The question you may be asking is ‘do we really need yet another take on Peter Pan? Ever since J.M. Barrie published his book “Peter And Wendy” in 1911 there have been countless film, TV, and stage versions of one stripe or another, starting with silents, and of course NBC’s live musical in the 50’s with Mary Martin, and later versions with Sandy Duncan, Cathy Rigby, and just a few years ago another NBC live attempt at it with Allison Williams. Of course there have been big screen spins, neither quite magical, like Joe Wright’s messy 2015 Pan and Spielberg’s overblown Hook with Robin Williams and Julia Roberts. Up to this moment even Broadway has a new Tony contender in the farcical take, Peter Pan Goes Wrong. But for me the one version that resonates the most, to this day, is the Disney 1953 animated feature classic.
So here we are again, as the studio enlisted director and co-writer David Lowery (who shares screenplay credit with Toby Halbrooks) to take on a live action version of the ’53 ‘toon. Even though the eclectic filmmaker (A Ghost Story, Green Knight) had successfully rebooted another Disney family film, Pete’s Dragon, he resisted at first, thinking it has been done enough but finally came up with a way in that would make it interesting for contemporary audiences. In fact the credits state this new version is based on the 1911 Barrie book and the Disney animated feature, and you can certainly see parts of both in this one.
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The main difference is this take isn’t just what the title indicates, it really is completely Wendy-driven. She is the force of nature who moves the story forward giving it the strong female energy usually handled by the many women who instead played Peter Pan in a much spunkier style than the actor, Alexander Molony, tasked with making us believe he is forever young. He is fine, I suppose, but I really miss the spirit and youthful pizazz of past versions. However in Ever Anderson’s hands Wendy grows confident and touching as the tale unfolds, a guardian of sorts for younger Darling brothers John (Joshua Pickering) and Michael (Jacobi Jupe), who takes matters into her own hands.
That said, the real highlight here is watching Jude Law dig into a Captain Hook, or James as we learn he was known in his younger years, and really make him a memorable and unrelenting villain, but one with a new backstory I can’t recall even being hinted at before. Now it seems Lowery has put more of a Wicked –style rivalry and friendship between Peter and his old schoolmate and bestie James, their bond broken up when James chose a different path than the freewheeling Neverland choice of his friend, who along with those Lost Boys he accumulated, just never wanted to grow up. It is tough when friends grow apart but that is what happened as James morphed into Captain Hook (Peter had cut of his hand and fed it to an alligator if you recall – and that gator is back here in all its CGI glory). All of this gives an explanation to who Hook once was, but that makes this defiantly not your father’s ‘Peter Pan’. It is an interesting touch and Law plays it with evil dread and even some poignancy before it all ends.
The basic bones of the story though are intact, and no one will accuse this of jumping the shark, it is just more of an emphasis on the idea of connection with each other and forging our own individual paths. That of course goes for Wendy, John, and Michael all swept out of their London circa 1911 bedrooms and into an adventure they will never forget, but one filled with genuine peril as Hook and his cronies deem all children must die. Arrrrrrgh.
There is lots of action, a central swordfight being key between Hook and Peter, a plank to walk with surprising results, and of course the wise ways of both Tinker Bell ( a lovely Yara Shahidi) and Tiger Lily (Alyssa Wopanatahk). The casting is diverse in all the best ways. There is also fun stuff with Jim Gaffigan, looking straight out of the Disney ’53 drawings as Smee. Alan Tudyk and Molly Parker are just what we have come to expect as Mr. and Mrs. Darling, and of course that wonderful Saint Bernard who here gets to fly himself, well maybe just a little.
Kids will eat it all up, as they have been doing for well over a century, and Lowery’s not necessarily necessary retelling does nothing to harm the impact of a story that itself is forever young. Producer is Jim Whittaker.
Title: Peter Pan & Wendy
Release Date: April 28th streaming on Disney +
Director: David Lowery
Screenplay: David Lowery, Toby Halbrooks
Cast: Jude Law, Alexander Molony, Ever Anderson, Alyssa Wopanatahk, Jim Gaffigan, Joshua Pickering, Jacobi Jupe, Yara Shahidi, Alan Tudyk, Molly Parker
Running Time: 1 hour and 43 minutes
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