Disney and its related Disney+ streaming service have been endlessly mining their catalog of beloved animated properties for remakes and reboots. What they don't seem to accept is that these will always pale in comparison to the classic versions. Trying to match or outdo them is futile. The Lion King, Maleficent, Robert Zemeckis's Pinocchio - all terrible films that stupidly think modern CGI and elaborate set pieces will improve upon the originals. The latest Disney+ dud is Peter Pan & Wendy, a picture that spends so much time trying to be digitally magical that it forgets to be good.
Wendy Darling (Ever Anderson) is about to leave for boarding school. She tells her mother (Molly Parker) that she's not ready for this step. Staying home and being a kid for a while longer sounds more fun. During the night, Wendy and siblings John (Joshua Pickering) and Michael (Jacobi Jupe) are visited by eternal child Peter Pan (Alexander Molony). He offers to whisk the siblings away to Neverland, where none of them will have to worry about growing up. There, they meet the Lost Boys (some of whom are now Lost Girls) and encounter Peter's sworn enemy, Captain Hook (Jude Law) and his right-hand man, Smee (Jim Gaffigan).
Peter Pan & Wendy does just about everything you wouldn’t want an adaptation of J.M. Barrie’s story to do. It emphasizes hyperactive action sequences over character and thematic development. It relies on flashy visual effects and showy camera movements that distract from the story. Instead of inspiring a sense of wonder, it’s gloomy and borderline depressing, with a dark color scheme and a heavy tone.
Worst of all, it tries to humanize Hook. On the list of terrible ideas, the trend of trying to “explain” classic villains is near the top. The movie devises a backstory for the character designed to make us feel empathy for him. We should not want to sympathize with Hook, we should want to do what we’ve always done – love to hate him. That’s the mark of a fantastic villain, not whether we can be made to feel bad for him.
A few of the performances are the main bright spots. Anderson is nicely spunky as Wendy, Law has fun tearing it up as Hook, and Yara Shahidi expresses a lot of emotion as Tinker Bell despite having virtually no dialogue. Oddly, Peter is one of the least compelling figures here. Molony has the energy, yet the character is underwritten, which renders him shockingly bland.
Peter Pan & Wendy was directed by David Lowery, who previously helmed the Pete’s Dragon remake. Presumably, he tackles these Disney jobs so he can turn around and make more ambitious independent projects like A Ghost Story and The Green Knight. I can’t begrudge him for playing the Hollywood game. I can, however, blame Disney for cranking out inferior versions of their classics. Imagine if they’d pumped the money spent on this movie into making something new we could all fall in love with, as opposed to something no one will remember six months from now.
out of four
Peter Pan & Wendy is rated PG for violence, peril, and thematic elements. The running time is 1 hour and 46 minutes.