The latest version of the story of the boy who never grows up, Disney+'s Peter Pan & Wendy isn’t a live action remake of the 1953 Disney animated movie, nor is it an origin story (like 2015’s Pan), or a painstakingly faithful adaptation of JM Barrie’s original novel either.
Instead it is a simple adventure that tosses out many of the book’s (and previous movies’) beloved ideas (as well as some of the more controversial ones – more on that later), but is nonetheless worth a look for some nifty special effects and a near-perfect performance from Jude Law.
Law, of course, plays Captain Hook, and from the moment he strides on screen 20 minutes in, the film instantly becomes more interesting and entertaining. (In a departure from traditional casting, Law doesn’t also appear as the Darlings’ father – that brief role is performed by Alan Tudyk).
Law doesn’t play Hook as a pantomime villain like Dustin Hoffman in Hook or in the animated version, or even as darkly sinister as Jason Isaacs in the 2003 Peter Pan – here he is a man who is mean for a reason: deep down he is sad rather than bad, and, whether he likes it or not, he's far more likeable because of it.
He’s funny, too, especially in scenes with Jim Gaffigan as ship’s first mate Smee (we want a spin-off Hook/Smee comedy movie right now), or when he emerges from falling in the water with his black hair dye running down his face. (His expression is a treat.)
Of course, before Hook's welcome arrival, we get the basics of the story – in this version, Wendy (Milla Jovovich’s lookalike daughter Ever Anderson) is about to be sent to boarding school when Peter Pan (Alexander Molony) flies in through the Darling family’s London window and tempts her, and younger brothers Michael and John, to go on a trip to Neverland with him and fairy Tinker Bell (Black-ish’s Yara Shahidi).
Once they arrive at a rather dark and cold-looking Neverland (the slightly bleak look of the movie a reminder that writer/director David Lowery’s last movie was the dark fantasy The Green Knight), the family are accidentally separated, with Wendy meeting the Lost Boys and Tiger Lily (Alyssa Wapanatâhk), and Michael and John kidnapped by pirates led by Captain Hook himself.
The action moves along at a fair speed, with a couple of neat sword fights, a fun cavern battle – complete with the story’s infamous crocodile – and a grand finale featuring Hook’s ship floating through the skies.
That’s all great, as are some of Lowery’s updates to the tale, including ditching the dodgier Native American stereotypes from the animated movie (and the book) and casting First Nation actress Wapanatâhk, and adding girls to the Lost Boys gang.
Purists, of course, may wish the Lost Boys were still just boys, because in Barrie’s book he explains the absence of girls: Peter takes baby boys who have fallen out of their prams and not been claimed a week later to Neverland, and the reason there are no girls is because girl babies are apparently too clever to fall out of pushchairs.
It works, though, as does the decision to make Wendy more forthright than in previous incarnations– here she’s not tempted to Neverland by Peter to be a mother figure to the children – she just wants adventure, and she even states that she’s not sure she ever wants to be a mother herself.
Anderson is terrific as this modern Wendy, and is more than a match for Law in the scenes that they share. Molony is less successful as Pan – but then it takes a very talented actor to make the boy who pouts at every opportunity and is extremely selfish seem remotely likeable and not annoying and petulant – to the point where, whether Lowery and Law intended it or not, you end up rooting for ‘bad’ guy Hook rather than the boy who promises eternal youth and adventure.
Ultimately, this isn't a movie that will thrill those who love the book or previous versions of the story. But if you're looking for an easy watch – and an hour and a half of Jude Law brilliance – it's definitely worth a try.
Peter Pan & Wendy is available to watch on Disney+.
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