Jolie and Oyelowo). The siblings frolic constantly in the woods, and Chapman's camera sees the elements of their make-believe (bows and arrows, pirate ships) as vividly as they do.

From the start, Chapman and screenwriter Marissa Kate Goodhill fill the frame with objects that allude to the worlds Lewis Carroll and J. M. Barrie created. Stuffed white rabbits and looking glasses, pocket watches and lifelike shadows fill the Littletons' world.

Then, as Peter and David are off near a lake fighting imaginary swordsmen, the sky darkens and thunder rumbles. We don't need an additional shot of hundreds of black birds taking flight to know something horrible is about to happen, but we get it. Suddenly David is dead, and the Littleton home will never be cheerful again.

Poor Peter, feeling responsible for his brother's death, imagines that his life is elsewhere, off with some band of Lost Boys. When he hatches a plan to get their dad out of debt, it's so wrong-headed there's no way to enjoy its fantasy elements.

A framing device finds a grown-up Alice (Gugu Mbatha-Raw) recounting parts of this story to her own children –~Wendy, Michael and John – and the film does intend to tie itself up nicely into the stories as we know them.