With Peter Pan & Wendy, David Lowery presents the latest of Disney’s live-action remakes of beloved animations. On paper, handing the keys to Neverland to the man behind 2021’s The Green Knight should be an open goal. However, the fact this latest outing for the Boy Who Never Grew Up has been unceremoniously hoyed onto Disney+ doesn’t bode well.
This retelling very much follows the same story that many will be familiar with. Wendy Darling, on the cusp of leaving for boarding school, is whisked away to Neverland by Peter Pan and Tinker Bell along with her brothers. There they do battle with the nefarious Captain Hook and his pirates alongside Tiger Lily and the Lost Boys. While the general framework remains the same, there are subtle changes that would ordinarily make for a refreshing take, if they were allowed to be fully developed.
It’s notable that the end credits state that Peter Pan & Wendy is based on both J.M. Barrie’s novel and Disney’s 1953 animated film as it’s here where the main issues arise. Lowery is clearly beholden to Disney’s vision, which stifles his creativity and prevents his film from reaching its full potential.
He and co-writer Toby Holbrooks rework some less savoury elements, making them more palatable for modern audiences – Tiger Lily, actually Native American here and played by Cree actress Alyssa Wapanatâhk, is neither a caricature nor a damsel in distress. Instead, she’s an ally of the Lost Boys in their battles against the pirates. Likewise, neither she, Wendy, nor Tinker Bell bicker over Peter but rather unite in their frustration at his egotism. While this feminist undercurrent is certainly welcome, there are moments where it also feels ham-fisted.
Similarly reworked is the relationship between Peter and Captain Hook. Here, it’s made akin to Batman and Joker, with Hook all but telling Peter that, “you complete me.” There’s a shared history between the two, one that frames Peter as as much of a villain as his nemesis, and Wendy as the true protagonist. This would be great if the film then didn’t immediately pull a 180 when these moments appear so that Peter can save the day as the rest of the cast look on in admiration.
Perhaps Peter’s scenes would be more effective if Alexander Molony wasn’t incredibly wooden. He offers very little emotion, which could speak to the character’s immaturity if he wasn’t as equally stiff in his moments of excitement. Fortunately, many of his scenes are saved by his screen partners. Jude Law gives it his all as Captain Hook, shaping him into an almost tragic figure. It’s just a shame that this also suffers from the tonal inconsistencies that plague the film. Likewise, Ever Anderson offers a strong performance for a relative newcomer, capturing Wendy’s internal conflict between maturity and childhood well.
Despite some strong cinematography and evocative imagery, the pacing is very disjointed and the film itself is notably short. You must wonder how much was cut. Notably, the crocodile makes its customary appearance, albeit for one scene only, which is a mercy considering the shocking CGI used to create it.
Despite its myriad issues, there’s a semblance of promise within Peter Pan & Wendy. If Lowery’s vision had been left untampered, this could have been something great.
Peter Pan & Wendy is streaming now on Disney+