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MOVIES: Peter Pan & Wendy - Review

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One of the most underrated films to come out of the 2020s so far has been Benh Zeitlin’s Wendy, a magical realist interpretation of Peter Pan told in a way that you’ve never quite seen it told before. In a world where movies like Super Mario Bros. are released as ugly, bland children’s fair, Peter Pan & Wendy then; the latest film by David Lowery, can attest to being something of a rare miracle: like Zeitlin’s work, it’s anything but. Straight to Disney+ live-action reimagining’s haven’t had the best of track records but Lowery is one of the best directors in the game, should we have expected anything less? The answer is no – after all, Lowery understands the need to move away from a reimagining and into a retelling: it’s Wendy’s story first and foremost, Peter’s second.

The tale of a girl on the cusp of adulthood torn between childhood and growing up is the apex narrative for Peter Pan & Wendy and Lowery tackles the themes of the original 1911 novel with the care that you’d expect from someone who gave us The Green Knight and A Ghost Story. It’s telling that the film is a passion project from the moment you see Neverland, if not before, the sense of daring fun that the film thrusts upon you lets you take these characters on their great adventure in a way that makes you want to journey with them: yet at the same time there’s a sense of sobriety here, Wendy isn’t entranced by Peter in quite the same way that she has been in past adaptations, not falling for his spell – and the decision to lean into Peter’s cockiness and the fact that he’s so wrapped up in things “always” staying the same works wonders – he refuses to answer Wendy when she calls him out on what happened to Captain Hook, and he refuses to answer her about how things started on the path to where they were. It’s almost a deconstruction and a rebuilding of the legend – tearing Peter and the mythology down around him.

This is enforced by the muted colours, looking appropriately awful when stripped out of context but add to a sense of gravitas. There’s depth here: iconic images such as Peter chasing his own shadow and Hook using that to his own advantage are handled with depth, beautifully captured, like with Zeitlin, Bojan Bazelli uses that of Terence Malick as an inspiration for an earthy dreamlike overture. It creates Neverland as a believable world where time stands still; second star to the right, and straight on till morning.

The cast is a mixed bag. Jude Law is having tons of fun as Hook, playing up the yo-ho me hearties of it all and the pirate songs are where the movie is at its most fun – echoing the sea shanties in Assassin’s Creed: Black Flag. Opposite him Alexander Molony doesn’t quite land the cockiness of Peter in quite the same way that the script wants him to; he doesn’t quite rival the spiritedness that we’ve had in the past. It’s a smaller muted eternal battle between the two than the louder, scenery-chewing moments that we have in the past, Law’s Hook is wrapped up with guilt about his actions and we get to see some of his internal conflict rear its head – the cartoon villain is a farce at times. It’s an interesting and important distinction for Lowery to tackle, but whether kids will switch off is another matter.

The adults on the other hand, will be most likely thankful that this isn’t another Nirvana singalong. I like how Peter Pan & Wendy updates the Tiger Lily narrative to turn her into an action superhero, and Alyssa Wapantahk does a commendable job to the point where you wouldn’t say no to a spinoff. Yara Shahidi’s Tinkerbell gets little to do, but is enough of a presence to make the magic felt. Maybe she’d have more to do if Peter was the focus, but there’s a reason why it’s called Peter Pan & Wendy, and not just Peter Pan. If the 2020 film wasn’t already called Wendy, I’d bet that would be the title for this film too.

The filmmaking is spectacular; the lighting and the colour grading may let this film down but that is a problem not unique to this movie – rather the whole of Disney’s output. I loved the transitions in here; echoing Lucas’ Star Wars scene changes with the gravitas of a director in complete control. It shows his willingness as a director to switch back and forth between corporate filmmaking and original products with heart brought to both, following up Pete’s Dragon in a way that only someone as skilled as he is can do. The intimate mythology of Peter Pan & Wendy, makes this for a stirring swing at the fences, and with the right television set-up the lighting on screen won’t be an issue at all. It’s a pure delight across the board – and the rarest of rare things from Disney nowadays.

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