Peter Pan & Wendy (2023) Review
A DEEPER INSIGHT REMAKE
THAT LACKS “NEVERLAND” MAGIC
Peter Pan. Captain Hook. Tinkerbell. The Lost Boys. Neverland. All of these are iconic staples in the beloved children’s book Peter Pan. Written by Scottish writer J.M. Barrie, Peter Pan or known as “The Boy Who Wouldn’t Grow Up” was originally written as a play in 1904 and then became a novel some years later (with Barrie revising the story several times before its publication date). Though it’s been over a century, Barrie’s Peter Pan is still being retold to kids everywhere and has become a classic tale in children literature. Along with the original story, Peter Pan has also transcended into different media facets, adapting the celebrated adventure to be told in cartoons, TV programs, feature films, and other written works by other authors. Thus, it would seem that almost every corner of Peter Pan’s adventures in Neverland has already been told and examined, including prequels and sequels endeavors to Barrie’s original narrative. Now, in keeping with its on-going continuation of reinventing their iconic animated classic into live-action features, Walt Disney Studios and director David Lowery present the updated look from their 1953 beloved animated film with the release Peter Pan & Wendy. Does this new iteration of iconic character stay true to the cherished story or is it a visual flop and a far cry from Barrie’s description?
Wendy Darling (Ever Anderson) is facing a difficult time in her life as she prepares herself to attend boarding school. She’s faced with frustration with the whole situation, facing the pressure of growing up from her parents, George (Alan Tudyk) and Mary (Molly Parker), while trying to remain whimsical with her younger brothers, John (Joshua Pickering) and Michael (Jacobi Jupe). Entering their room at night is Peter Pan (Alexander Molony), a magical flying boy from their bedtime stories, who is joined by his trusted fairy Tinker Bell (Yara Shahidi), as they search for his shadow. Enticing the Darling children with promises of adventure in Neverland, Peter whisk the siblings away to the magical land and are immediately targeted for revenge by one Captain Hook (Jude Law), who’s looking to destroy the leader of the Lost Boys. Once there, Wendy tries to come to terms with her new surroundings, including the regiment grouping of the Lost Boys ways of life, the heroism protectiveness of Tiger Lily (Alyssa Wapanatahk), and the dangers dealings of pirates, who’ve taken her brothers hostage. As a rescue attempt is hatched to save John and Michael, Wendy also has to deal with Peter, whose hides his history of heartache underneath his immortalized boy angsts, and the personal connection he shares with Captain Hook.
THE GOOD / THE BAD
Borrowing a few of my opening lines from my review of 2015’s Pan, I’ve always loved the story of Peter Pan. However, in truth, I’ve actually never read J.M. Barrie’s Peter Pan. Furthermore, my first introduction to Peter Pan was (of course) to Disney’s portrayal of the characters in their 1953 animated feature film Peter Pan. Naturally, growing up with everything Disney, I really liked this (even to this day) as it showcased the spirit of Barrie’s work, yet also made it a part of Disney’s caliber and signature style. It’s no wonder why 1953’s Peter Pan is revered as one of the more iconic iteration of Barrie’s adaptations. As mentioned above, there has been dozens upon dozens various other adaptations that have given the famous Peter Pan characters new life or some new understanding to their expanded narrative. Some of the ones that I personally can recall (and liked) includes Hook, 1991’s live-action sequel film to the original Peter Pan story that was directed by Stephen Spielberg, Peter and the Starcatchers, a YA fantasy novel series by Dave Barry and Ridley Pearson that’s set as a prequel to Barrie’s original tale, and Fox’s Peter Pan and the Pirates, a 65 episode animated cartoon series that aired during 1990-1991) just to name a few. In the end, while there are plenty of other adaptations of Barrie’s works, the allure and fascination Peter Pan will continue to enchant generations both young and old to enrich the iconic tale of “the boy who wouldn’t grow up”.
