“Come Away” – “They said, ‘Come sail away. Come sail away. Come sail away with me.’” – Styx, “Come Sail Away” (1977)
Director Brenda Chapman (“Brave” (2012), “The Prince of Egypt” (1998)) helms “Come Away”, a Peter Pan and Alice in Wonderland origin story, so magic and wonder should sit at the very top of this live-action, PG-rated tale. Peter and Alice Littleton (Jordan A. Nash and Keira Chansa) are the featured children, and a grown-up Alice (Gugu Mbatha-Raw) narrates their story to her kids and looks back to a summer when she was just 8-years-old.
Peter, Alice, and their older brother David (Reece Yates) love to romp in the woods that’s literally the backyard of their family’s country house. Chapman introduces a “Where the Wild Things Are” (2009)-feel, as this adventurous trio invent imaginary swords, arrows, and even a ship, as they harmlessly clash with themselves and invisible adversaries.
In other words, we’re off to a spirited, splendid start!
They return to their loving home, where their parents, Rose and Jack (Angelina Jolie and David Oyelowo) await. Mom and Dad are in love and aren’t shy about revealing their affection for each other and their kids. Soon, however, tragedy strikes the Littletons, and the adults and children grieve in their own ways.
In a February 2020 interview, Chapman says, “Adults don’t cope as well as children can with their imaginations.”
Rose emotionally withdraws from the family and internalizes her pain, and Jack returns to a destructive vice, so Peter and Alice begin their respective journeys outside of their pragmatic realities into Neverland and Wonderland, respectively.
Although the film’s opening scene offers much promise, Chapman and screenwriter Marissa Kate Goodhill waddle the first 45 minutes of a 94-minute picture establishing the Littleton’s bliss and subsequent pain. Unfortunately, they spend most of these precious on-screen seconds – that painfully drag on forever – having dinner, discussing homework assignments, introducing Rose’s snooty sister Eleanor (Anna Chancellor), and other mundane interludes, and then they all – sans the kids’ aforementioned aunt – wallow in heartache.
The film replaces hopeful magic and wonder with listless tasks and discourse around their abode that has a wondrous Black Forest, gingerbread house expression on the outside, but it’s drab and wooden (literally and figuratively) on the inside. With Jack’s financial problems and Rose’s invisibility act, the cheer in cheery is missing and left this critic wondering ‘y’.
Well, the point is to catapult our young heroes into make-believe bliss, but instead of offering dazzling visuals – such as piles of flying pre-teens, talking rabbits, magical doors, and joyous music – Chapman stingily drips these rare moments to a thirsty audience. Just imagine Ebenezer Scrooge dropping some coins in a Salvation Army bucket outside your nearest Target…during a recession.
Sure, “Bah and “Humbug” might be utterly void from Chapman’s and Goodhill’s vocabularies, but the stark lack of fairy-tale enchantment here is a tough piece of cake…err, I mean pill…to swallow. The result is the most depressing kids film that this critic has seen since “A Monster Calls” (2016), and that movie dealt with a mom’s cancer diagnosis.
Sigh, perhaps it’s best to sail far away from this Neverland and Wonderland.
⭐ out of ⭐⭐⭐⭐
Image credits: Relatively Media; Trailer credits: ONE Media