Peter Pan & Wendy sees another live-action remake from the visionary filmmaker David Lowery. As a director, Lowery brought his sensibilities to the remake of Pete’s Dragon and made it his own. The same is true of Peter Pan & Wendy. The broad strokes of the 1953 animated Peter Pan are in this new take on the fairy tale, but the song feels brand new. Consider the musical artistry of Johnny Cash.
When Cash did a cover of the Nine Inch Nails anthem “Hurt,” it was the same iconic track, but when Cash sang it, “Hurt” transformed from a power ballad about drug addiction and self-harming to a heartfelt, stripped-down goodbye from an old man reflecting on his chaotic legacy. David Lowery has accomplished a similar feat with Peter Pan & Wendy. And watching Lowery write a new song with similar lyrics amplifies the laziness of the other Disney live-action remakes.
[Warning: mild spoilers and impressions of Peter Pan & Wendy below!]
Peter Pan & Wendy: The story
The film centers around the Darling family: Michael (Jacobi Jupe), John (Joshua Pickering), and Wendy Darling (Ever Anderson). When we first meet the scrappy little kids, they’re roughhousing in the bedroom, playing with wooden swords, and fighting make-believe pirates.
Peter Pan & Wendy introduces the viewer to themes of youth vs. aging right away. Mr. Darling (Alan Tudyk) is a pleasant father figure, but he is all business with his kids, with very little playfulness towards them. Wendy’s mother, Mrs. Darling (Molly Parker), is more nurturing. But when we are introduced to the parents, they are both attempting to convince Wendy that she needs to attend boarding school. A decision that might force Wendy to mature.
As they fall asleep, the kids are visited by the iconic Tinkerbell (Yara Shahidi), who flutters around the room with a flickering glow radiating from her. Soon after, the Darling kids are introduced to Tink, Peter Pan (Alexander Molony), and Peter’s mischievous shadow. And with his charming demeanor, he invites the kids on an adventure to Neverland, a world where kids never have to grow up, and an offer Wendy cannot resist.
The limited world-building in Peter Pan & Wendy
Once we arrive in Neverland, some elements are enchanting, but simultaneously, the environment feels limited in scope. The Darling children and Peter encounter Captain Hook (Jude Law) almost immediately. There is very little time to explore the wonders of Neverland. However, what little is offered is beautifully realized.
The same restraints are noticeable in the action scenes. Most fights and conflicts occur in one location, such as a cave struggle. It’s one of the rare times when a viewer might feel like they are watching a filmed stunt show on a sound stage. But where it lacks in fleshing out Neverland, it makes up for it by giving viewers solid characters and a Peter Pan story with depth and heart.
An unconventional Peter Pan story
Trying to find magic with a property like Peter Pan is difficult when most of the fairy dust has been drained. There are only so many ways to tell this whimsical story. Here, using the animated film as inspiration, Lowery and Toby Halbrooks’ screenplay digs beneath the surface of the cartoon and finds an emotional connection we never knew existed.
The script creates a cathartic link between Captain Hook and Peter Pan that is brilliantly unearthed. That same link is rich with backstory and removes the mustache-twirling nature of Captain Hook, making him someone to sympathize with. In these revelations, it becomes evident why Jude Law was cast as the villainous pirate for this. Hook needed a balanced performance that was both weighty and exaggerated.
Subversive takes on the center characters of Peter Pan & Wendy
Adding to the unconventional narrative is the uncommon Peter. Alexander Molony’s performance as the iconic character is atypical, and Molony gives a layered Peter with an emptiness underneath the bold and playful exterior. The story uses Peter Pan differently than most. He is not meant to be the story’s hero but instead a supporting character for Wendy’s story. He becomes a character for her to see the positives and negatives of never growing up.
Ever Anderson’s role of Wendy is the hero of the story. She is protective of her brothers, fierce, and not a damsel in distress. In fact, in many moments in the film, Wendy rescues Peter. This adds an extra layer to the vulnerability of Molony’s Peter Pan, a child that needs more rescuing than he is willing to admit.
A positive message about embracing time
Thematically, this version of Peter Pan is the opposite of Steven Spielberg’s Hook. While the Robin Williams version dealt with embracing a youthful spirit in old age, David Lowery’s adaptation is about embracing the road ahead when one is young.
The mental health subtext is strong within Peter Pan & Wendy. When loneliness is higher than ever, telling kids it’s okay to keep going is a decent message. The film acknowledges the wear and tear of life and, at the same time, challenges the viewer to see it’s all part of the adventure.
Peter Pan & Wendy is a sincere and enchanting experience
Peter Pan & Wendy might possess some dour elements, moderately successful worldbuilding, and is heavier than other adaptations. Even so, it’s a clever, sincere, and enchanting transformation of the animated film, which is more than we can say about many Disney remakes. The biggest surprise is that there was more to explore within these century-old characters.
As stated, performing a cover song is easy. The Lion King, Aladdin, and Pinnochio attempted this with mixed results. But Peter Pan & Wendy get it right.
My rating for this film:
Peter Pan & Wendy is now available to stream on Disney+! Have you seen it yet? What did you think? Let us know on Twitter @mycosmiccircus or on The Cosmic Circus Discord.