If Die Hard is a Christmas movie, then so is Hook. The former is more in the category of “Christmas Adjacent”, which is usually defined as a film that takes place during Christmas, but the plot could easily have taken place during another time of year with very minimal changes to the script. Many writers like to set things during the holiday season because the setting can evoke strong feelings in people, and these script sleuths can use this to their advantage by creating stories that resonate with audiences on an emotional level. And in Hook’s case, it is very intentional, setting a very Scrooge-ish transformation for its protagonist.
Hook is a modern reimagining/sequel to the classic children’s story about Peter Pan and his adventures in Neverland. It has an adult Peter (Robin Williams) as a father who is struggling to be a present and loving parent due to his career ambitions. Peter has completely blocked out his childhood as the Pan and his adventures in Neverland, but when his children are taken by Captain Hook (Dustin Hoffman) he must find a way to remember.
Spielberg’s Christmas Carol
The structural similarities to Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol are quite pronounced. Peter finds himself as a modern Scrooge in that he is obsessed with his own ambition to the detriment of those around him. Instead of being visited by the 3 ghosts to show what is missing in his life, he instead finds himself revisiting his childhood in order to revitalize his humanity at the urging of both Tinkerbell (Julia Roberts) and Captain Hook, albeit unintentionally.
And of course, the film ends with Peter waking up on Christmas morning (or close to it) and finding out that it’s not too late for him to live his life to the fullest by choosing to be present with his children. There is even a moment there when Peter acts like his old stern self only as a ruse to prove he’s change. This moment is straight out of A Christmas Carol.
Director Steven Spielberg has said that many of his films are a form of his therapy in that they are a way for him to work out his own feelings. Here he explores what is means to be a good father vs an absent and reactive one, which could be his reverie on his own feelings of inadequacies and grappling with being a workaholic himself. He doesn’t demarcate between bad and good parenting but does seem to suggest that “The Cat’s in the Cradle” way of parenting is not sufficient.
The Dichotomy of Death
Time is another theme explored in Hook, echoing its source material, but in a more adult fashion. Neverland is a place where no one ages, including the adults. Peter’s reason for going to Neverland initially was because he was afraid of what the passage of time would lead to: death. Although we don’t know how Hook came to Neverland, he also is explicitly afraid of death.
Without the changes that come with age, both of these characters end up in search of adventure in the form of their eternal battle. Hook had lost the only thing that gave his immortal life meaning when Peter left and kidnapped the children in order to rekindle that. Whereas Peter had accepted that the changes of mortality (most importantly being a father) are the greatest adventure of all. In the end when Hook threatens Peter’s life, Peter answers that “Death would be a great adventure,” which is something that Hook can never accept.
If Spielberg Made a Superhero Movie
Hook could also be considered Spielberg’s superhero film. He seems to relish in the hero’s journey that Peter goes on, and perfectly executes the climax of him fully embodying the Pan. The scene is authentically majestic in a way that most superhero cinema can’t and won’t realize. It’s not hard to imagine how a Spielberg Superman film would be (he famously wanted to direct it before he did Jaws) and it’s sad to think about how this is the closest we will ever get.
It could also be said that Hook is the closest to a “superhero” score we will probably ever get from John Williams. It could also be considered among his best scores he ever composed. His early 90’s stretch of films (Home Alone, Jurassic Park, etc.) is one of the best of any composer who has ever lived.
The Film’s Weakness
The film’s major weakness is the final act, and particularly the final battle when it goes off the rails in how silly it is. Spielberg has said that directing all those kids was among the hardest things he’s done and contributed not only to the lesser quality, but also apparently made him question whether he wanted to have any more children himself (very ironic considering the themes of the movie).
The Bottom Line
While Hook is considered to be among the weakest of Spielberg’s films, it is still quite deep, and parts are brilliantly executed. It is also a really interesting mash-up of A Christmas Carol and Peter Pan.