Peter Pan & Wendy (2023)
"Peter Pan & Wendy" stars Alexander Molony, Ever Anderson, Jude Law, Yara Shahidi, Joshua Pickering, Jacobi Jupe, Alyssa Wapanatâhk, Molly Parker, Alan Tudyk, and Jim Gaffigan. Released on Disney+ on April 28, 2023, the film has a young boy taking the Darling children on an adventure in Neverland.
The film was directed by David Lowery, who also directed films such as "Ain't Them Bodies Saints", "Pete's Dragon", "The Old Man & the Gun", and "The Green Knight". It is a live-action adaptation of Walt Disney's 1953 animated film "Peter Pan". It is also based on the 1904 play Peter Pan; or, the Boy Who Wouldn't Grow Up by J. M. Barrie. Some days, we just can't get enough of Disney remaking our favorite animated classics into live-action pieces of inferiority. Whether we enjoy them or not, this trend isn't disappearing into the Disney vault anytime soon, and you can thank the millions of kids for that. Today is no different, as we got another live-action remake of one of Disney's beloved cartoons from our childhood. One that puts the emphasis on "child" in "childhood". With the studio's controversial trend, it was only a matter of time before it set its sights on one of my favorite Disney animated movies, "Peter Pan". A live-action "Peter Pan" isn't something we haven't seen before, but with David Lowery behind the camera, this latest Disney+ film could be another worthy trip to Neverland. With that in mind, let's fly into the second star to the right and see where the movie ranks among Disney's live-action remakes.
The movie centers on Wendy Darling (Anderson), a girl living in London with her brothers John (Pickering) and Michael (Jupe). Wendy enjoys playing games with her brothers, but with boarding school around the corner, she fears leaving her childish things behind. One night, the Darling children get an unexpected visit from a mysterious flying boy named Peter Pan (Molony) and his fairy friend Tinker Bell (Shahidi). Refusing to grow up, Wendy and her brothers travel with Peter to Neverland, a magical, fantastical place where no one grows up. This leads to a life-changing adventure where the siblings encounter mermaids, an indigenous tribe, and pirates led by Peter's archenemy, the villainous Captain Hook (Law).
"Peter Pan" is one of Disney's animated films I remember growing up watching. However, I didn't go back to the cartoon from 1953 until at least 2007, when I picked up the "Platinum Edition" DVD of the film. I ended up watching it almost daily ever since, thus becoming one of my favorite movies thanks to its charming appeal, animation, and music. Sure, it's not entirely faithful to the source material, and its portrayal of the Native Americans was understandably stereotypical. However, that didn't stop me from admiring the immortal boy who can't age. The movie also helped me get into the other versions of "Peter Pan", including the Disney sequel, "Return to Neverland", from 2002, and Steven Spielberg's "Hook". So it's unsurprising that I was eager to watch the latest live-action adaptation of J. M. Barrie's classic play on Disney+.
The last film version of "Peter Pan" I watched was "Wendy" three years ago, although it's more of a reimagining of the source material. It took a bold approach to the story, but it wasn't enough to leave a lasting impression on me regarding its execution. However, in terms of actual adaptations that follow the source material beat-by-beat, it was the 2003 film adaptation by P. J. Hogan. So I guess this makes "Peter Pan & Wendy" the first time we see a proper adaptation of the play in a while. Now that I finally got to watch it, how does it compare with the other "Peter Pan" versions I've watched in the past several years? Well, let's say that this is one story that'll likely be forgotten as we grow older.
The latest version of "Peter Pan" has its share of promises regarding its modern changes to the plot, including its grounded tone and characters. The story remains the same as the other iterations of "Peter Pan", in which the Darling children have an adventure in Neverland with the titular character. However, it incorporates many new elements to make the movie stand out from the other adaptations. One primary example is the relationship between Peter and Captain Hook, who were once best friends before becoming bitter rivals. The movie also focuses more on Wendy as she learns the difference between growing up right and wrong. Those elements are enough to credit the film for providing something fresh to the traditional narrative instead of retelling their animated counterpart's story beat-by-beat. Unfortunately, when it comes to the magic and its thrilling adventure vibes, "Peter Pan & Wendy" didn't quite fly as high as it wanted to, even with the happy thoughts it stored.
The film's plot has several intentions in these changes that have kept my attention. Sadly, the execution of those said intentions fell flat in its storytelling. It's also surprisingly underwhelming regarding its emotion toward its timeless themes and character exploration. Part of that is due to its pacing and screenplay. Like the titular character, the movie quickly flew by specific vital elements without breaking a sweat, especially in the first act. That would be fine for children with short attention spans. However, for everyone else, it's a series of poorly-paced events highlighting what made the previous versions special without further emphasizing them with the movie's own charm and heart. The script by David Lowery and Toby Halbrooks (the duo who wrote "Pete's Dragon") was also too bare-bones for the themes and dialogue it's representing. Not to mention it's unnecessarily confusing in some moments.