This, of course, brings me back around to talking about Peter Pan & Wendy, a 2023 fantasy adventure live-action movie and the latest film adaptation from Barrie’s Peter Pan. Given the amount of live-action feature films that Disney has been doing of reimagining their iconic and beloved animated motion pictures, it seem almost like a forgone conclusion that the “House of Mouse” would eventually get around to doing a new adaptation of Peter Pan. Thus, it was announced a few years ago that Disney would give the “green light” to remake their 1953 film, but that they movie would be released on their Disney+ streaming service….something similar to 2019’s Lady and the Tramp and 2022’s Pinocchio. A few years passed by and nothing I saw on the movie news website really came up about this project until the film’s movie trailer was released. From the trailer alone, I wasn’t exactly impressed with the movie. Naturally, I was curious because I always loved the story of Peter Pan and wanted to see what this latest film adaptation would bring the commonly utilized storyline of Peter, Wendy, Hook, and the rest of the denizens in Neverland. However, the trailer itself was pretty “meh” to me. Although, I was curious to see how actor Jude Law would play the iconic character role of Captain Hook in the movie. So, I was a little interested in seeing the movie. I was actually completely caught off-guard by this movie be released on April 22nd, 2023 (I thought it was going to be released in July or August). I decided to check out the movie during the weekend it was released on Disney+ and watched during an afternoon on one of my days off. I then had to complete another review first before working on this one, so I decided to wait a few days after seeing it. Now, I’m finally ready to share my thoughts on this recent live-action Disney remake. And what did I think of it? Well, it was just okay and a bit disappointing at times. While the movie does certainly take advantage of the director’s visual style and a deeper meaning within the central narrative between hero and villain, Peter Pan & Wendy lacks a sense of fun and magic within its experience. It’s definitely better than what I was expecting it to be, especially since I had low expectations for the project, but it still feels like the live-action remake is limited within its own reworkings of the classic “the boy who wouldn’t grow up”.
Peter Pan & Wendy is directed by David Lowery, whose previous directorial works include such films as A Ghost Story, Pete’s Dragon, and The Green Knight. Given his background of revisiting old classics and reimagining them in his own signature visual style, Lowery seems like a suitable choice for taking the iconic Peter Pan narrative and reworking for a new audience. To that effect, I think that Lowery gives this new iteration a leg up than most of the other endeavors of Disney’s live-action remakes by being both respectful to the source material, but not afraid of taking new avenues within the presentation. There are definitely some bumps and nuances that aren’t ironed out fully, but I’ll mention those below. Suffice it to say that Lowery delivers on making his interpretation of Barrie’s Peter Pan story have a slightly different shade than what’s come before. Unlike some of Disney’s recent project along this line of narrative storytelling, Lowery doesn’t make Peter Pan & Wendy a strict “shot-for-shot” remake like 2019’s Lion King or a “beat-for-beat” plot progression like 2022’s Pinocchio….and that’s a good thing! Instead, Lowery shakes things up and walks a fine line of balancing the familiar tones and scenarios of Barrie’s story, yet interject his own reframing of the picture with several new ideas. The results isn’t something completely revolutionary or monumentally creative, but it is indeed a welcome one, especially since a story as old and widely known as the tale of Peter Pan; something that has been adapted time and time again. Lowery, who pulled “double duty” on this project as both director and co-writer (alongside Toby Halbrooks), gives several nuances of deeper insight into several of the characters in the movie, which does make for some interesting aspects in the classic tale. This, of course, breathes new life into the old narrative and gives context to several characters, including the relationship between Peter Pan and Hook, Wendy and Tinkerbell, and a few interesting depths towards the iconic “boy who never grew up”. It’s definitely interesting and one that was quite intrigued by and, while some of the ideas are fully fleshed out as much as they could’ve been, it was great to see some change being brought around these iconic characters. For his part, Lowery still shapes the feature in the more classic fashion framework of the story, which won’t deter viewers (both young and old) away from this new film adaptation, but also gives credit for further developing several avenues that help build on the tried-and-true narrative of Peter Pan for more meaningful glances in the familiar. Thus, despite some blunders that occur in the movie, Lowery certainly aims for something new in his interpretation of J.M. Barrie’s narrative, with Peter Pan & Wendy offering up a different perspective of things that occur with Peter, Wendy, Hook, and several characters.
