'Peter Pan & Wendy' review: David Lowery gives soul to unnecessary Disney remake
Courtesy of Disney+
I know what you’re thinking: Another one?
Yes, there have been a zillion iterations of Peter Pan through the years (dating back to when J.M. Barrie published the OG novel in 1911). Throw in Disney’s uninspired mentality of mining their IP coffers for a quick buck and the immediate reaction to the direct-to-streaming release of “Peter Pan & Wendy” isn’t an enthusiastic one. However, those previous adaptations didn’t have “The Green Knight” director David Lowery in the directors chair, a filmmaker who’s live-action rendition of “Pete’s Dragon” didn’t set the world ablaze, but has quietly remained one of the better marriages of story and filmmaker since Disney began this overhaul. In “Peter Pan & Wendy,” Lowery doesn’t reinvent the wheel, but he manages to tap into the sensibilities and convictions of the story in a manner that’s both transporting and wondrous. It’s a low bar to clear, but “Peter Pan & Wendy” is in the upper tier of these adaptations (no disrespect to, uh, “Pinocchio”).
Disney was wise to enlist co-writer and director Lowery for this go around (he shares screenwriting credit with Toby Halbrooks) who made the unique decision of mending the source material of the animated classic with the 1911 book and they gel better than you’d expect. It tells the movie, for the most part, from Wendy’s perspective. She moves the action along and young actress Ever Anderson is a great fit in the role alongside her Peter Pan counterpart Alexander Molony. The confidence and exuberance these young actors radiate, alongside a terrific ensemble of Lost Boys and girls, not to mention the Darling brothers, easily assimilates viewers into the joys of Neverland and the responsibilities that comes with growing up.
Of course, the real scene stealer is Jude Law’s scaled back and not entirely cartoonish portrayal of Captain Hook. The Disney version this is not, Lowery and co do an excellent job at humanizing this character (who we found out is named James) and giving him a fractured backstory that adds fresh context into the relationship he shares with arch rival, Peter Pan. It’s the most development we’ve seen from a Disney villain in one of these adaptations and it makes the case that Lowery should helm every single live action remake from here on out. I’m convinced he’s the only one who can manufacture real emotion and make these movies look like something other than hogwash. The visuals, while not perfect, are certainly a step in the right direction. It’s wild when you shoot on location and give characters period appropriate costumes, how easy it is to stand out from the crowd.
It helps the stakes also feel considerably higher thanks to Lowery infusing the Peter Pan/Hook/Wendy relationship with a sensitive angle that’ll make your heart melt. I won’t get into spoilery details, but they each have an identity (especially Wendy!) children should easily relate to and that’s far and above a healthy alternative compared to the barrage of kiddie flicks keen on taking advantage of its young audience. And for those young tykes who have never witnessed the story before, the bare bones plot remains intact. The kids are transported to Neverland, they encounter Hook and his cohorts (Jim Gaffigan gives a memorable performance as Hook’s trusty sidekick Smee), the alligator returns in all its CGI glory, while Yara Shahdi and Alyssa Wopanatahk shine (literally) as Tinker Bell and Tiger Lily respectively.
Underneath the hood, there are elements in “Peter Pan & Wendy” that hold it back: uneven pacing and cherry picking several subplots from the novels that never earn their place on screen, but it’s insistence on human connection and the magical bond children share among themselves more than make up for those shortcoming. So, yes, there’s *another* Peter Pan movie and though you’ve probably already written it off, this is actually one worth seeing. All it needed was some pixie dust.
PETER PAN & WENDY is now streaming on Disney+