When FINDING NEVERLAND was released in 2004, it came with the pedigree of playwright J.M. Barrie as its inspiration, the Miramax marketing machine, and Johnny Depp in the lead. Depp stars as Barrie, whose friendship with widow Kate Winslet and her four boys provide the inspiration for Barrie’s Peter Pan. By the time the Oscars rolled around, Miramax had sunk its marketing money behind Martin Scorcese’s vastly inferior THE AVIATOR, and NEVERLAND won a “consolation” prize for Jan A.P. Kaczmarek‘s lovely score.
Fueled by the performances of Depp, Winslet, Julie Christie as the grandmother, Dustin Hoffman as Barrie’s producer, and Freddie Highmore as young Peter, the film tugs at your heartstrings without descending into bathos. Marc Forrester’s sensitive (and unfortunately non-nominated) direction oversees the fantasy world of theater and Barrie’s imagination with a light touch and Kaczmarek’s delicate score fits nicely into the proceedings.
Kaczmarek actively sought the gig.
The beginning was quite dramatic because I’ve never done a picture of this kind, one that deals with the world of children to such a degree, and a picture with such a gentle message. I was in Warsaw and very passionate about (the film), and I wrote a piece in two days. I submitted something and hired an orchestra and a boys choir and created demos to send to Los Angeles to show people that I could use the language of innocence, joy and lightness; that was the end of the story.
The music is scored mostly for strings and woodwinds, and an occasional Indian flute because “Fantasy needs a smell of exotic things, imaginary sounds.” Kaczmarek’s use of mandolin also adds to the fantasy element, lending a delicate touch to the Viennese waltz for Barrie and his dog.
The main titles serve as the overture, figuratively and literally, and Kaczmarek’s classic orchestrations place us firmly in the world of turn-of-the-century theater. The boys choir is used throughout the film “because this is a story of four boys looking for adventure.”
The most emotional cue comes at the end of the film during Peter’s (Highmore) breakdown. The boys choir keeps the intimate character of the scene and the Indian flute gives the scene “the flavor of memories of adventures, even within this very sad, emotional moment of extreme closeness” between Peter and Barrie. Only the most stoic of viewers will be unmoved by the scene and Kaczmarek’s heartbreaking music. (Needless to say, I was a puddle of tears throughout the scene, especially when the boys choir comes in. I even got tears in my eyes as I typed this listening to the music. I’ll say it again, I’m such a sap. )
Winning the Original Score Oscar is often seen as a consolation prize for a Best Picture nominee that may not stand a chance in any other category (think THE FULL MONTY, BABEL, and others), and FINDING NEVERLAND was no exception. With the Miramax marketing muscle firmly in the AVIATOR’s pilot seat, NEVERLAND was left to flounder on its own. The film should have gone home with statues for its rich, period detail in its Art Direction and magical Costume Design.
My choice for the Score Oscar would have been James Newton Howard’s brilliant, haunting music for THE VILLAGE. But it’s hard to discount the effectiveness of Kaczmarek’s music, especially within the context of the film.