How many times can one revive J.M. Barrie’s ‘Peter Pan’ story repeatedly? It has been adapted into features and animations since nearly a century ago, covering Herbert Brenon’s 1924 silent-film version to the beloved 1953 Walt Disney animated classic. We already had Steven Spielberg’s ‘Hook’ featuring an adult Peter Pan played by Robin Williams in 1991, a faithful adaptation in the form of P.J. Hogan’s expensive flop of 2003’s ‘Peter Pan’ and even Joe Wright’s radical 2015 prequel of ‘Pan,’ just to name a few.
And just like the titular boy who refused to grow up, the oft-told story continues to sprout with the long-gestating ‘Peter Pan & Wendy’ being the latest one out of the gate Neverland. The live-action movie has been in development since 2016, but it suffered from numerous setbacks due to script revisions and COVID-19 pandemic-related production delays.
With ‘Peter Pan & Wendy’ finally landing on the Disney+ platform, I was hoping co-writer and director David Lowery could turn this into something worthwhile. Besides, having seen some of his past works like ‘Pete’s Dragon’ and ‘A Ghost Story,’ he has a knack for making achingly beautiful and poetic movies. Too bad ‘Peter Pan & Wendy’ feels like it’s a hack job, as if AI algorithms have butchered and reworked David Lowery’s latest movie.
But before that, let’s get to the story first: ‘Peter Pan & Wendy’ follows Wendy (Ever Anderson), who hates the fact that she’s reaching adulthood and not to mention she’s about to leave her childhood home to head to boarding school. So, she makes the most of the night to have great fun with her little brothers, John (Joshua Pickering) and Michael (Jacobi Jupe), playing swordfight.
When Peter Pan (Alexander Molony) and the little fairy Tinker Bell (Yara Shahidi) show up through the window that same night, they fly her and her brothers to Neverland. Once there, they find themselves fighting against Peter’s arch-enemy, Captain Hook (Jude Law), and his pirates and also meet Peter’s warrior-princess friend, Tiger Lily (Alyssa Wapanatahk), and The Lost Boys.
Lowery, who co-wrote the screenplay alongside Toby Halbrooks, does the impossible that I couldn’t believe my eyes upon streaming ‘Peter Pan & Wendy.’ It’s unexpectedly drab, shallow, and yes, b-o-r-i-n-g. The story may cover the familiar storytelling beats but lacks both dramatic and emotional urgency, making the 106-minute runtime feel like a chore. Recurring themes of growing up may have been included, but it’s all perfunctorily told that doesn’t delve deeper beyond its surface-level storytelling.
For a fantastical movie like ‘Peter Pan & Wendy,’ the movie feels like it was being sucked out of its pixel-dust magic and turning everything into a visually murky and lifeless feature. Never once it makes me feel like I’m transported to Neverland, as the otherwise whimsical setting is nothing more than a typical tourist attraction filled with lush greenery and wide open sea. The CGI is as shoddy as it gets, which can be seen in the Tinker Bell appearance and even a scene of Captain Hook floating on the ocean. Action sequences are disappointingly limp and lacking the necessary sense of exhilarating or energetic flair, complete with lazily-choreographed swordfights.
The cast is a mixed bag, and the biggest crime of all is the miscasting of Alexander Molony as Peter Pan. He’s more of a cipher who merely existed to (sluggishly) move the story forward rather than a flesh-and-blood character that we can root for his journey. It also doesn’t help that he lacks the rebellious charm and personality to make his Peter Pan character work in his favor.
Ever Anderson fares better as the more proactive Wendy, while Jude Law’s scenery-chewing supporting turn sees the actor having a field day playing Captain Hook. His character is given a melancholy backstory, which fairly helps to establish his main antagonist role as more than just a vengeful pirate leader who will stop at nothing to kill Peter Pan. If that’s not enough, the story includes his past connection with Peter Pan, leading to their eternally bitter rivalry. Lowery could have explored this angle to justify the conflict between Peter Pan and Captain Hook, giving the movie an added texture, but it ends up as if it was shoehorned at the last minute.
As for the rest of the supporting cast, Yara Shahidi actually made quite an impression playing the near-silent role of the first-ever Black Tinker Bell, despite the backlash of race-swapping the famous iconic fairy reserved for someone that is light-skinned in her appearance. The casting of Alyssa Wapanatahk as Tiger Lily is a right move that does justice for the representation of a Native American character.
It’s a pity that ‘Peter Pan & Wendy’ botches its opportunity to make this age-old story fresh and relevant again for today’s era. Sure, Lowery updated the story with a diverse cast, but it wasn’t enough to overcome how unimaginative this movie turned out to be.
‘Peter Pan & Wendy’ is currently streaming on Disney+.