“Wendy” stars Devin France, Yashua Mack, Gage Naquin, Gavin Naquin, Ahmad Cage, Krzysztof Meyn, and Romyri Ross. Released on February 28, 2020, the film is about a young girl who encounters a mysterious boy with a thirst for adventure.
The film was directed by Benh Zeitlin, who is known for directing “Beasts of the Southern Wild”, and it is a reimagining of J. M. Barrie’s Peter Pan. Another summer movie season has begun, and it’s going to be a whole lot different this year. Not only are the theaters still closed, but there appears to be a very small amount of summer blockbusters coming out compared to the years before. This is definitely an unfortunate time for me because summer is my absolute favorite season when it comes to movies (with fall being my second favorite), and seeing that it is heavily affected by COVID-19 makes me sadder than an abandoned puppy in an alleyway. However, I did manage to see a silver lining in the midst of all of this. It gives me the opportunity to catch up on some of the 2020 films that I missed so far. So let’s start things off with yet another take on the story about a boy who wouldn’t grow up. Released more than two months ago, this film marked the second feature to be helmed by Zeitlin, after his successful directorial debut, “Beasts of the Southern Wild”, back in 2012. I still haven’t watched that film yet. Please forgive me. Instead of being a success like that film, it turned out to be the opposite. In addition to receiving mixed reviews from critics, it became a box office bomb as it earned over $100 thousand as of this writing. To make matters even more embarrassing, it was made with a $6 million budget. Ouch, and I thought Joe Wright’s take on “Peter Pan” fared worse. I wasn’t able to see the film when it first came out because my closest cinema couldn’t afford to show it, but thanks to this little device called “Amazon Prime”, I can finally see what went wrong with this “indie-like” version of the classic source material.
The film’s story is a modern retelling of “Peter Pan” that takes place in the rural South. It follows Wendy Darling (France), a young girl who works at the family diner with her mother Angela (Shay Walker) and her twin brothers James and Douglas (played by Gage and Gavin Naquin). When Wendy notices a young boy (Mack) climbing onto the moving train, she and her brothers decided to follow suit. The boy leads them to a mysterious island which hides a magical secret. This film definitely had plenty of elements that are similar to the source material, but trust me when I say this: This isn’t the “Peter Pan” that your kids watch on Disney+. This is the “Peter Pan” that is made for an older crowd. “Wendy” made some changes in order for itself to stand out compared to the other film adaptations of “Peter Pan”, such as the young diverse cast, its sense of realism, and the severe lack of pixie dust, which were pretty noble. However, the risks the film took weren’t enough for it to fly as high as it wanted to. The story represents the fear of growing up and losing the spirit of youth from a child’s perspective, which I thought was very relatable because let’s face it, we all don’t want to lose our inner child as we grow old. While I did notice the director’s determination on telling this type of story, mostly due to his stylistic visual flair as well as the first and third acts, I also noticed that the film took a few stumbles during its second act, especially how they handled the characters. The film is very gorgeous to look at and the production design has the right blend of magic and realism, but they can only do so much to carry this flawed and overlong narrative through. I didn’t exactly hate it as it did its job in delivering its thoughtful message. It’s just that it didn’t have that special oomph in its storytelling to soar alongside its “indie-like” nature. The young cast did a pretty decent job with their performances, especially Devin France as the title character and Yashua Mack as Peter. I wouldn't call the performances Oscar-worthy, but I wouldn't call them annoying, either. I already mentioned before that the film has some impressive visuals to go along with its story, but I will say it again just for the heck of it. Benh Zeitlin is another director who showcases visual storytelling from their own creative vision, which is one of the things that I enjoyed about film personally. Even though the film’s combination of storytelling and awe-inspiring visuals was far from perfect, I can at least admit that Zeitlin envisioned some of the most beautiful shots that I’ve seen onscreen.
Overall, “Wendy” is quite stylistic and gorgeous, but its lack of strong depth in its storytelling kept it from staying young forever. I can definitely say that it’s an improvement over Joe Wright’s “Pan” because it did something different to the story it’s based on and kept the ingredients that made the source material such a classic. Plus, there was an attempt to tell a good story in “Wendy”. However, as much as I appreciate its style and the changes it made to make itself fresh, I still prefer the Disney version of “Peter Pan” as my favorite adaptation of the source material. This is a fine film to watch if you’re curious, but in terms of the story, there’s nothing too special about it.