REVIEW: Peter Pan & Wendy (2023, dir. David Lowery)

Certificate: 6+

Running Time: 106 mins

UK Distributor: Disney+

WHO’S IN PETER PAN & WENDY?

Alexander Molony, Ever Anderson, Jude Law, Yara Shahidi, Joshua Pickering, Jacobi Jupe, Alyssa Wapanatahk, Jim Gaffigan, Molly Parker, Alan Tudyk, Noah Matthews Matofsky, Sebastian Billingsley-Rodriguez, Skyler Yates, Kelsey Yates, Florence Bensberg, Caelan Edie, Diana Tsoy, Felix De Sousa

WHO’S BEHIND THE CAMERA?

David Lowery (director, writer), Toby Halbrooks (writer), James Whitaker (producer), Daniel Hart (composer), Bojan Bazelli (cinematographer), Lisa Zeno Churgin (editor)

WHAT’S IT ABOUT?

Young adventurer Peter Pan (Molony) transports Wendy Darling (Anderson) and her brothers to the magical world of Neverland…

WHAT ARE MY THOUGHTS ON PETER PAN & WENDY?

Another day, another live-action remake of an animated Disney classic that sends the internet into a blind fury over its unnecessariness and lack of soul compared to the original (and the online atmosphere is bound to become even more insufferable when The Little Mermaid arrives next month). However, filmmaker David Lowery’s new take on Disney’s 1953 adaptation of J.M. Barrie’s Peter Pan isn’t half-bad – it isn’t that great, mind, but compared to a lot of the other live-action remakes, this one at least has a bit more pixie dust to work with, but not that much.

Peter Pan & Wendy, which Lowery also co-writes with Toby Halbrooks, is a fairly traditional take on the timeless story, which as ever begins in London as young Wendy Darling (Ever Anderson) is reluctant to leave her childhood behind as she prepares to depart for boarding school. She and her younger brothers John (Joshua Pickering) and Michael (Jacobi Jupe) are soon visited by the eternally youthful adventurer Peter Pan (Alexander Molony) and his fairy sidekick Tinker Bell (Yara Shahidi), who whisk them away to the solitary world of Neverland where children never have to grow up. There, they encounter Peter’s band of Lost Boys, the Native princess Tiger Lily (Alyssa Wapanatahk), and of course the fearsome pirate Captain Hook (Jude Law), who seeks to rid the world of his arch-nemesis Peter Pan.

Between Pete’s Dragon and now Peter Pan & Wendy, Lowery is the rare filmmaker placed in charge of revamping some old Disney IP that actually seems to be trying to not have his final product seem like such a lifeless copy of the original. Of course, nothing in this movie ever gets as beautifully twisted or dark as some of his other, more grown-up fare (though I would personally kill to see a version of Peter Pan set in the exact same universe as The Green Knight), but Lowery manages to find a hint of soul and passion in the storytelling and aspects of the characterisation which elevate the viewing experience to surprisingly emotional levels. There are a lot of moments in the film where it simply lets itself breathe and take in the gentle atmosphere, while allowing the impressive production design and the gorgeous cinematography that captures the sweeping on-location scenery (with the Faroe Islands in the North Atlantic doubling as Neverland) to take precedence over the CG effects. It can be quietly moving, in ways that set itself apart from Disney’s animated original (to a point, anyway).

There’s also a decent balance of character and performance, with the standout clearly being Ever Anderson whose Wendy is spirited, good-hearted, and far from subservient. The young actor is genuinely magical in the role, entirely watchable without her characterisations or dialogue feeling too forced, and she gives Wendy a level of gravitas that few other performers taking on the role may have otherwise given. As for Jude Law, his Captain Hook is certainly not as comical nor as campy as he is in the original animated version, but he gets to show a more vulnerable side to the famed villain as more is revealed about his character that draws from both the classic Disney film and various parts of Barrie’s source material. It’s an interesting and rather emotional direction that Lowery and Halbrooks take with Captain Hook here, and it again makes it feel different and fresh from what came before, to where you genuinely feel the tragedy behind this rendition of the character as you learn more about him.

The film is definitely a step-up from a lot of the much worse Disney remakes – the stuff with Captain Hook alone blows last year’s Pinocchio straight out of the water – but Peter Pan & Wendy isn’t near the top of the list either, and sad to say a lot of that is due to Peter Pan himself. Alexander Molony, as much as he genuinely does seem to be trying, makes for a rather uninteresting Peter Pan, lacking the spark and charm to convince as this fearless hero. It always feels like Peter here is putting on an act rather than being genuinely steadfast and cocksure, least of all because the actor delivers his lines without much enthusiasm or whimsy, whereas in the original Disney version you definitely recognise the sense of Errol Flynn-style adventure and boyish arrogance in both his voice and the way he’s animated. There’s a reason it’s called Peter Pan & Wendy instead of just Peter Pan, and I feel that’s because Wendy is the real protagonist that’s far more capable of carrying this rendition all by herself (hell, even Law’s Hook seems to have more screen time than Peter Pan does, and that’s not necessarily because Law is the biggest name on the roster).

The other thing that I can see dividing viewers is that, for all the magic and wonder behind the ideas of Neverland, the place itself doesn’t feel that magical or wonderful. As beautiful as the scenery can be, Neverland is mostly a barren piece of green countryside, with the vast majority of the fantasy elements cast aside or expunged entirely. For instance, the mermaids are only ever glimpsed once when our main characters arrive, while Alyssa Wapanatahk’s Tiger Lily and her fellow Natives – despite this being a far more appropriate depiction than they were in the 1953 original – largely drift in and out whenever they need to. There have been far more imaginative versions of Neverland in film, including the original animated one, and even the awful Pan which, while by far and away a worse movie than this, at least had the distinction of making its own stamp with random renditions of Nirvana every now and then (honestly, just tying those words gave me horrific flashbacks to the wrongness of that movie).

It’s not great, and at points it really does pale in comparison to the animated original, but Peter Pan & Wendy has enough decency to its name that helps it fit alongside the other passable Disney remakes, far from the best (which, to date, is still The Jungle Book) but also far from the worst (it’s up to you to decide which one(s) fit that particular bill).

SO, TO SUM UP…

Peter Pan & Wendy offers an emotional and visually pleasing rendition of both the classic story and Disney’s original animated take, which benefits from some gorgeous cinematography and some spirited performances, but a lack of overall magic in certain aspects prevents it from feeling like an awfully big adventure.

Peter Pan & Wendy is now streaming exclusively on Disney+

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