By Lynn Venhaus
Another disappointment among Disney’s increasingly lackluster live action reboots of their classic animated films, “Peter Pan and Wendy” lacks imagination in its re-imagining.
Based on J.M. Barrie’s 1904 play/novels and Disney’s 1953 animated movie, this latest version is about Wendy Darling (Ever Anderson) meeting Peter Pan (Alexander Molony), a mischievous boy who refuses to grow up. Along with her brothers John and Michael (Joshua Pickering, Jacobi Jupe), she travels to Neverland with Peter and a tiny fairy, Tinker Bell (Yara Shahidi). There, she encounters an evil pirate, Captain Hook (Jude Law) and other dangers.
Those looking for a nostalgic experience, recalling favorite versions, may wonder what’s the point of a grittier straight-to-streaming film after watching the live theatrical versions on TV, on stage, on ice, in cartoons, and countless movies from a silent era one to a 2003 Australian remake, with “Hook” sequel (1991), “Pan” (2015), “Wendy” (2020), and even the comedic spin in “Chip ‘n Dale: Rescue Rangers” (with Will Arnett as “Sweet Pete”) in the canon.
With so many different takes on “Peter Pan” already, did we need another revision? I am not sure who this film is really for, who is the targeted demographic?
Still set in Edwardian England, director David Lowery, who co-wrote the screenplay with Toby Halbrooks, has refreshed the cast with diverse characters, including girls added to the “Lost Boys” and an empowered Wendy, a welcome contemporary upgrade. They have omitted troubling language and those awful Native American stereotypes from the Disney animated film.
However, the story is a puzzling mix of plot origins, new unnecessary backstories and deleting character traits and motivations. For instance, Tink is no longer jealous of Wendy, Captain Hook has something to do with Peter’s past, and Mr. Darling is not the same actor playing the captain either.
Disney regular Alan Tudyk is the stuffy dad while Jude Law is the unpleasant ill-tempered Captain, devoid of swagger, less campy rogue. He comes across as a sociopath who preys on children, not as a buffoon. It’s a curious portrait.
Lowery, known for his distinct character studies on human frailties (including “A Ghost Story,” “The Green Knight” and Robert Redford’s last film “The Old Man and the Gun”), remade “Pete’s Dragon” into a live action version in 2016, but otherwise would not be a first choice to insert whimsy into a fantasy adventure.
Despite the spectacular visual effect of turning Captain Hook’s pirate ship around in mid-air, using Tinkerbell’s pixie dust, the movie is woefully short on magic. The massive crocodile’s CGI terror reign is dialed to 11 and may scare young viewers.
The use of the Faroe Islands as Neverland is interesting, and there’s plenty of craggy rocks to explore, with Tiger Lily galloping on her horse for more natural interactions.
It starts promisingly, for Wendy doesn’t want to go to boarding school and is having fun with swordplay with her two younger brothers, and they are swept away far from the comforts of home.
But the movie fumbles in trying to keep that momentum going, bogged down in realistic, anxiety-producing predicaments. Even comedian Jim Gaffigan as Smee can’t liven the proceedings.
Surprisingly, Peter Pan himself is a far less appealing character than usual, with not so much energetic bravado, but sulkier. (And really, is arrested development all that attractive?) Alexander Molony is the leader of the Lost Boys, his inexperience as an actor evident.
Wendy is far spunkier. As played by Ever Anderson, the mini-me daughter of actress Milla Jovovich, she is assertive and plucky, and not going to let the boys have all the fun.
The females fare better than the guys, for Yara Shahidi is a sparkling fairy as make-things-happen Tinkerbell, and Alyssa Wapanatâhk is a feisty Tiger Lily.
Inevitably anchored to the origin story, “Peter Pan and Wendy” doesn’t break from the mold in a satisfying way, and fails to maintain interest through its 1 hour, 46 minutes run time.
“Peter Pan and Wendy” is a 2023 fantasy-adventure directed by David Lowery and starring: Jude Law, Alexander Molony, Ever Anderson, Yara Shahidi and Jim Gaffigan. It is rated PG for violence, peril, and thematic elements and the runtime is 1 hour, 46 minutes. It began streaming on Disney Plus on April 28. Lynn’s Grade: C-
Lynn Venhaus has had a continuous byline in St. Louis metro region publications since 1978. She is a Rotten Tomatoes-approved film critic, currently reviews films for Webster-Kirkwood Times and KTRS Radio, covers entertainment for PopLifeSTL.com and co-hosts podcast PopLifeSTL.com…Presents, and writes features and news for Belleville News-Democrat and contributes to other publications. She is a member of CCA, AWFJ and St. Louis Film Critics Association. She is a founding member of the St. Louis Theater Circle.