For its presentation, Peter Pan & Wendy definitely has the touch of Lowery’s signature style of filmmaking, with the movie having that more “grounded” feeling within its visual representation of the iconic Peter Pan tale. Much like The Green Knight, Lowery adds a sense of realism to the fantastic and keeps the feature’s look and feel have a very practical feeling as if this could almost happen in the real world (theoretically speaking) and gives the various Neverland locations (i.e. Skull Rock, the Lost Boys hideout, Pirate Cove, etc.) feel organic and life-like and shown the wear and tear of settings that felt familiar, yet fanciful at the same time. Thus, the film’s “behind the scenes” team, including Jade Healy (production designs), Zoe Jirik (set decorations), Ngila Dickson (costume design), and the entire art direction team, for their involvement on this particular project and how well-represented their respective parts help shape the feature’s visual appeal and setting depictions. Coinciding with that notion, the cinematography work by Bojan Bazelli helps elevate some of the more fantastic moments of the film, with some dramatic (and dynamic) usage of camera angles and presentation for some classic “movie magic” utilization. Lastly, the film’s score, which was composed by Daniel Hart, delivers some pleasant and compelling music nuances throughout the feature’s presentation that help build upon the film’s setting and poignant moments, regardless if it’s a rousing whimsical scene or a heartfelt one. I do have to mention that it was nice to hear a little motifs flourish in Hart’s presentation of the iconic “You Can Fly” melody during the flying through London sequences during the first act.
Unfortunately, Peter Pan & Wendy does suffer from several crucial areas that draw criticisms, which holds the feature back from reaching its true potential and makes a more middling endeavor in Disney’s live-action remakes. How so? Well, for starters, the movie itself feels a like its lost that “Neverland” magic that most of the Peter Pan adaptations have. What do I mean? Well, when the image of Pete Pan comes to mind….a person thinks of a very fantastic adventure of childhood wonder and colorful imagination. Lowery’s Peter Pan & Wendy doesn’t really have that feeling. In truth, it’s quite the opposite, with Lowery almost downplaying the fantastic and magical elements of the Peter Pan story for a more gritter and realistic tone for this beloved tale of classic literature. However, while this might have worked in the past with some of his endeavors, it sort of backfires. The tale of Peter Pan, Captain Hook, and the other denizens of Neverland is the stuff of children’s bedtime stories and should be filled all manner of flights of fantasies in both color, style, and depictions. Neverland itself, while showcased in a real-world manner, feels like a place one can visit that’s off the coast of somewhere in amongst the British Isles. It loses its flair and fantasy-esque mystique that is usually associated. Even the all the characters themselves in Neverland feel rather dull and ordinary rather than energetic and colorful. This particular “loss” of child-like wonder fantastical imagery puts Peter Pan & Wendy at a great disadvantage and, while Lowery should be commended for some of his efforts, the end result clashes with the ideas of what Neverland itself stands for……a place of endless adventure and magical wonders.
Coinciding with that, Peter Pan & Wendy just lacks a balance rhythm within the story’s context. While welcomed changes are indeed a good sight, the final result for this movie is another somewhat haphazard cash grab from Disney that can’t really hold a candle to both Barrie’s original source material and even the 1953 animated classic. The film itself is quite rushed as events throughout the movie occur in a rather brisky paced with little time to soak up some of the new material or even take a little bit of breathier time. Things happen really quickly and, while the story itself isn’t that complexed to figure out what’s going on, I would’ve liked to see more depth and insight into certain aspects, especially several of the new contexts that Lowery wanted to interject in this well-known narrative. This also makes many of the characters in the movie feel rather bland and forgetful, especially some of the supporting players and even some of the lead roles. In truth, I felt that the movie could’ve definitely been longer that its current runtime of 106 minutes (one hour and forty-six minutes). More time of misadventures in Neverland, more plotting with the pirates, more time with the Mermaids (who only make cameo-like appearance), and even the infamous ticking crocodile (who only has one scene). Due to this unbalanced nature for the movie, Peter Pan & Wendy also has pacing problem, with the first half of the movie zipping along in a very rushed manner, while the second half feels quite sluggish. Even the climatic final third act sequences feels underwhelming and can’t exactly reach the heights of what really could’ve been, which (again) is quite disappointing.
