An outstanding performance from Jude Law cannot save Peter Pan & Wendy, an updated but incredibly familiar retelling of the classic story.
Plot: Wendy Darling, a young girl afraid to leave her childhood home behind, meets Peter Pan, a boy who refuses to grow up. Alongside her brothers and a tiny fairy, Tinker Bell, she travels with Peter to the magical world of Neverland. There, she encounters the evil pirate Captain Hook and embarks on a thrilling and dangerous adventure that will change her life forever.
Review: In their seemingly neverending quest to refresh their animated IP with live-action remakes, Disney thought they would find luck by bringing auteur David Lowery back after his updated take of Pete’s Dragon to tackle a new Peter Pan feature film. Where Lowery imbued Pete’s Dragon, a less familiar title in the overall Disney canon, with realistic characters and emotionally grounded storytelling, his Peter Pan & Wendy is a rote remake that sticks pretty close to the 1953 original. While the more problematic elements from the classic animated film have been replaced, the film struggles to merit its own existence. With solid special effects and a good cast, Peter Pan & Wendy does not bring enough to the screen to differentiate it from the dozens of versions of the J.M. Barrie story that have come before it.
Aside from the Disney animated film, Peter Pan has notably appeared in three significant movies over the last three decades. 1991’s Hook remains a cult favorite, thanks to Robin Williams and Dustin Hoffman. The 2003 film showcased a menacing turn by Jason Isaacs as Hook, while 2015’s Pan attempted the equivalent of a gritty reboot of the source material. This new take, like the recent Pinocchio and the upcoming The Little Mermaid, attempts to keep the iconic songs and quotes that the 1953 film is known for while giving some much-needed changes to the racist and sexist elements that have aged poorly in the last seventy years. No, I am not referring to Yara Shahidi taking over as Tinkerbell, even though the casting works perfectly. Lowery’s new film transforms the Lost Boys into a band of boys and girls indebted to Peter Pan’s leadership. The various pirates are also more diverse, and the indigenous characters, led by Alyssa Wapanatahk as Tiger Lily, are no longer caricatures but instead characters.
Peter Pan & Wendy works as a title here as this story is very much an equal tale for both the legendary boy who could fly and Wendy Moira Angela Darling. Played by Ever Anderson, daughter of Milla Jovovich and Paul W.S. Anderson, this version of Wendy is less a starstruck and lovelorn girl who has a crush on Peter but instead a staunch leader who straddles the line between childhood and growing up. Anderson has presence thanks to her mother’s long career of playing strong women, and she makes Wendy as formidable an adversary for Captain Hook as Peter himself. Peter is played well by newcomer Alexander Molony who understands who Peter is but never quite grasps the playfulness the character should have. This Peter also shares a deep history with Captain Hook that is much different than prior incarnations. Molony holds his own opposite Jude Law, who gives my favorite live-action Captain Hook performance ever. Rather than playing him as a mustache-twirling villain, Law is a broken man whose past directly connects to Peter and his reason for hating Neverland.
So much of Peter Pan & Wendy looks and feels distinct compared to the 1953 version, yet it feels utterly familiar simultaneously. Tinkerbell and Peter Pan are dressed like their classic counterparts, while Jim Gaffigan’s Mr. Smee looks like he stepped out of the 2D animated classic. But, with advances in special effects, this new film shares much in common with epic fantasy films like the Harry Potter franchise and even Lowery’s last movie, The Green Knight. This film has some sweeping visuals, including the infamous Tick-Tock the Crocodile, that would have looked amazing on a big movie screen. Still, the decision to premiere Peter Pan & Wendy on Disney+ comes down to the weaknesses inherent in this version that the executives at the House of Mouse saw coming a mile away. While nowhere near as bad as Robert Zemeckis’ Pinocchio, Peter Pan & Wendy feels like a compromise between an artistic vision and studio-mandated alignment.
Written by Lowery and his Ain’t Them Bodies Saints co-writer Toby Halbrooks, Peter Pan & Wendy could have been a drastically different angle on the familiar tale rather than just another remake. The additional focus on Hook and Wendy is handled well, but it gives Peter himself short shrift. Likewise, there is little done with Tinkerbell or Tiger Lily as characters, nor is there a standout Lost Boy that audiences can rally around. At just over 100 minutes, Peter Pan & Wendy is often shrouded in darkness and is hard to watch. The scenes in bright light show the quality of the production design and costumes, but we lose that in favor of underwater sequences and dank caves. The cinematography of Bojan Bazelli and the score by Daniel Hart and far better than some other Disney live-action remakes, but there is clearly a missed opportunity from David Lowery to have turned J.M. Barrie’s story about growing up and the fear of change we all go through into something as dynamic and original as The Green Knight. Instead, this is Lowery’s safest work to date.
Disney’s continual churning machine of remakes will run out of material eventually, and we will get into remakes of remakes. Still, until that time comes, their live-action re-adaptations fall into unique and bland categories. Peter Pan & Wendy is technically proficient and benefits from Jude Law’s take on Captain Hook as much as it signals the bright career ahead of Ever Anderson. Still, it cannot shake the bland and safe story that never has the whimsy or humor we come to expect from a trip to Neverland. I can see glimmers of what David Lowery could have done if he did not have to abide by Disney’s formula. This movie certainly will entertain audiences unfamiliar with the tale. Still, for everyone else, this is yet another exercise in mediocrity that could have been so much better. If Tinkerbell’s life really depended on audiences clapping to save her, she would be D.O.A.
Originally published at https://www.joblo.com/peter-pan-wendy-review/