Then there's Lowery's direction. Lowery was known for having a bleak and grounded yet gorgeous style in "The Green Knight", so it's unsurprising that his vision exists in something involving a flying boy and a band of pirates. He also worked with Disney on bringing the live-action "Pete's Dragon" remake to life in 2016. Considering how much I enjoyed his take on "Pete's Dragon", I assumed Lowery's version of "Peter Pan" would capture the same wonder and heart as that movie. Boy, did I assume wrong? Although Lowery has signs of passion for creating a realistic and modern version of the source material, his style doesn't quite mesh well with the concept, in my opinion. Despite his vision having a bleak yet subtly pleasing essence, it couldn't capitalize on the source material's adventurous and fantastical tone.
Lowery's version of "Pete's Dragon" worked for me because it only focuses on the relationship between a human boy and a CGI dragon in a realistic setting instead of a fantasy realm. It represented a refreshing take on the original film from 1977 but also generated a sense of fun and heart in its charming plot. On the other hand, "Peter Pan & Wendy" took the realism part a bit too far for its fantasy adventure vibe, offering an experience that's more bland than imaginative. The only example of this was the set designs, mainly Neverland. When I pictured Neverland, I imagined a colorful and lively world filled with action, fun, and danger. The movie got the latter parts right. The "colorful and lively" part? Not so much. The sceneries of Neverland were lovely to look at. Sadly, that can only take it so far, as it offered nothing else in this dull and lifeless environment to maintain my interest.
Luckily, the movie has some things that kept me from completely losing my belief in childish games. One was the visuals. Neverland may have lacked the visual splendor from the other iterations, but that doesn't mean everything else also lacked the magic. Regarding the pixie dust, Hook's ship, and the giant crocodile, the effects made a slight dent in casting its own spell to make up for the majority lost in the realism. The other thing was the cast, which offered a couple of bright spots in the sea of mediocre performances. The first bright spot is Jude Law, who becomes the latest actor to play Captain Hook. Unfortunately, unlike the other versions, he's not playing George Darling as well, as that role went to Alan Tudyk because why not? Aside from that, Law managed to capture Hook's menacing personality quite well, like the other actors before him, such as Jason Isaacs from the 2003 adaptation. More importantly, Law also made Hook a bit more sympathetic than the other versions of the villain. He may not be as memorable or hilariously devilish as the previous iterations of Hook, but Law offers enough in his role to make him more than just a revenge-seeking pirate who's afraid of a giant crocodile. The other highlight in the cast is Yara Shahidi, who made a solid effort to make Tinker Bell more independent than she was in the previous versions. Sure, they race-swapped the character, but as long as the talent is there, who gives a flying codfish?
As for the child actors, I didn't think they were that bad, but they have a lot to improve if they want to continue pursuing their acting careers. One particular example is Alexander Molony, who makes his film debut as Peter Pan. Without sounding like a heartless pirate who hates children, I think his take on the titular boy was the weakest part of the movie. Molony has the look of Peter Pan down, but he doesn't have the charisma and heroism that made the other versions of the protagonist likable. Understandably, his personality was changed to fit the movie's grounded narrative, especially when he's learning about the importance of friendship. Unfortunately, like what happened with the plot, the execution of the character didn't work for me due to the screenplay and Molony's bland performance. Ever Anderson was known for playing younger versions of Red Queen and Natasha Romanoff in "Resident Evil: The Final Chapter" and "Black Widow", respectively. She also happens to be the daughter of Milla Jovovich and director Paul W. S. Anderson. Her role as Wendy allowed Anderson to showcase her acting front and center. The result was far from spectacular, but it's also not terrible. Joshua Pickering and Jacobi Jupe were also okay as John and Michael, respectively.
Overall, "Peter Pan & Wendy" lacked the faith, trust, and pixie dust it needed to soar above the clouds of mediocrity and lifelessness. Despite an okay cast and its visually pleasing presentation, the movie wasted its interesting ideas to deliver a soulless and painfully underwhelming interpretation of the classic source material that has inspired kids and adults who are children at heart for years. Thanks to its bland plot, poor pacing, uninspiring set designs, and mediocre screenplay, David Lowery's take on the Neverland experience will make you want to grow up faster. It not only marks a low point for the promising filmmaker, but it's also the most disappointing film in the Disney live-action remake category, in my opinion. Hopefully, the upcoming "Little Mermaid" remake can provide something better than what I got from this dull adventure. Unless you're curious enough to go on this journey, I suggest you read a different bedtime story instead.
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