Another problem that I had with this movie is that it lacked the excitement and joy, which (again) is quite strange especially given the material of famous children’s tale. As I mentioned above, the story of Peter Pan is the stuff of child-like wonder and full of daring do and exploration of the imagination (almost something a like bit akin to C.S. Lewis’s The Chronicles of Narnia series), but Lowery’s depiction of J.M. Barrie’s Peter Pan is rather joyless and almost mundane. There are very little moments of comedic levity in the film, which results in a lot of the feature’s endeavor feel rather drab and less exciting than what it intends to be. As a minor point of criticism, I was a little bit confused that the movie states that the Darling siblings (Wendy, John, and Michael), who were the original characters in the Peter Pan narrative, knew who Peter Pan was….as a somewhat bedtime story to tell children in the movie’s world. I know that this is a minor nitpick and was probably a way to help move the plot along during the opening act, but I just find it a little bit odd and off-putting. Kind of lost the whole big “introduction” to Peter, Tinkerbell, and the rest of Neverland.
The cast in Peter Pan & Wendy is sort of mixed bag, with the assembled acting talent ready (and willing) to play several iconic character roles from the Peter Pan narrative, yet the on-screen performance and how they are written into the movie leaves a lot to be desired in an otherwise flat persona. Headlining the movie (in a somewhat different way) is actress Ever Anderson, who plays the character role of Wendy Darling, the oldest of the three Darling siblings and who is the main focus for most of the feature. Known for her roles in Resident Evil: The Final Chapter and Black Widow, Anderson is a relatively unknown young actress, who gets her moment to shine in the movie as one of the leading main characters. To the end, I think she did okay in the role of Wendy. I definitely get the character angle that Lowery and Halbrooks were trying to go for with her as she was the oldest of the children and was caught between those awkward years of childhood and adulthood, but it’s handled in a rather clunky manner that’s both predictable and almost mechanic at times. There was plenty of opportunity for something to blossom further, yet it never came, which was disappointing as the movie takes more of the easy and formulaic path of reaching her pivotal moments of epiphany in growth and story arc. For her part, Anderson gives a decent performance, yet she struggles in trying to evoke the right type of emotion and elation, which comes off as annoying and cringeworthy at times.
Sadly, the other two Darling siblings (John and Michael), who are played by young actors Joshua Pickering (A Discovery of Witches and Safe Space) and Jacobi Jupe (Britannia and Cupid) don’t really get much to do in the movie. Of course, given the title of the feature, I had a vague notion that these two particular characters were gonna be placed on the film’s backburner, but there are barely in the movie and both Pickering and Jupe, unlike Anderson’s Wendy, don’t really have much to offer in the ways of building upon their respective fictional characters.
