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Depp’s magical talent lands in ‘Neverland’

The shelf life of a teen idol is perilously short. And it’s even shorter for a television teen idol -- just look at the ex-tweener dreams who pop up on reality series or became subjects of an “E! True Hollywood Story.”

But Johnny Depp has defied the odds. He has gone from a mullet-haired heartthrob in the late-'80s Fox youth cop series, “21 Jump Street,” to one of the most versatile, daring movie actors today. During the past 14 years, he’s created such memorable characters as Edward Scissorhands, Ed Wood, Don Juan DeMarco, Donnie Brasco and the riotous Capt. Jack Sparrow in “The Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl,” for which he received his first Oscar nomination.

He’s worked with such acclaimed directors as Tim Burton, Mike Newell, Jim Jarmusch, Lasse Hallstrom and Terry Gilliam. And Depp is so adept at accents, he’s transformed himself into a male Meryl Streep.

Depp gives another memorable performance -- this time for director Marc Forster -- as “Peter Pan” writer J.M. Barrie in the poignant drama “Finding Neverland,” opening in limited release Friday. The 41-year-old actor imbues his portrait of the Scottish playwright and novelist with a quiet strength, a kind heart and a magical imagination.

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Based on Allan Knee’s play, “The Man Who Was Peter Pan,” the period drama is inspired by the relationship between Barrie and a family he meets on one of his daily walks in the park with his dog, Porthos, and how this relationship inspired him to write the beloved fantasy, “Peter Pan.” Suffice it to say, bring a few boxes of tissues for the final scenes.

Kate Winslet portrays Sylvia Llewelyn Davies, the widowed mother of four boys whom Barrie grows to love; Julie Christie is her brittle, stern mother; Radha Mitchell plays Barrie’s unhappy wife, Mary; and Dustin Hoffman is Charles Frohman, Barrie’s theatrical producer. Coincidentally, Hoffman played Barrie’s Capt. Hook in Steven Spielberg’s 1991 “Hook.”

But it is the chemistry between Depp and young actor Freddie Highmore as Peter Llewelyn Davies that drives the emotions of “Finding Neverland.” Depp was so taken with his pint-sized co-star, he has teamed with him in Tim Burton’s upcoming “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.”

-- Susan King

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