Disney has been in the habit of recreating their beloved animated movies into live-action ones, and this time it’s Peter Pan & Wendy helmed by director David Lowery. You might think the Disney animated classic from 1953 was simply called Peter Pan, and you’d be correct, but this is the new take on the story. That separates this one from Beauty and the Beast, The Jungle Book, and The Lion King. There seems to be a reason for this live-action version to exist. Lowery and co-writer Toby Halbrooks have ideas to make this story their own, and not just rehash it from the cartoon.
The movie will open familiar enough with maybe a few details altered, but Wendy (Ever Anderson) and her brothers, John (Joshua Blue Pickering) and Michael (Jacobi Jupe), are getting ready for bed. Before they can drift off to slumberland, Tinkerbell (Yara Shahidi) enters their room, followed shortly after by Peter Pan (Alexander Molony). Wendy helps Peter reattach his shadow, and then the whole crew flies off to Neverland. There they will face Captain Hook (Jude Law) and his fierce pirates.
There are many details that I have either forgotten over the years or that Lowery and Halbrooks have added to make the story feel renewed. For example, in that opening sequence, we learn that Wendy is about to be shipped to boarding school. The catalyst that leads to her saying she doesn’t want to grow up is a slightly cruel exchange with her mother (Molly Parker) and father (Alan Tudyk). In some cases, such an encounter may make the audience dislike Wendy or feel like she is a spoiled teenager. However, Anderson’s performance is quite good, and she manages to make Wendy quite empathetic throughout the film.
Molony is given the hardest task of being the iconic Pan. The weight of the film mostly rests on his shoulders, and he can support it. The sequence of him chasing his shadow while also explaining to the Darlings why he is there works. He can quickly establish the tone of the film, and it goes a long way. His connection with Tinkerbell is different from what I remember in the cartoon. I may be basing my memory of Tinkerbell being jealous in other renditions of the story, but she doesn’t seem hostile towards Wendy at all in this movie. It is a change that works well for the story overall, especially because the dynamic between her and Wendy really pays off a few times throughout the film.
The best two pieces of casting are Jude Law as Hook and Jim Gaffigan as Mr. Smee. In fact, Gaffigan is absolutely perfect casting for the loyal pirate first mate of Captain Hook. There has always been a kindness to that particular pirate, and a Gaffigan brings that naturally. Law was a bit more of a risk in such a villainous role, but he nails it. He bursts out of his cabin in the character’s introduction and never misses a beat.
One thing that Lowery brings to his movies is the great production design. From the start of the film, the look of the house and the tall spiral staircase that we are shown via a long take establishes such a gorgeous aesthetic. The costumes and the vintage touch to the color palette of the film add to the vibe the movie is going for. This gets used to accentuate the fun action set pieces that happen in Neverland. There is a moment with Hooks ship that sells the fun action that Lowery brings to this tale and was a clear highlight of the movie.
It is likely that all the live-action adaptations that Disney will continue to make won’t all feel necessary. In fact, Peter Pan & Wendy doesn’t either, but it does feel worth our time. Lowery takes the time to develop the characters and their relationships and then to shape meaning out of all of it. In other words, he didn’t just make a movie to make a movie. He had something to say.
Peter Pan & Wendy will be on Disney+ starting April 28.
Rating: Not Quite Golden, Ponyboy.