If there’s one story we’ve already had enough of, it must be Peter Pan; Disney pretty much nailed JM Barrie’s tale of the fairy boy who never grows up in their 1953 animated classic. In the last few decades, we’ve had fairy dust painfully streaming out of every orifice with an endless series of live action versions that do nothing for a whimsical narrative well-suited to cartoons; I’ve sat impassive through 1993’s desperately dull Hook, PJ Hogan’s bed-wetting 2003 Peter Pan, and Joe Wright’s yawn-some 2015 flop Pan, while other entries like The Lost Boys or Finding Neverland have revised the Barrie narrative in different ways.
Disney’s recent fad for live action remakes of their classics is the reason for the 2023 straight-to-streaming Peter Pan, but you don’t have to be running for president to feel unenthused by the prospect. But you should also turn that frown upside down, because Peter Pan & Wendy is a rethink that comes from the fertile imagination of David Lowery. I interviewed Lowery for his Ain’t Them Bodies Saints, and since then he’s hit form including adaptations of Pete’s Dragon and The Green Knight, star vehicles like The Old Man and the Gun, and mind-blowing oddities like A Ghost Story. There wasn’t much expectation or interest in the Pete’s Dragon property before Lowery transformed it into a thoughtful film, and he works a similar magic here, making this the best Pan adaptation to date.
‘You are a pirate aren’t you?.. it’s every man for himself,’ says Wendy, our new protagonist; yes, we’re balancing up a traditionally male story by playing up the often neglected female characters, namely teen Wendy Darling (Ever Anderson, the daughter of Milla Jovovich and Paul WS Anderson). Wendy wants to be her own person, and doesn’t want to grow up to be like her mother, ‘What if I don’t want your life?’ Wendy says, ‘I just want things to stay as they are.’ Wendy and her fellow moppets have their imaginations fired up when they meet a real fairy in the form of Peter Pan (Alexander Molony); ‘Are you real or a bedtime story? ‘ they ask him ‘Why can’t I be both?’ he replies. Peter takes the group off from their London townhouse for an exhilarating flight across the city skies, then off to Neverland where there are old scores from his fairy origins to settle.
Peter Pan & Wendy alternates between updated revisions of the psychology of the central characters with slavish borrowings from the 1953 animation, even down to Nana’s the dog’s brief airborne moment, but Captain Hook turns out to be the game-changer. Played by Jude Law, Hook is described as a ‘sad and sinister man’ by the self-centred, arrogant Peter, but Wendy recognises the ‘very first lost boy’ and a potentially redeemable soul who the hapless first mate Smee (Jim Gaffigan) says was once ‘a little lost child desperate to make it back to these shores before he was too old to enjoy them…’ Law plays Hook for dark thrills and pathos, and it works; Hook’s lank hair, ratty moustache and pensive doubt elicit some sympathy, but can Wendy revitalise the bonds of friendship that once existed between the older man and his permanently young friend?.
Whatever you want to believe in Peter Pan or not, Lowery’s Peter Pan & Wendy is probably the smartest of the live-action Disney films to date, jammed with irreverent sea-shanties and briskly told over a commendably brief 90 minutes. Hook sees Peter as a ‘child who knows the difference between right and wrong’ whereas Hook ‘can’t remember why it mattered in the first place’. Lowery’s dreamy, arresting retelling reminds jaded viewers why Peter Pan should matter; he’s a reminder of the never-ending childhood games we imagined ourselves to have grown out of long ago.
This one’s a maybe – but like you, I’m a little tired of Peter Pan.
I personally think that Spider Man is the tale that’s been told to death recently on the big screen.
Oh, and Batman. If you can’t go what you want from either the Michael Keaton or Chris Nolan version, then please just move on……..
Yup, I’m beyond Spider manned out, and there need to be a twist as in The Batman movie to make that worth a look. I’d think of this as a Lowrey movie, which is much more of a draw for me…
Re The Green Knight. I was pretty pessimistic about this film before I actually saw it. Advance reviews weren’t uniformly positive, and I’d heard Malick had been the original instigator with Lowery getting involved later on – ie, I thought a younger director had been hired to produce a more commercial version of what Malick had intended. I even posited as much on some blog or other. I subsequently saw the film and really enjoyed it. Now I feel kind of bad about shooting my mouth off? Especially as Malick’s involvement was more peripheral than I realised (the trailer did seem representative of him). Mea Culpa, Mea Culpa, Mea Maxima Culpa….
I’ve followed him with interest. I get the impression that he’s got some interesting literary ideas and the talent to realise them. My guess is that Malick probably had fingerprints on a lot of books over the years, but Lowrey seems to just get things done and puts a stamp on them. It’s hard to put your finger on the pulse of a director who makes A Ghost Story and Pete’s Dragon, but his developing style is some way from Malick. Can’t judge a film by its trailer, but we do.
I’m on the fence with this one. So as yet a yope. The girl does look like her mother.
She really does. Was deeply under enthused about another trip to never land, but this was unexpectedly good.
man, how many times are people going to try to squeeze even more cash out of this story?
So you didn’t like Hook? I remember enjoying it when I watched it, but it’s been long enough that I don’t know what I’d think of it now. Considering it has Robin Williams, I’d probably still like it. Jumanji cemented him in my mind as an actor i like, even if I don’t like a lot of the movies he was in 😀
How many iterations of this story can we get though before it’s played out? Or those iterations destroy the original? We go from Hook, about Peter growing up to a more recent book where Hook is a gay pedo who wants Peter to another book about the children of Wendy having their own adventures of a rather unpleasant sort. I feel like the gamut has been run.
This was played out by 1953 IMHO and I was less than enthused by the prospect of another go round, or even a modernization. But this is the opposite of the usual overstuffed fantasy, and the only version to date that moved me with its poetry.
I’ve never read the original, so I have no idea how the disney cartoon butchered the story. BUT. the cartoon is how several generations know the story and view that as canonical.
Have you read the original?
Yes, and this sticks fairly closely to the original story as I remember it. Barrie had plenty of other riffs on this too…
The dog is a Saint Bernard? I mean, I think they’re great dogs, but I think in the book the dog was a Newf. I’m a bit upset at the change.
Calm your jets, Nana is a lovely big doggie.