Despite the film’s namesake and where the source material derives from, the character of Peter Pan, who is played by actor Alexander Molony, almost comes a bit of a “second fiddle” role in comparison to Anderson’s Wendy. Like his co-star lead, Molony, who is known for his roles in Claude, The Reluctant Landlord, and The Big Bad Fox and Other Tales, is a somewhat unknown young actor and gets the chance to show his credibility in this feature, especially since he plays the titular character role of Peter Pan, a widely known fictional character in classic literature. However, I felt that, like Anderson’s Wendy, Molony also gets it half-right with his portrayal of Peter Pan. For the positives, Molony definitely imbues his performance of Peter Pan with the right amount of childish angst and child-like arrogance that befits the recognizable “boy who never grew up” motif. That being said, the movie doesn’t really give much time for the character to soak up that much time to fully invest in Peter, which makes Molony’s performance sometimes wooden and rather straightforward in a clunky manner. Furthermore, the movie’s script sort of “pushes” Peter of some of the limelight and repurposes the feature to center more on the character of Wendy, which, given the title of the movie, is something I kind of expected. Yet, it certainly doesn’t help Molony, who comes across as a main prop for the film and nothing else. There are some new content to try and help understand his personal plight of being alone and not able to experience certain joys of not growing up, but it’s kind of brushed aside. Thus, despite the changing of some things in the narrative, Molony’s Peter Pan suffers the most in the feature and ends up rather bland from onset to conclusion.
Another iconic character that appears in the Peter Pan story appears in the movie in the form of Tinkerbell, Pan’s close fairy companion, and who is played by actress Yara Shahidi (Grown-ish and The Sun is Also a Star). While some on the internet have called out Disney for being “too woke” in having the character of Tinkerbell being portrayed by an African American actress, I personally wasn’t bothered by this particular decision. The big problem, however, that I had with Tinkerbell in Peter Pan & Wendy is that she really doesn’t have much to do in the film rather in help out in a few scenes here and there. Yes, there are a couple of new scenes where she and Wendy bond together, but those feel quite superfluous in nature and don’t really amount to much. I felt that Shahidi did a decent job, especially emoting the physical expressions and body language that usually comes with the depiction of muted character like Tinkerbell, but, on the whole, the character was their for the sake of being part of the Peter Pan narrative and not much else.
Perhaps the interesting idea that Lowery does in the movie is somewhat “updates” the character of Tiger Lily, who is played by actress Alyssa Wapanatahk (Robo Games and Rehab). How so? Well, instead of making the character a classic (almost stereotypical) “damsel-in-distress” character that she has always been depicted as in the story, Tiger Lilly in Peter Pan & Wendy has more of mature air about her as she is a proud and skilled Indian warrior, which fits alongside Disney’s current trend of displaying female empowerment, with the character acting more of a protective older sibling to Peter’s childish angst. Although, despite having a strong introduction, the character of Tiger Lily, like John and Michael Darling, is pushed aside and becomes less and less important after that, which somewhat undoes the strong intro for her character. This then affects Wapanatahk’s role in the movie and, while her acting is fine, feels like she gets forgotten in the second half.
The Lost Boys characters, including actress Florence Bensberg (Strike Back) as Curly, actor Sebastian Billingsley-Rodriguez (The Baby-Sitters Club and Deepa & Anoop) as Nibs, actor Noah Matthews Matofsky (who makes his debut with the film) as Slightly, actor Caelan Edie (The Voice Kids and Hollyoaks) as Tootles, actress Diana Tsoy (Sweet Tweets and The Good Doctor) as Birdie, actor Felix de Sousa (who makes his debut with the film) as Belleweather, and actresses Kelsey and Skyler Yates (Voodoo Macbeth and 9-1-1: Lone Star) as unnamed twins 1 and 2 respectfully, make up some of the minor characters in the film. Unfortunately, most of these characters, despite the acting talent of these young players, are merely there for window dressing to fill the quota of Peter’s “Lost Boys” group. None of them really stand out and most are quite forgettable, which is disappointing.
