What happens when the boy who never grows old does grow old? Steven Spielberg took a crack at answering the question with the 1991 fantasy adventure Hook, starring Robin Williams as Peter Banning — the grown version of Peter Pan who has forgotten his magical beginnings. If you’ve been waiting to rewatch Hook for a while or if you’ve never seen it and are dying to get a chance, there’s good news waiting for you. Hook will be streaming on Netflix starting Saturday, January 1 — New Year’s Day.
In the beginning of Hook, Robin Williams’s character is far from the singing, carefree, flying hero we remember. Instead, Peter Banning is a corporate lawyer who has found success at the expense of his family, who he hardly ever sees. When the family takes a trip to London to visit his wife’s grandmother — an aged Wendy (Maggie Smith) — Peter’s old enemy Captain Hook (Dustin Hoffman) kidnaps his children.
While Banning refuses to believe Wendy’s assurances that Robin Williams’ character is Peter Pan, an old friend soon arrives to give him a reminder. Tinkerbell (Julia Roberts) shows up and brings her aged friend to Neverland, where his children are captive aboard Captain Hook’s ship. Thoroughly unimpressed with the older version of his nemesis, the villain agrees to give Tinkerbell three days to retrain Peter Pan in combat and flight, and soon Peter is reunited with the Lost Boys.
While Peter Pan tries to rediscover himself, Hook’s boatswain Mr. Smee (Bob Hoskins), gives his captain a devilish idea — to turn their old enemy’s children against them. While Peter’s daughter Maggie (Amber Scott) resists, his son Jack (Charlie Korsmo) is convinced because of his father’s constant absences. When Robin Williams returns as a reinvigorated Peter to rescue his children — with Tinkerbell and the Lost Boys at his side — things are a bit more complicated than they expect and sadly, not everyone survives the conflict.
The late ’80s and early ’90s were a game-changing time for Robin Williams’ career. First becoming a known quantity in the ’70s with the sitcom Mork & Mindy, in the late ’80s Williams began proving to audiences that while he’d always be able to make them laugh, he could do a lot more, too. In 1987 he earned his first Oscar nomination for playing the trouble-making DJ Adrian Cronauer in 1987’s Good Morning, Vietnam. By 1991, the year Hook was released, Williams had two more nominations under his belt — one for the powerful 1989 drama Dead Poets Society and another for the 1991 Terry Gilliam directed comedy The Fisher King.
So by the time Robin Williams took on the role of an aging Peter Pan, he had plenty of star power to back him up. Along with the impressive cast members already mentioned, Hook included one of Gwyneth Paltrow’s earliest screen appearances as the younger version of Maggie Smith’s Wendy. Phil Collins also starred as Inspector Good.
In fact, Hook almost had a lot more stars from the music world, including a superstar who director Steven Spielberg approached before Robin Williams. For a time, Spielberg considered making Hook a musical with the late King of Pop, Michael Jackson, in the lead role. While Jackson reportedly liked the idea of playing Peter Pan, he wasn’t a fan of the concept of an older Peter who had forgotten who he was. Another musical icon Spielberg supposedly approached was David Bowie, though not to play Peter Pan. Spielberg wanted Bowie as Captain Hook, which makes sense considering — in spite of a relatively limited film career — by the time Hook hit theaters in 1991, Bowie had already played a number of big screen villains. He was Pontius Pilate in the controversial The Last Temptation of Christ, and of course there was his unforgettable turn as the charismatic Goblin King in 1986’s Labyrinth.
In spite of Hook remaining a beloved classic decades after its premiere, critics weren’t so impressed with the Robin Williams flick. You can see the stark difference between the opinions of critics and those of fans at Rotten Tomatoes, where audiences give the fantasy adventure film a respectable 76% while critics slap it with an embarrassing 29%. The general consensus from critics seems to be that Williams, Roberts, Hoffman, and the other stars deliver great performances in front of the camera, but the problem lies behind the camera with Spielberg phoning the film in from an unremarkable script.
You can see what you think for yourself when Hook streams on Netflix this Saturday. The 1991 film stars Robin Williams, Dustin Hoffman, Julia Roberts, and Bob Hoskins. Hook was directed by Steven Spielberg with a story and script by James V. Hart, Nick Castle, and Malia Scotch Marmo.