Peter Pan & Wendy joins the ranks of another live-action remake from Disney that debuted on Disney+. The former was Robert Zemeckis‘ Pinocchio remake from last year and 2019’s Lady and the Tramp. Yet, there’s something special this time with visionary director David Lowery at the helm after his work on The Green Knight creates a higher expectation of bringing Neverland to life in a whole new way. Does it live up to the original and can it change the experience some have had with recent live-action releases?
There’s an interesting dynamic at play with how Peter Pan & Wendy adapts the original Disney film from 1953. A lot of familiar elements are here and most of the opening pretty much just echoes the animated classic. In some ways, the only thing it does is further highlight the bond between Wendy Darling (Ever Anderson) and her mother (Molly Parker) that becomes the center of her story in the original. Also, it’s funny seeing Alan Tudyk in another Disney film in another minor side role as George Darling.
Her life is changed the moment Peter Pan (Alexander Molony) enters the picture and they are cast off into an adventure. It all feels so familiar and even drags on a tad bit, but that all suddenly changes the moment we travel to Neverland. The visuals kick off in such a beautiful manner that feels like something out of a surreal experience than just a bunch of kids using fairy dust in a long-forgotten realm. The sound design and visuals (with a cute little reference to the animated Peter with an iconic stance from the actor) just hit this tone that makes it feel like everything will be different from this point on.
On one side, there is a lot more in this story compared to others. Tiger Lily (Alyssa Wapanatahk) has a better role in the story and gets her time to shine early on and is among the more notable side characters. We still follow similar plot points from the original but unlike other live-action remakes the film doesn’t really spend too much time on things that aren’t truly necessary. Hook’s introduction is handled great and I was surprised to see his men sing classic songs as a sea chanty.
Speaking of, the biggest change this time around is in the way they handle Hook as well as his rivalry with Peter Pan. Jude Law gives quite a subdued performance for a character that was showcased as bumbling in the original animated series. There’s a beautiful balance at play highlighting his role in the story that has been changed to add more depth to his character and his ongoing battle with a child that refuses to grow up. This addition might be the second-best thing the film does besides casting Jim Gaffigan as an amazing Mr. Smee.
What stands out in this film is truly its beauty. The sets feel like they tell a story and the updated looks of the Lost Boys’ home or even just the pirate ship lend to this world feeling way more fleshed out than ever before. You can also see him returning to the magic that made his other live-action remake, Pete’s Dragon from 2016, stand out even from the original. Even as elements remain the same, it feels just that slightly bit more mature when it needs to be and childish when it wants to have fun.
The film embraces its own whimsy with the way it handles even the simplest scenes. There’s a fun irony of the most childish performances coming from the pirates that act a bit more unhinged unlike the children, who seemingly take things quite a bit more seriously. My only gripe would be Alexander Molony is a bit wooden in his performance. While you do get that arrogance you’d expect from Peter Pan, his character’s personal growth doesn’t truly feel reflected in his performance. He’s a great choice for the role but it just doesn’t quite come together here.
The performances overall are great; the pirates are especially some of the bits I looked forward to seeing the most. John and Michael Darling (Joshua Pickering and Jacobi Jupe) have some fun moments but are mostly sidelined with the story taking a stronger focus on Wendy’s plot that gets intertwined a bit more into that of Hook’s and Peter Pan’s rather than her just taking don’t he role the original set upon her. Ironically, in a way, the story feels like it has grown up quite a bit since we last saw it in 1953, but it didn’t forget that childish charm that made it so special.
At first, I was worried that this film would only retread familiar ground from the original but once we enter Neverland, it makes a story of my childhood feel new and fresh. There’s a lot more depth this time around that makes it stand out from others that simply feel like they are replicating the “feel” of the original and missed the heart of why we fell in love with these stories. The struggle of wanting to stay a child forever and growing up is a big conflict many of us go through even as we get lost in our work life. Sometimes we don’t truly leave that childishness behind and are a bit blind to the things that make us smile. You’ll cry, you’ll laugh and you’ll be astonished by some of the beautiful shots at play in Peter Pan and Wendy.