PETER PAN & WENDY Review: David Lowery Continues His Winning Streak
Based on Scottish novelist J.M. Barrie’s 1904 play, subsequent self-penned 1911 novelization, and Disney’s classic 1953 animated film, Peter Pan & Wendy finds indie-auteur David Lowery (The Green Knight, A Ghost Story, Pete’s Dragon) confidently back in big-studio mode.
Lowery delivers an exquisitely balanced mix of visual spectacle and grounded, intimate moments, Buttressed by uniformly strong, naturalistic performances from a talented cast, Peter Pan & Wendy should be considered a worthy, worthwhile addition to any streaming diet, especially family-oriented ones.
Like practically every iteration with the exception of Steven Spielberg’s justly maligned reimagining (Hook), Peter Pan & Wendy centers on the title characters, Peter Pan (Alexander Molony), the boy who refused to grow up, and Wendy Darling (Ever Anderson), a teen facing major changes who, in classic mirroring fashion, can only look backward, to the joys and memories of her past and not the possibilities of the future. That contrast forms the thematic link between the two characters and the separate and collective journeys they undertake over the course of Peter Pan & Wendy.
Seeing a near-future without her two younger brothers, John (Joshua Pickering) and Michael (Jacobi Jupe) and several years away at a boarding school, Wendy unsurprisingly expresses her disappointment, frustration, and anger toward her parents (Alan Tudyk and Molly Parker), in turn triggering the magical arrival (wish-fulfillment personified) of Peter Pan in her window. Clad in earthy green and accompanied by Tinker Bell (Yara Shahidi), the true source of his magical abilities, specifically flight, Pan persuades Wendy, John, and Michael to accompany him to Neverland, a land where children never grow old and parents don’t exist.
Pan, of course, fails to disclose the presence of Captain Hook (Jude Law) or Hook’s not-so-merry band of disheveled, unkempt pirates. He also doesn’t mention the lifelong vendetta Hook has against Pan or the Lost Boys (also Lost Girls this time out) awaiting them in Neverland.
A familiar character, Tiger Lily (Alyssa Wapanatâhk), also makes an appearance, but she lives apart from the Lost Boys (and Girls) and only interacts with them as the plot demands. And the plot demands her presence at multiple, key points, helping Wendy, her siblings, and even Peter Pan during their lowest points and Hook’s highest.
Despite outcries from the usual overloud voices online, Lowery and Disney deserve some credit for expanding an oft-told, century-old story to include a more ethnically and culturally diverse cast, from co-lead Molony to Wapanatâhk to several members of the Lost Boys. Wendy and her siblings, though, remain of Brit Caucasian descent. It’s not a negligible point, but it’s balanced somewhat by casting Molony as the nominal co-lead and integrating welcome diversity into the Lost Boys (and Girls).
A fairly close, faithful rendition of Barrie’s classic tale, Peter Pan & Wendy diverges in a few key areas beyond casting (which, on its own, can be perceived as superficial). Lowery’s reimagining gives Wendy’s personal journey significantly more agency and allows her to play a more active role in the third act. For better or for worse, Lowery also takes a deep dive into Hook’s backstory, making this particular version more sympathetic in the process.
In addition, Lowery adds a pleasing layer of meta-fiction throughout the film. When Wendy arrives in Neverland, she’s acknowledged as “a Wendy,” intriguingly suggesting other Wendys before her have visited Neverland on their own adventures.
Hook too seems to recognize he’s stuck in a time loop of sorts, repeating the same actions and behaviors over and over again (i.e., chasing and defeating Peter Pan) with the same, disappointing result. Alas, though, once the familiar narrative reasserts itself, the meta-fictional aspects of Lowery’s retelling fade into the background.
Still, Lowery remains a skilled, skillful filmmaker, using the Faroe Islands as the earthbound stand-in for Neverland, to great visual, sometimes astonishing effect. Sometimes the best effects don’t involve elaborate sets or tens of thousands of hours animating computer backgrounds and characters. Sometimes the best visual effects are all around us (i.e., the natural world), a simple proposition certainly, but one Lowery has repeatedly embraced throughout his filmmaking career.
Add to that Lowery’s ability to elicit note-perfect performances from his cast, young, old, and middle-aged, retaining a balanced tone through, and highlighting a story of self- and other-empowerment without slipping into polemics or sermonizing, and Peter Pan & Wendy ultimately emerges as a memorable adaptation of a singularly beloved children’s classic.
Peter Pan & Wendy will be available to stream as of Friday, April 28, 2023, via Disney+.
Peter Pan & Wendy
- David Lowery
- David Lowery
- Toby Halbrooks
- J.M. Barrie
- Alexander Molony
- Ever Anderson
- Joshua Pickering