'Neverland' tale is all grown up

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MINISERIES "Neverland"

WHEN | WHERE Sunday-Monday 9-11 p.m. on Syfy

REASON TO WATCH It's a rip-roaring adventure with stunning effects and profound undertones, adult in its ideas, youthful in its zest.

WHAT IT'S ABOUT Where did Peter Pan come from? That's the question writer-director Nick Willing tackles here, plumbing another modern mythology as he did directing Syfy's splashy mini milestones "Tin Man" and "Alice."

Young teen orphan Peter (Charlie Rowe, "The Nutcracker in 3D") plays piper in turn-of-20th-century London, using his tunes to direct fellow pickpockets under the adult guidance of bitter society cast-off Jimmy (Rhys Ifans, "Notting Hill"). They're hired to pilfer a crystal orb, which turns out to be a portal that transports whomever strikes it to the mystical title land, where strikers from various centuries find themselves marooned and clashing.

Peter's gang of 1906 street thieves is thus hurled into mushrooming action across magical lands, seas and towns. They meet up with 18th century pirates, who battle sword and spear with Native Americans, the protectors of Neverland's native tree fairies and their mineral dust imparting powers the pirates (and soon Jimmy) would kill to control.

MY SAY Sound complicated? Far from it. "Neverland" unfolds with an ease and, ironically, a groundedness that eluded "Tin Man" and "Alice." Yet these four colorful hours are never less than stirring, right from the explosive start in the Spanish Main. The performances are uniformly passionate, from the wily Ifans (hero, villain or victim?) and fiery pirate captain Anna Friel (delicate "Pushing Daisies" star turned cunning desperado), down to the too-much-too-soon London lads and the poised native youth.

Willing's storytelling never lets up in its drive or in its ideas. Jimmy and Peter's relationship is fraught with Freud from the start, and gets more complex as issues of guilt, trust and jealousy weave among the plot twists. Neverland is positioned as both hell and heaven, and then, Utopia, with historical nods to Elizabethan alchemy. Amid the swordfights and gunplay come prophetic shared dreams and contrasting cultural imperatives (self-interest versus community).

BOTTOM LINE You can see "Neverland" as sly philosophical discourse, or you can see it as fantastically produced adventure. Just make sure you see it.

GRADE A

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