Live-action Disney remakes have been some of the most successful movies the studio has released in recent years – so much so that it's hard to avoid the conclusion that when one of them is dropped on Disney+ instead of theaters, it's seen as a lesser project. The results have largely born out that out, but while writer/director David Lowery's Peter Pan & Wendy certainly isn't perfect, it's one that families curled up on the couch together will likely enjoy.
Release Date: April 28, 2023
Directed By: David Lowery
Written By: David Lowery and Toby Halbrooks
Starring: Jude Law, Alexander Molony, Ever Anderson, Yara Shahidi, Joshua Pickering, Jacobi Jupe, Molly Parker, and Alan Tudyk
Rating: PG for violence, peril and thematic elements
Runtime: 103 minutes
If you’re familiar with Disney’s animated Peter Pan or really any version of the story from author J.M. Barrie, then you’re going to be pretty up to speed with the plot of Peter Pan & Wendy. Wendy (Ever Anderson) is on the verge of growing up, with the expectation of her leaving childhood behind – a step she herself is unsure about taking. Peter Pan (Alexander Molony) arrives with his fairy sidekick Tinker Bell (Yara Shahidi) and offers to take her and her brothers John (Joshua Pickering) and Michael (Jacobi Jupe) to Neverland. The trio accept and find themselves in a land where they will never grow up but must now contend with a band of very grown-up pirates, led by Captain Hook (Jude Law).
The first act of Peter Pan & Wendy largely follows the events of the animated film. The small details are all there to ensure that you know you’re watching the Disney version of the story. Michael travels with a stuffed bear, John wears a top hat. A few of the details have been shuffled around, but the thing that’s the most interesting about the work is that it's very much a kids' movie. Things get downright silly early on, but in the best way.
Peter Pan And Wendy has plenty of nostalgia for adults, but it never forgets it's a Disney movie.
Most Disney live-action remakes are clearly designed for an audience that saw the animated originals as kids but are now a bit older. Maybe it’s because the majority of the cast is actual children, but Peter Pan & Wendy might be the first of these films that feels like it’s actually made for the same kids that would enjoy the original movie.
A lot of the humor is silly and juvenile. The adult characters aren’t afraid to ham it up a bit in front of the camera. I wouldn’t expect most young kids to actually prefer any of the live-action remakes to the animated version, but this one might be an exception. But then an interesting thing happens: the movie grows up a little.
After the first act is complete, Peter Pan & Wendy starts to deal with some new elements that weren’t present in the original animated film, both in terms of plot and theme. They create some real connections between some of the characters that make for more interesting drama. The problem is that, as we've seen before with these live-action remakes, the film is either unable or unwilling to investigate these new ideas as deeply as they should be investigated.
Director David Lowery’s Neverland is magical.
This is a problem we’ve seen with several of these live-action remakes from Disney. The movie is torn between giving audiences the plot elements and set pieces they remember, and trying to do something new or original with the material. The point of remaking something in the first place, if there is one at all, is to look at the material through a new lens. Peter Pan & Wendy tries, but isn’t able to do enough with its new ideas because it needs to find space in the runtime for Skull Rock, the Indian Village, and a flying pirate ship.
While the new themes and ideas introduced in Peter Pan & Wendy may not be given proper focus, they are still very welcome. The biggest welcome change to the material, however, has to be the inclusion of Alyssa Wapanatâhk as Tiger Lily. While she’s still very much a supporting character, she is an actual character, which is a vast improvement. The animated version is a damsel in distress who never so much as speaks; this Tiger Lily certainly has more agency, and simply giving her dialogue (while it might be damning with faint praise) is still a step forward.
Jude Law shines as Captain Hook in Peter Pan And Wendy.
The rest of the cast also holds their own. It’s rare to find such a large number of young actors in one place but all of them work. Ever Anderson and Alexander Molony do a solid job, with the former playing the role of the adult in the room rather than simply the maternal character in the group. But it’s Jude Law as Captain Hook who is clearly having the most fun in the cast. He’s able to handle the film’s more comedic beats, where he feels perfectly like the animated version of the character brought to life, but it’s actually in the movie’s more character-focused moments that he really shines. It’s enough to make you wish there was more of it.
David Lowery, who previously directed Pete’s Dragon (one of the best, and most underrated of the recent Disney remakes) showed with that film that he could work with child actors, and he has always had a way with depicting the fantastic. Both of those skills are on display here. The sequence where the children first travel to the second star on the right wouldn't be entirely out of place in Lowery's The Green Knight. The world itself looks so incredible that it’s unfortunate we don’t get to spend more time there.
While Peter Pan & Wendy misses some opportunities to possibly elevate its material, the end result is still pretty entertaining. While I’m not sure every audience will get quite enough from it, there’s still something for everybody. It provides that kick of nostalgia for those that grew up watching the original, adds a little something new to an old story, and a younger audience seeing the fairy tale unfold for the first time might discover it as the version of the movie that they will grow up watching.
CinemaBlend’s resident theme park junkie and amateur Disney historian. Armchair Imagineer. Epcot Stan. Future Club 33 Member.