Review by Dan Skip Allen
Disney has many iconic characters in their catalog — Cinderella, Snow White, and the Seven Dwarfs, and Pinocchio are among the top. Just below them is Peter Pan. The first Peter Pan movie came out in 1953. Ever since, many variations of this beloved Disney animated character have come out in theaters. One was a more existential version from Benh Zeitlin. Another had Hugh Jackman playing Captain Hook in Pan. Peter Pan & Wendy might be the most faithful adaptation of this beloved children's tale yet.
Wendy Darling (Ever Anderson) is a big sister to her younger brothers. She plays games around the house, but when she breaks an antique, her father (Alan Tudyk) gets mad at her and threatens to send her to boarding school. While sleeping, she dreams of a character she used to tell stories about to her younger brothers: Peter Pan (Alexander Molony), who is actually a real boy. He and his faithful friend Tinker Bell (Yara Shahidi), a fairy, come to visit her and take her off to Neverland, where she meets their friends, the Lost Boys, and the villainous Captain Hook (Jude Law) who wants to rid Neverland of children.
David Lowery isn't a stranger to children's films. He directed the remake of Pete's Dragon starring Robert Redford in 2016. He also has a past in the fantasy genre as he made a great film The Green Knight in 2021. Add these two films together, and you have Peter Pan & Wendy. It's a more lighthearted fantasy film without the animated dragon, and throws in instead a little pixie dust and an alligator. He understands his audience and the material he's adapting. It's one of the better live-action Disney remakes, and it perfectly fits on Disney+.
With all these Peter Pan films — animated or otherwise — there are many set pieces. Sure, in live-action, you have to use strings and stages to film some of these action sequences and flying moments. They look very authentic, though. The backdrop of Ireland is a perfect fill-in for Neverland and the various locations like the woods where the Lost Boys live. The cinematography is gorgeous, wherever it is — in houses, on ships and out in the wild of woods, and on the water. This is a beautiful movie by any standards.
The Peter Pan story has always been an analogy for growing up. Parents who are busy with their lives don't have time for their children, so they wish they would grow up and go out into the world. The problem with that is that kids need to have these experiences of playing, reading books, and doing fun things, so they can remember what it was like to be that age. As adults, they have those fond memories. I needed my childhood, so I could be prepared for the difficulties adulthood would bring me. This story reminds me of that, and I'm sure it will for many others, too.
Besides the cinematography, another craft that is good in the movie is its score by Daniel Hart. The score is so adventurous and boisterous. It reminded me a lot of the work of my favorite composer, John Williams. It has various arcs, some more sinister and others wide open. The action sequences and scenes flying through the skies showed the various levels and places Hart could go with the music in the film.
Jude Law is an Academy Award-nominated actor. He has played many roles in his career. A villain is a rarity, though. Not many besides Yon-Rogg in Captain Marvel come to mind. One of the biggest villains in film lore is Captain Hook. It was perhaps most iconically and brilliantly played by Dustin Hoffman in the Steven Spielberg film Hook in 1991. He was very over the top as this character. Law, on the other hand, played Captain Hook more as the character in the ‘53 animated classic. He was more nuanced, but had his sinister moments. He did embrace the evil, but also tried to be more subtle and emotional in his approach to the character.
Peter Pan & Wendy is the best version of this classic story based on J. M. Barrie's book since Hook for my money. The film's cinematography showed this world so beautifully. The indoor and outdoor scenes alike come to life with the camera work from Lowery and co. The cast full of mostly newcomers, the children, and established pros like Shahidi, Tudyk, and most notably Jude Law as Captain Hook are all fantastic. The thing this movie gets the most right, though, is the story, what it means, and how it never gets old. Disney has been a bit hit and miss with its live-action remakes, but this is one of the better ones. People of all ages should enjoy this version of the Disney classic tale.
Peter Pan & Wendy is now streaming on Disney+.