Peter Pan & Wendy
- Director: David Lowery
- Writers: David Lowery and Toby Halbrooks
- Starring: Jude Law, Ever Anderson, Alexander Molony, Yara Shahidi, Joshua Pickering, Jim Gaffigan
Disney’s live-action remakes of their classic films have largely been an exercise in futility. From the forgettably bland (Beauty and the Beast, The Lion King) to the simply forgettable (Mulan, Aladdin) to the creatively bankrupt (Pinocchio), the projects mostly fail to justify their own existence. They almost exclusively copy the plot of the original films beat for beat, with maybe an extra song thrown in, and utilize shoddy visual effects for the more fantastical elements. So why remake Peter Pan, when countless iterations already exist? Perhaps it was always meant to happen – I imagine that somewhere in the Disney offices lies a deck of cards, and Peter Pan’s was the next one drawn – but there’s an outside chance it’s because director and co-writer David Lowery had something unique to bring to the material.
Lowery, simultaneously an arthouse and Disney favorite with films like A Ghost Story and The Green Knight and Pete’s Dragon, is indeed an intriguing choice for Peter Pan & Wendy. His version doesn’t exactly subvert expectations when it comes to the familiar story of the boy who didn’t want to grow up, but there’s a slickness to the proceedings that’s been missing in a large number of Disney’s recent projects. Though some of that will likely be lost when the images are restricted to the small screen. I’ve never professed to be a financial expert but for the life of me I can’t understand why Peter Pan & Wendy was relegated to Disney+ and never given a chance at a theatrical release. As of this review’s writing, the character posters for The Little Mermaid were released, sending the internet into a frenzy, as is often the case with most of Disney’s remakes.
This being the umpteenth version of the Peter Pan story, you don’t need me to rehash the plot, and Lowery and co-screenwriter Toby Halbrooks don’t make any radical changes (though I’m far from a Disney aficionado, so I can’t attest to the miniscule bits). Peter is played by Alexander Molony, and Wendy is played by Ever Anderson. Both perform amicably, though Anderson gets the weightier material and leaves a longer lasting impression. Jude Law is undoubtedly having the most fun as Captain Hook, though one wishes he were allowed to lean more into the silliness of the character from time to time.
Naturally, the visual effects in Peter Pan & Wendy aren’t Oscar worthy – hey, Disney’s only one of the richest companies in the world, give them a break! – but they’re at least not atrocious. If you watch the film on your phone, as I regrettably did, the imperfections are less noticeable, though Tinkerbell (Yara Shahidi) sticks out whenever she’s front and center. Lowery has always had a knack for visual storytelling, and the finale aboard Hook’s ship is inventive and fun. The film at least scores major points for filming on real locations, mostly throughout the Canadian countryside, rather than a sound stage, which makes a huge difference.
It’s understandable why Peter Pan has endured for so long; the story speaks to a universal feeling of losing the innocence and fun of childhood. Peter Pan & Wendy utilizes this smartly, and there’s an interesting revelation on the nature of the rivalry between Peter and Hook. The film may easily belong at or near the top of Disney’s live-action remakes, though the bar is so low that this could be construed as a backhanded compliment. Lowery’s inclusion is enough to make Peter Pan & Wendy a winner, so long as you go into it expecting the worst. And given the majority of Disney’s output, why wouldn’t you?
Peter Pan & Wendy is available to stream on Disney+ now.
- It’s unclear if Disney will go the Emmy “Best TV Movie” route or play its chances with the Oscars, but its best shot is a Best Visual Effects nomination. I would not be shocked to see it on the short list, but a nomination is unlikely.