From JM Barrie’s scribblings to a long tradition of children’s cinema, animated and live-action aplenty, Peter Pan is a long-standing character with a canon that spans over a century. Thus, it comes as no surprise that in Disney’s determination to remake every single hit they have ever had, they’d tackle this stacked mythology next.
As Wendy Darling (Ever Gabo Anderson) counts down the minutes until she is whisked away to boarding school, the liminal nighttime before this huge change summons the eternally young Peter Pan (Alexander Molony) to her windowsill. You know the drill, Wendy, John (Joshua Pickering), Michael (Jacobi Jupe) and Michael’s bear (Mr. Bear) are whisked away by Peter Pan, with help from Tinkerbell’s (Yara Shahidi) pixie dust and the power of happy thoughts to Neverland.
David Lowery is the latest indie filmmaker to take the mouse’s cheque, and on paper, this is a match that would work with the promise of his mystical oeuvre; see The Green Knight. However, even he can’t escape the soul-destroying aesthetic that waves its CGI wand across artistic licence. Everything in the film resembles a mere echo of Pans of the past. There are a few breath-taking moments of flight with a few off-piste pieces scored by long-time Lowery collaborator David Hart, but even so, it doesn’t reach the heights of James Newton Howard’s flying sequences in the 2003 Peter Pan.
Though the story of the film plays on the fact that Hook and Pan are caught in a ridiculous cycle of hero-villain battling, this sentiment goes too far in making the production design of Neverland claustrophobic and unappealing. Even with the exciting expansion of portraying Princess Tiger Lily’s (Alyssa Wapanatahk) tribe and having her become a white knight figure (a pun on race unintended, let’s try and forget Rooney Mara playing an Indigenous character in 2015’s Pan), there is little to recommend this version of Neverland.
The sparse landscapes look like Scottish islands that feature pirates, and even the more inventive second half, with sword-fighting on a floating upside-down ship, can’t save this mediocre film. The dialogue doesn’t have enough force to hit home its bizarre friendship backstory between James Hook and Peter Pan, nor does it distinguish its characters enough beyond what we already know about our beloved Lost Boys and Darlings. The magic is almost entirely lost compared to the intricate world-building of Hook (1991), which also had the unforgettable charm of Dane Basco’s Rufio and the fun twist of Robin Williams as a grown-up Peter Pan. Needless to say, Peter Pan & Wnedy does not offer much to recommend itself, especially when compared to the more magical or subversive versions of yesteryear.
The main aspect to recommend Peter and Wendy is, of course, the diverse casting, with Yara Shahidi doing her most as a glittering misunderstood Tinkerbell and Alyssa Wapanatahk as a stunning Tiger Lily, and the admirable leading performance from Alexander Molony. But primarily because the boards of live-action have been so well-trodden since the 1953 animated film, there is otherwise little point in making this film. I am once again begging Disney to get some fresh ideas.
Peter Pan & Wendy is available to stream on Disney+
by Fatima Sheriff
Fatima (she/her) is a biomedical sciences graduate and aspiring science communicator. Literary adaptations with beautiful soundtracks call to her, but she enjoys anything with an original concept, witty writing, diverse casting or even the briefest appearance of Dan Stevens. Her favourite films do fluctuate, but her love for Paddington 2 is perennial. She can be found on Letterboxd @sherifff and on Twitter here.
Categories: Anything and Everything, Films, Reviews
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