For the adult acting talent involved in Peter Pan & Wendy, actor Jude Law musters up the best performance of the entire film in the iconic Peter Pan character role of Captain Hook, Pan’s longtime archnemesis. Known for his roles in Closer, Sherlock Holmes, and The Talented Mr. Ripley, Law acts as the “seasoned veteran” actor on this project and it clearly shows that throughout his performance whenever he’s on-screen. Much like recent live-action remakes from Disney like Maleficent and Cruella, things aren’t as always as they seem with the villainous characters and Law gets the opportunity to really toil around with such a layered character. Yes, from the get-go, Hook is portrayed as the classic depiction of him as cruel and menacing, with Law playing up those ticks and quirks with wonderful glee, but then gets the chance to showcase a different side to Hook than many other iterations of Peter Pan never display. This is where I think Law shines the best and where his acting talents should are showcased in the best possible light. In the end, even if one doesn’t really get care much for this movie, there is not denying the fact that Law makes for the most compelling character in the feature and certainly carries some of the heavy lifting moments that the movie desperately needs.
As a sidenote, I felt that comedian / actor Jim Gaffigan (Chappaquiddick and Duck Duck Goose) did a great job in playing the role of Smee, Captain Hooks’s faithful first mate. While there wasn’t a whole lot of material added for him to play around with, Gaffigan still managed to cultivate a small, yet memorable role in his performance as Smee.
Most of the other adult characters, including actor John DeSantis (A Series of Unfortunate Events and The 13th Warrior) as Bill Jukes, actor Garfield Wilson (Ivy + Bean and Snowpiercer) as Gurley, actor Ian Tracey (Virgin River and Open Range) as Sallyport, actor Mark Acheson (Elf and Alone in the Dark) as Old Clemson, actor Paul Cheng (Deadpool 2 and Night at the Museum) as Scrimshaw Sam, actor Jesse James Pierce (The Murders and Virgin River) as Skylight, and Mike Ching (Inception and Godzilla) as Dirtbag Benny, make up Captain Hook’s pirate crew and, much like the Lost Boys characters, are merely there for window dressing in background scenes. Rounding out the rest of the cast are actress Molly Parker (Deadwood and House of Cards) and actor Alan Tudyk (Rogue One: A Star Wars Story and Firefly) as Mrs. and Mr. Darling, the parental figures to Wendy, John, and Michael, who bookend the feature in their more traditional roles in the story.
Caught in between childhood and adulthood, Wendy Darling, along with her two brothers, are swept up by the magical Peter Pan and whisked away to Neverland to discover more about herself, while also dealing with the nefarious Captain Hook in the movie Peter Pan & Wendy. Director David Lowery’s latest film takes the iconic tale of J.M. Barrie’s Peter Pan character (as well as Disney’s 1953’s animated classic) into a live-action treatment that captures the traditional manner of the narrative, while also interject a few new ideas and more grounded tale of realism. While the director’s signature style (directing and visual presence) is felt throughout and a solid performance from Jude Law, the rest of the movie feels quite underwhelming and lacks that magical spark of its source material, especially when considering a more realistic depiction of certain aspects, a rushed narrative progression, several odd creative decisions, and a few unmemorable characters / performances. Personally, I thought that the movie was just okay, but more on the disappointing side of things. Like all Peter Pan endeavors, the potential is there and there are some interesting bits to make it different from past projects, including a deeper narrative in a few parts, but the movie itself seem quite rushed and lacks the adventurous excitement that is customary to the tale. Everything just seems very hodgepodge and that’s disappointing. It wasn’t as terrible as 2022’s Pinocchio, but isn’t saying much. Thus, my recommendation for this movie is an “iffy choice” at best, especially for those who might be interested in a new retelling of the story, while maybe a “skip it” for others out there, especially when considering how the movie doesn’t have that particular “spark” of magic. In the end, while Disney will continue to reinvent and reimaging some of their beloved animated classic, Peter Pan & Wendy takes a few steps forward, yet takes a few more steps back in its undertaking, with the feature stands as a somewhat cautionary tale for Disney when adapting their animated tale into new mediums. Sadly, this movie just simply finds a new deeper insight meaning in otherwise non-magical adventure.
2.7 Out of 5 (Iffy Choice / Skip It)
Released On: April 28th, 2023
Reviewed On: May 20th, 2023
Peter Pan & Wendy is 106 minutes long and is rated PG for violence, peril, and thematic elements