May 3, 2023

“Peter Pan & Wendy” Fails to Recapture the Magic (Review)

Most mornings in the shower, since I hate being alone with my own thoughts for too long, I listen to a podcast. One podcast I listen to frequently is a Glee rewatch show, And That’s What You REALLY Missed, and for a few weeks, the same ad played during every episode, advertising for Disney+’s newest live action remake, Peter Pan & Wendy. “If you think you know the story, think again,” the ad claimed. It called the movie an “all new adventure.” My hopes were high. My interest in poorly-lit live action remakes of movies that were always intended to be animated has never been high, especially in the last few years.

Still, the
Glee podcast had given me hope. Would this take the Cruella route of taking beloved characters and completely reimagining the story surrounding them? I thought perhaps. I was, sadly, disappointed. Instead of a creative new take on Neverland, I got yet another poorly-lit live action remake of a movie that was always intended to be animated.

There are a few new and interesting elements that the 1953 original lacked, though most don’t make any substantive changes. The most notable addition is that Captain Hook is given more backstory, but the character’s depth comes entirely from Jude Law’s performance rather than the additional exposition.

Wendy’s characterization is, in my opinion, the most successful deviation from the original. She has much more agency in this version of the story, scheming against the pirates, actively participating in combat, and even developing a friendship with Tinker Bell. Ever Anderson (seen recently in Marvel’s Black Widow) brings a charisma and charm to the character that makes her incredibly likable and easy to root for. The only problem with Anderson’s performance was how much it overshadowed the other child actors around her. 

I took no issue with any of the Lost Boys, and I did enjoy the diversity amongst the children cast, but they were given nothing to do and essentially no screen time. If they had been cut entirely the movie would not have changed at all. Similarly, John and Michael Darling (Joshua Pickering and Jacobi Jupe) were cute, but they also added nothing of substance to the film, and almost disappeared next to Anderson’s impactful performance as Wendy.

The most underwhelming aspect in the film was, disappointingly, Peter Pan himself (Alexander Molony, in his film debut). The film leans more heavily into Wendy’s side of the story and Captain Hook’s backstory, which I think is a good choice for a modern remake, but in the process all of Peter’s negative qualities are highlighted far more than in Disney’s original, and his heroics are less impressive when Wendy is shown to be extremely capable without his help. Peter Pan is supposed to be young and vibrant and charismatic and immature and enchanting. Alexander Molony nails the “young” part, and does a decent job of portraying the immaturity, but he lacks the charm at the heart of the animated version of the character; especially since many of his scenes are paired with Ever Anderson or Jude Law, who are easily giving the best performances, he doesn’t quite have the star quality necessary to tackle a character as iconic as Peter Pan. 

I did not hate Peter Pan & Wendy. In fact, I liked some of the tweaks made to the original story. But even with those changes, it really is just a less enjoyable remake of the animated version. The flying does not feel magical, and it does not sweep you away into the world of Neverland like in the animated classic. Peter is not a strong enough character to carry the film (though Wendy definitely is, and Anderson certainly tries her best). The beautiful color palette of the animated classic is washed-out and dull when translated to live-action. Neverland does not feel like a child’s escapist fantasy, it just feels like a forest and a beach. Overall, Peter Pan & Wendy is not a bad time, but much like the other Disney live-action remakes, it completely lacks the magic of the original.

Peter Pan & Wendy is streaming on Disney+.

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