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Peter Pan & Wendy – Movie Review

Peter Pan & Wendy movie poster

peter pan and wendy movie review 2023 (via Primetweets)

“Peter Pan & Wendy” is pretty much what you’d expect from a live-action version of one of Walt Disney’s animated classics, of which there are many now. A good chunk of this film’s audience will put it on expecting to see live-action re-creations of situations they know and love from the 1950 Disney cartoon. Co-writer and director David Lowery doesn’t disappoint on that score, even though some viewers (such as this one) might’ve wished he had. There have been a lot of Peter Pan remakes and reboots and rethinks, but none, really, that turns the story inside out—not even Steven Spielberg’s “Hook,” which eventually circled back to “Never lose touch with your inner child.”

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The story begibs with Wendy Darlin (Ever Anderson) leading her younger brother John (Joshua Pickering) and youngest brother Michael (Jacobi June) in an enthusiastic play session that includes swashbuckling sword fights, running and jumping, followed by a couple of nice moments between the children and their parents (Molly Parker and Alan Tudyk). Soon enough, Peter Pan (Alexander Molony) makes his entrance from Neverland, along with the pint-sized fairy Tinkerbell (Yara Shahid, of “Black-ish” and “Grown-ish), and the are whisked off to Neverland through a sort of wormhole, located near the fabled Second Star on the Right. The meet and befriend the Lost Boys (seemingly modeled on the Benneton catalog gang of urchins in Steven Spielberg’s gloss on the Pan story, “Hook”) as well as the Native American princess Tiger Lily (Alyssa Wapanatahk, a member of the Bigstone Cree Nation), who was a pawn-prize-stereotype in the Disney cartoon but gets an action-heroine makeover here, literally riding to the rescue on more than one occasion.

Jude Law, who is settling into his “I’m just here to have a good time!” character-acting phase, anchors the movie as Captain Hook. Law plays the character as more of a neurotic comic figure with Personal Issues than a frightening villain (although wee viewers will still want to hide behind furniture when he orders all of the Darling children put to death). Lowery has given Hook a bit of the Magua or Killmonger villain-as-anti-hero treatment, i.e. making the character’s Bad Guy Origin Story so relatable that he starts to seem more pitiable than loathsome. Jim Gaffigan, who’s shaping up as a John Goodman-level supporting player, plays Hook’s sidekick Smee as a slightly exasperated underling, a schlump who has his faults but is clearly overwhelmed by having to satisfy a boss who thinks the solution to bad morale is to throw more people overboard. The Peter-Tinkerbell pairing has also been re-thought: it’s pretty clear that she’s the boss, at times seeming to command him psychically, or at least implant suggestions or tasks in a way that makes him think they were his idea. 

Every performance in this movie is good, sometimes more than good, and there’s little that can be said against the filmmaking, which ranges from calendar-art handsome to genuinely inspired. The action-packed climax, which doubles as kind of a therapy session for certain major characters, has a few images of dreamlike eeriness, and gives Law a satisfying exit that suits this incarnation of the character. But the entire thing has a whiff of missed opportunity, and at certain points you might wonder if Lowery and his cowriter Tony Halbrooks might’ve wanted to go a bit deeper than they knew Disney upper management would permit (there’s a truly subversive “Peter Pan” story to be made from the reimagining of the Peter-Tinkerbell relationship in this one: she’s a tiny, mute woman of color who basically can’t get anything done unless she uses an immature, charming white guy as her instrument). 

Like Disney’s recent CGI-heavy “live action” remakes of their traditional animation back-catalog—”The Jungle Book,” “Beauty and the Beast” and “The Lion King”—Lowery’s Peter Pan story replicates action set pieces and familiar bits of scenery and costuming, in ways that scratch the audience’s “just give me what I already know I wanted” itch. But it doesn’t subvert or reinvent its immediate corporate predecessor, as his “Pete’s Dragon” did, and it’s miles removed from something like “The Green Knight,” which was radical by the standards of commercial cinema, very deliberately pushing viewers to debate what certain moments and images meant. Little kids will probably enjoy this one, with its bedtime-story morals and conclusions, although it should also be said that they and their parents may be frustrated by nighttime scenes that are so dim and murky on a standard consumer-grade TV set that were it not for the dialogue track (or subtitles) you’d be hard-pressed to figure out what’s going on. 

Lowery started out as a feature director with independent dramas about plausibly real people, including “St. Nick” and “Ain’t Them Bodies Saints,” and has released more films in that vein (including the delightful “The Old Man and the Gun”). But he has also staked out a niche as a re-interpreter of fairy tales and myth. Some are based on pre-existing corporate IP (Intellectual Property) with a built-in multigenerational audience, such as this movie and “Pete’s Dragon,” and he made another that draws on actual mythology in 2021’s “The Green Knight.” His version of “Peter Pan” is the least of his “mythology” triptych, teasing us with intimations that it’s going to turn the Peter Pan story upside down and shake it until every last nugget of unexplored subtext falls out, but ultimately settling for “everybody misses their mother,” a sentiment that’s true for most people but that seems like a bit of a slim reed to hang such a big film on.

On Disney Plus now.

Peter Pan & Wendy movie poster

Peter Pan & Wendy (2023)

Rated PG

106 minutes

Cast

Alexander Molonyas Peter Pan

Ever Andersonas Wendy Darling

Jude Lawas Captain Hook

Alyssa Wapanatâhkas Tiger Lily

Jim Gaffiganas Mr. Smee

Joshua Blue Pickeringas John Darling

Jacobi Jupeas Michael Darling

Molly Parkeras Mrs. Darling

Alan Tudykas Mr. Darling

Yara Shahidias Tinker Bell

Florence Bensbergas Curly

Sebastian Billingsley-Rodriguezas Nibs

Noah Matthews Matofskyas Slightly

Caelan Edieas Tootles

Director

  • David Lowery

Writer (based on the novel “Peter and Wendy” by)

  • J.M. Barrie

Writer

  • David Lowery
  • Toby Halbrooks

Cinematographer

  • Bojan Bazelli

Editor

  • Lisa Zeno Churgin

Composer

  • Daniel Hart

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