Director David Lowery puts an interesting new spin on the Peter Pan tale – here’s our review of Peter Pan & Wendy…
All of David Lowery’s fantasy films, be they for a grown-up or family audience, have presented magic and wonder in a way that still feels very grounded in reality. He did it with Pete’s Dragon and with The Green Knight, and now does so once again for Disney’s Peter Pan & Wendy. His Neverland is still the wondrous place imagined in bedtime stories, but it stands out for feeling so tangible and real.
The first moments we spend in Lowery’s Neverland make it clear what we can expect from his film – this is a refreshing, exciting reimagining of the classic story, not a simple remake.
Admittedly, it takes a little while to get there. In the first 20 minutes we’re introduced to the Darling household – who reside in an old London townhouse that’s near-identical to the one in the 1953 animated film. John (Joshua Pickering) and Michael (Jacobi Jupe) play at being pirates with toy swords, while Wendy (Ever Anderson) is chastised by her parents for wanting to play children’s games when she’s nearing her teenage years – and is off to boarding school the following morning.
It’s a set-up that largely retreads what we’ve seen before, but switches vibrant animation for a rather dreary colour palette. Thankfully, it doesn’t remain that way for long, as Peter Pan (Alexander Moloney, making his feature debut) and the fairy Tinkerbell (an underused Yara Shahidi) appear to whisk the Darlings away to Neverland, where Wendy never needs to face the dull prospect of growing up and Pan and the ever-youthful Lost Boys – a wonderfully diverse mix of charismatic young characters – spend their days living in the wild and fighting Jude Law’s Captain Hook.
What makes this Neverland so beautiful is the way the reliance on real locations to make it seem wild and magical – from beaches to dense forests and rocky cliff-tops. So many fantasy films rely on special effects to create magic, but Peter Pan & Wendy sees the magic that’s already there. On the occasion that a little bit of pixie dust is needed to help things along, the effects are applied sparingly and unobtrusively, to preserve the realism that the film’s grounded in.
The realistic way forward means that we don’t get a lot of fairies, or mermaids, and perhaps Lowery’s approach won’t appeal to younger children seeking vibrant colours and magical creatures, but it’s undoubtedly an approach to Neverland that feels fresh, adventurous and ultimately believable – despite the upside-down rainbows that hang in the skies.
But this adventure in Neverland wouldn’t be nearly as exciting without Jude Law’s Captain Hook and the fights the Lost Boys have against his pirates. Law is clearly having an excellent time playing the classic villain. In terms of demeanor he’s written much the same as in the animated film, and Law performs with a generous dose of dramatic flair. His scenes also allow Daniel Hart’s excellent score to come to the fore, as his antics are accompanied by some fun orchestral flourishes.
Peter Pan & Wendy's fight scenes are also incredibly energetic, thanks in part to the liveliness of Moloney as Pan. He appears as a younger version of the character than what we’ve seen before, and he brings the exuberance of a young kid to the role. He’s particularly good at coming up with creative insults, but also has a fair bit of skill with a sword. An early swashbuckling scene at Skull Rock gives him a chance to really shine.
What’s interesting, too, is the way that the movie expands on Hook’s story. He’s not a pantomime villain in this who hates children for the fun of it. He’s a well-rounded (if emotionally stunted) character who can actually be fairly sympathetic at times. It’s also smartly pointed out that Hook and Pan have a surprising amount in common, not least their need to always be fighting each other.
Unfortunately, with Law chewing the scenery it’s hard for the majority of the young actors to really stand out. In the scenes without Law you can very much feel his absence.
Nonetheless, Lowery’s screenplay (written with Toby Halbrooks) chooses exactly the right parts of the story to expand on, and which to do away with, to give the film higher emotional stakes and more developed characters. What it results in is a really interesting, imaginative retelling that sets itself apart from other remakes in its willingness to expand on the source material – even if it doesn’t bring quite as much magic to the table.
Peter Pan & Wendy is out now on Disney+.
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