Ten minutes in, a part of me was worried that Come Away may be too sugary for its own good. Those apprehensions were quickly dashed, however. The advertisements have primarily played up the film’s whimsical elements, but there’s a much grimmer story lurking underneath the surface. Although the movie is about childhood, it will likely appeal more to adult fans of fantasy. The darker moments may be too much for little ones to take. For those who prefer their fairy tales with a dark twist, however, Come Away should be their cup of tea.
Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Peter Pan are often described as children’s stories. While they have entertained children for generations, both stories are more adult than some give them credit. Alice in Wonderland is full of surreal, even scary characters. Although we’re all familiar with the name Peter Pan, what you might not know is that the character was based on J. M. Barrie’s brother David, who died at age 14. Swordfights, flying, and crocodiles aside, the loss of innocence has always been a key component of Peter Pan. That sense of loss is on full display in Come Away, which mixes the fantasy of these classic stories with brutal reality.
Relative newcomers Keira Chansa and Jordan A. Nash star as Alice and Peter, respectively. Spending their days playing in the woods, the two siblings who are forced to grow up fast when a family tragedy strikes. Their mother (Angelina Jolie) becomes inconsolable while their father (David Oyelowo) falls back into his gambling habits. Alice and Peter seek refuge by trying to escape into their fantasy worlds, which might be more real than even they realize. Alas, there may not be enough pixie dust or magic mushrooms to heal their grieving family.
Come Away was directed by Brenda Chapman, who won an Oscar for her work on Brave. Her best film, however, remains The Prince of Egypt, which she directed with Steve Hickner and Simon Wells. Being an animated Bible movie, many expected The Prince of Egypt to downplay the darker aspects of Moses’ story. Chapman and company weren’t afraid to treat their audience like adults, though. Come Away has that same boldness and it mostly works. It’s not the children’s movie that some families might be expecting, but it’s refreshing to see how seriously Chapman and screenwriter Marissa Kate Goodhill take the material.
What holds Come Away back from greatness is the occasional lack of focus. Juggling both Alice in Wonderland and Peter Pan, it can at times feel like we’re watching two movies. The film might have benefited from either honing in on one story or bringing in several other literary characters. Peter and Alice have enough similarities, though, that the film never strays too far off course. Come Away has just enough magic, realism, and magical realism to reach its intended destination. What we’re left with is a story about the inevitability of growing up and the rejection of this notion that keeps the child in us alive.