David Lowery directs a new version of J.M. Barrie’s classic tale, now streaming on Disney Plus.
The first half plays like a bright and sunny children’s film. Then, the weather changes.
First appearing as a character in 1902, created by J.M. Barrie, Peter Pan is probably best known from his starring role in Walt Disney’s animated classic Peter Pan (1953), though there have certainly been many other adaptations of the characters of Peter, his fellow playmates the Lost Boys, and the villainous Captain Hook, all from the fantasy world of Neverland, as well as the teenage Wendy and her two younger brothers, who lived in London and were whisked away to Neverland by Peter and his faithful companion, Tinkerbell the Fairy, to a place where they would never grow up.
Director David Lowery previously breathed vivid life into his version of Pete’s Dragon (2016), written by Lowery and Toby Holbrooks, which dramatically improved upon Disney’s 1977 original. Having worked together on various projects in different capacities, Lowery and Holbrooks again collaborated on the script for their new adventure, based on Peter and Wendy, a novel by J.M. Barrie that was first published in 1911.
The film appears to be a flight of fancy at first. Wendy Darling (Ever Anderson) is not happy that she will soon be sent away to boarding school by her parents (Molly Parker, Alan Tudyk). After all, she still enjoys engaging in pretend sword fights with her younger brothers, John (Joshua Pickering) and Michael (Jacobi Jupe), and resists the idea that she needs to start growing up.
Peter Pan (Alexander Molony) arrives to save the day, as it were, by whisking her and her brothers away to Neverland, with the assistance of the tiny and faithful
Taco Bell Tinker Bell (Yara Shahidi). There, Wendy meets the Lost Boys, a very diversified lot who now include girls among their ranks, led by the helpful Tiger Lily (Alyssa Wapanatahk), and comes into contact with the villainous Captain Hook (Jude Law), as well as his first mate/comedy sidekick Smee (Jim Gaffigan).
Peter Pan & Wendy gradually darkens after Captain Hook’s arrival, thereafter feeling more like some of David Lowery’s moodier films, especially A Ghost Story (2017) and The Green Knight (2021). If I had children, I’d probably want to keep them close and wrap my arms around them for the second half of the film, which gets decidedly dicier in its tone and more explicit menace depicted.
The two halves do not mesh as well as might have been hoped from director Lowery, especially in the performances of Alexander Molony and Jude Law; it’s almost as though they are acting in two different movies, with Molony playing an innocent naif and Law hamming it up as a tortured villain. Since their characters, Peter and Hook, become the focal point of the drama that develops, that becomes a bit of a roadblock.
Even so, the ambition and the beauty of the film is undeniable. Peter Pan & Wendy is definitely not your father’s favorite family film. It distinctly hews an independent path to its intended conclusion.
The film is now streaming on Disney Plus.