- Directed by David Lowery
- April 28, 2023
- Based on Walt Disney’s 1953 animated film Peter Pan and the 1904 play Peter Pan; or, the Boy Who Wouldn’t Grow Up (also known as Peter and Wendy) by J.M. Barrie
Wendy Darling is whisked away to Neverland by Peter Pan where she takes on Captain Hook.
Peter Pan & Wendy is one more in a growing line of live action films based on Disney animated properties. It appears this is perhaps the very loosest of adaptions though as it has very little in common with the animated feature and instead appears to be trying to position itself as closer to the original source though that really does not click either.
This film has its moments, but those are few and far between. It is a film with a message to convey but does not appear to be the message as conveyed by J.M. Barrie. There are definite changes made to covey the message (whatever it is) that those behind this wanted to get across to the audience thus harming the spirit of the material.
This version of the story is very (and I mean VERY) light on the character of Peter Pan (Alexander Molony). Often Peter quite literally gets knocked out of the story. Something happens, such as an explosion, and he’s thrown out of the narrative until he eventually comes back later in the movie only for it to happen again. Most of the screentime is taken up with Wendy (Ever Anderson) and eventually Tiger Lily (Alyssa Wapanatâhk) leading the charge against Captain Hook (Jude Law). This ultimately makes Peter a supporting character in a movie with his name on it.
Peter. Poor Peter. He’s a charmless character who borders on unnecessarily cruel. As with before he cut off Captain Hook’s hand, but it doesn’t seem to have been in battle. Rather he did it just because. The embodiment of adventurous childhood spirit is just missing. I’m not sure if it’s the actor or the material or an unfortunate combination of both, but there’s no playfulness to the performance.
Originally Wendy was chosen as a mother to the Lost Boys based on her nurturing nature. She was displayed as a secondary mother figure to her siblings and afraid of growing up as well as maybe separated from her brothers. Peter picked her to be a mom. Here she is picked to be another pal.
Wendy appears to be broadly afraid of the future. Considering how sure she is of herself and how capable she is during the film that does not quite work. Wendy needs to learn to embrace the future and grow up but I’m not sure if she even needed to learn that lesson. It seems more that she just doesn’t want leave the house. She goes from confident and strong to fearing going off to boarding school as dictated by the needs of the scene rather than as a logical aspect of the character. Wendy is already pretty grown-up in the whole story. She just doesn’t feel like going to boarding school and the lesson is to go to boarding school.
With the original story and less with the Disney version, the implication is that girls were smarter than boys and thus unable to get so lost that they found themselves in Neverland. They try to put that question to rest with Wendy noting that there are girls and then saying that it doesn’t really matter. But it is one of many changes to the material for reasons.
One thing that jumps out at me as making no sense is that Tiger Lily goes from speaking in her native tongue (whatever that is) to speaking English to the Lost Boys and everyone either automatically understands her or has no idea what she’s saying. Nobody responds to her in her own language and I do not recall subtitles that told us what she was saying. Regardless there’s no explanation for this random shift in language. She’s never seen speaking to other members of her tribe as there doesn’t appear to be any in Neverland.
Tinker Bell (Yara Shahidi) is bland. As stated Peter Pan & Wendy is said to be based in part on the Disney iteration of the story and there she had a bit of a personality. She openly disliked Wendy and went so far as to try to murder her with the help of Captain Hook. Here her and Wendy are pals. Tinker Bell is little more than an appliance to allow the characters to fly rather than being a character. Aside from exaggerated facial expressions, Tinker Bell does little to be defined.
Then there’s Captain Hook who is revealed at two different points of having been a Lost Boy that left Neverland and came back as an adult. Nice twist but the reveal is just very poorly done. Smee (Jim Gaffigan) for example basically mutters the whole thing under his breath. This is a big development handled like an afterthought. It defines his whole motivation.
Previously Captain Hook was a villain who reveled in being evil. You could even view his actions against Peter Pan and The Lost Boys as striking at people who managed to best him despite his view of himself as being superior. Now his actions against Peter are justified because he is bitter about no longer being a Lost Boy and not being able to get back his old life. He wants happy thoughts but has none and that is why he is angry? That bit has some impact and is the only moment in this movie that carries some punch.
For a children’s story I am struck by the muted tones in Peter Pan & Wendy. They went with the Zack Snyder DC color palette. Everything is so washed and the film as a whole borders on monochromatic. It’s not even a technique used to differentiate between good and evil or Neverland and the rest of the world. It looks like they are trying to give this dramatic weight by making it look dark.
But this is what you get when writers try to modernize a story for today’s audience. This is a story that has stood the test of time for over a century. I’m not against tweaks here or there but this film is a complete change of the story. It’s the Peter Pan name slapped on something marginally related at best. They tried to turn somebody else’s work into their own and in the end it fell flat. After watching this, I’m wondering why this was even made. It has no heart. It has no spark. It does nothing that makes this story fresh.
Peter Pan & Wendy is not worth your time. It does nothing special or fresh with a story. It’s soulless and not worth the time to watch.