Another Disney live-action adaptation is hitting our streaming services, namely that of Peter Pan and Wendy. But does this new film have enough pixie dust needed to carry it through? Peter Pan and Wendy stars Alexander Molony, Ever Gabo Anderson, Yara Shahidi, Jude Law, Alyssa Wapanatahk, Joshua Pickering, and Jacobi Jupe. David Lowery is the director, and co-writer with Toby Halbrooks, basing it on the original 1953 animated adaptation of the original novel by J.M. Barrie.
When we start Peter Pan and Wendy, we find the Darling parents (Molly Parker and Alan Tudyk) about to send their eldest daughter Wendy (Ever Gabo Anderson) off to boarding school (what a way to up the stakes!). Wendy, much like in the original film, only wants time to stay still, and continue to play make believe games with her younger brothers John (Joshua Pickering) and Michael (Jacobi Jupe). But Wendy gets exactly what she asked for and more, when the Peter Pan (Alexander Molony) and Tinker Bell (Yara Shahidi) of her mother’s stories comes crashing in the Darling household in the middle of the night, whisking them immediately off to Neverland.
Wonderful allies await them like the gender-inclusive Lost Boys, and Tiger Lily (Alyssa Wapanatahk) await them, but also dastardly and villainous pirates led by the nefarious Captain Hook (Jude Law). However, is there more to the classic story about Peter Pan and Captain Hook than we’ve been told before? David Lowery’s vision says yes, there is more, and attempts to add more nuanced complexity to this classic tale. But does this work in the full scope of the narrative that Lowery and his co-writers set-up? Unfortunately, the results are mixed at best.
Peter Pan and Wendy is an attempt to update its original problematic source material, while giving some of its characters more depth. Occasionally this works, especially with Ever Gabo Anderson and Alyssa Wapanatahk as Wendy and Tiger Lily. Lowery and Halbrooks script gives the Native American character far more agency than she ever did in previous adaptations, making her a strong ally to Peter (Molony), Wendy, and their friends. Wapanatahk is a star in the making who stands out in her first major film role with determination, strength, and grace.
Likewise, Wendy, as played by Anderson, is a step up from her original incarnation. The film gives us more depth into her motivations and insecurities as her parents implore her to “grow up”. Anderson has great range in the role, as she feistily butts heads with Peter, her family, and the Lost Boys. But she also shows them great compassion. Her interactions with Tinkerbell (Shahidi) are great as well. Overall, it’s the girls who steal the show here.
Unfortunately, not much can be said for the rest of the cast as Lowery and Halbrooks’ script doesn’t do them many favors. While Moloney does his best as Peter, the deeper conflicts the script attempts to give him are half-baked at best. This is particularly true in the conflict with Law’s Captain Hook. Law has his moments as the classic Disney villain where he chews up the scenery, but the material flounders him into a half-hearted sympathetic antagonist. He doesn’t get a real resolution in the narrative. It’s frustrating that Lowery and Halbrooks had some interesting ideas of what they wanted to do with the character but didn’t know how to follow through on them to make meaningful commentary on the conflict between him and Peter. Instead, it comes up shallow and rather forgettable.
And unfortunately, Neverland is rather shallow as well. Lowery, while showing some beautiful landscape shots, frustratingly keeps the scope of the mythical runaway land limited. We get one glimpse of the mermaids as the kids are flying, and that’s it from them. The main plot is solely focused on the Lost Boys and the Pirates, and while there are some attempts at fun personalities from these various characters, they also end up being shallow with little to no laughs or intrigue. In many ways, Peter Pan and Wendy feels like a checklist of a movie, devoid of the heart it pretends to have. Again, while certain characters like Wendy and Tiger Lily are afforded more depth, particularly because of the strength of their performers, the rest of the film doesn’t fare so well.
A beautiful spectacle might have buttressed the film to higher quality. But alas, Lowery applies terrible lighting throughout the movie that sinks it further. So many scenes are so dark that you can barely tell what’s happening on screen. While there are a few scenes of good lighting in the landscape of Neverland, almost everything else looks drab and dry. Lowery’s application of tactless realism even applies to the fairy Tinker Bell, where he said he couldn’t possibly light her up because, apparently, audiences would question her light source.
There is nothing to explain. Tinker Bell is a magical being, and that explanation should easily suffice. And unfortunately, in what should be a great showcase for Black Iranian-American actress Yara Shahidi, Lowery choosing not to give her adequate lighting on her skin meshes her into the background of his drab and dry Neverland. It’s 2023, and Black and brown actors on screen deserve so much better.
Peter Pan and Wendy has its moments, but a frustrating lack of imagination by Lowery holds it back from reaching the heights that Neverland deserves. Instead, it’s a dry reimagining that has apparent poignant yet half-baked and ultimately forgettable moments. If you watch it for anything, watch it for Wendy and Tiger Lily. But alas, even they cannot save this mess of a movie, particularly as they must share their screen time with many others. If it had better lighting, it would at least be pleasant to look at. Still, Lowery, unfortunately, didn’t put the effort in for that, so here we are with yet another forgettable Disney live-action adaptation.
Peter Pan and Wendy is streaming exclusively on Disney+.
Peter Pan and Wendy has its moments, but a frustrating lack of imagination by Lowery holds it back from reaching the heights that Neverland deserves. Instead, it’s a drab and dry reimagining that has apparent poignant moments that are half-baked and ultimately forgettable.