Disney merely hinted at it. In James M. Barrie’s original story for Peter Pan, the boy who could fly, leading the Darlings off to Neverland, was a demonic imp! It’s not that the Lost Boys wouldn’t grow up – they weren’t permitted to do so because Pan kills them before they become adults.
In essence, it’s the story of a young girl’s sexual awakening as Wendy pivots in relation to her brothers, her father and that mysterious ideal embraced by girls at the onset of puberty.
Adapted by Chase Palmer, Cary Fukunaga and Gary Danberman from Stephen King’s 1986 novel that became a TV miniseries, director Andy Muschietti’s It focuses on kids in Derry, Maine confronting their childhood fears in the guise of Pennywise the Dancing Clown, who resurfaces every 27 years to snatch kids. Missing kids! Lost boys!
Instead of descending into a mermaid’s lagoon, these kids enter the town’s sewer system. Rather than fighting pirates with swords, they battle a clown with rebar or reinforcing pipe rail.
Yeah, It is a variation on Barrie’s Peter Pan, only the fairy-like demi-god Pan is reimagined as a shape-shifting clown called Pennywise!
I actually like The Shining and Creepshow movies quite a bit. But I don’t find King to be all that innovative or original, having used Roger Corman’s Beast With a Million Eyes as the basis for Dreamcatcher, and no mention of credit. Furthermore, ideas found in other King writings seem lifted from Rod Serling. To King, the most frightening thing would be a political adversary or a low-class redneck. Never willing to bite the hand that feeds off him, in It it’s parents that are either overwhelmingly protective, such as the germaphobe Eddie’s mom, or at the other extreme the girl with the “bad reputation” is being molested by her dad! Even the librarian severely chastises the overweight Ben for not going outside during the summer! Who does that?
But to Stephen King, parents are there to make things worse for the ascending adolescent.
Beverly Marsh, played by Sophia Lillis, comes across as the most complex of the Loser’s Club. Maturing quicker than the boys, as girls will do, she’s initially shown as the victim of the school’s “mean girls,” having to purchase Tampax, thus establishing her drift toward womanhood. When the sink spouts blood that corrodes the tile and tub, her father is unable to “see” it, as it is a metaphor for her impending menstrual cycle. Wendy Darling never had it so blatant!
After his little brother Georgie disappears, Billy Denbrough gathers up friends that have been bullied by the Bowers Boys (uh, the Bowery Boys, maybe?) to fight back and make an effort to search the decayed house on the outskirts of town. Now, other than it being an abandoned property that’s fallen into disrepair, there’s no reason for these kids to go inside this death trap and risk a collapsing staircase. After all, they only saw a supposed leper and a balloon outside and have jumped to the conclusion that it’s Pennywise’s residence.
But it’s Stephen King, and a creepy old house is as conspicuous as a creepy clown! The big flaw is that King wrote the book in the ‘80s when clowns were becoming recognized as frightening images, but he set his story in the mid ‘50s, when there weren’t any “creepy” clowns yet! There was Bozo, and The Howdy Doody Show had Clarabell the silent clown who honked a horn like Harpo Marx! Emmett Kelly was on his last leg but still touring with the Barnum & Bailey Circus.
Granted, in 1981 Tobe Hooper had introduced a clown mask in Funhouse, and the boyish Michael Myers in Halloween had worn a clown mask, but not until Killer Klowns from Outer Space was the image of a creepy clown established as what it’s now accepted as being: frightening! And that may have influenced King when he wrote the story, but it didn’t exist in the time the story was set!
The truly frightening thing is that It breaks up the novel, making the childhood events separate from the adult memories. So – you guessed it – there will be a sequel.
By definition, Pennywise means “careful and thrifty in small matters but careless in major ones”!
And that’s a spot-on assessment of this film.