REVIEW: Peter Pan & Wendy (2023) dir. David Lowery

While I don’t think I’d ever be frontrunner for any Peter Pan-themed trivia game in a hundred years, watching any reiteration of the tale feels a bit like riding a bike for the first time in years. Going through the familiar motions — crocodiles leering from the water, the looming threat of walking the plank, sass-talking between children and pirates — feels like flexing a set of nostalgic muscles. By choice or not, the story is ingrained in my subconscious (and presuming the American experience upon the average person, I won’t give a rundown of the synopsis — partly because my attempts to phrase this folktale into factual statements may seem more clunky than vibing out the impression that we kinda sorta know what Peter Pan is about).

Following the choices that were made in Joe Wright’s Pan, David Lowery steps up to the plate seven years later with Peter Pan & Wendy. Unlike the enormous marketing pushes that we’ve seen with the other Disney live-action remakes (i.e. a teaser of The Little Mermaid at this year’s Oscars, Beyonce’s sidekick album/film Black is King for The Lion King), PP&W arrives directly to Disney+ with little anticipation. Similarly, the movie strips its story down to basics. Forget talking-animal CGI, performative broodiness co-opted by the CW, or the chance for Millie Bobby Brown to garner Oscar buzz for playing both Peter and Wendy. Lowery sails us straight to the heart of Neverland — that is, without a lifeboat for those who might want to abort themselves from this adventure.

As a devotee to The Green Knight and A Ghost Story, I could borrow Lowery’s use of negative space and eerie beauty to formulate what I thought Lowery’s vision of PP&W would be. But in avoiding the maturation of the story (which, I suppose, would be antithetical when it comes down to bringing one of the most popular personalities complexes to the screen), Lowery sets aside his own esteemed pillars to create a journey for the most appropriate audience: the new generation. It’s a selfless dedication to the story’s intentions, as Lowery recognizes the true impact of this story should and will largely affect the young viewers who will carry it into adolescence and adulthood.

But what kind of impact it’ll carry for kids, I’m not sure. For the generation that remembers Jeremy Sumpter’s blonde curls and twinkly eyes in 2003’s Peter Pan, it might be hard to eradicate the cast whose faces were plastered on Scholastic Book Fair stands and Toys “R” Us merchandise (I expect to feel a similar age-related dissociation when we see the cast for the newly announced Harry Potter series). So, in reviewing this movie, I’m afraid to admit that I might be speaking in Old. In fact, as it goes with aging, I found myself somewhat sympathetic to Captain Hook, who is devilishly portrayed by Jude Law (the choice to de-voluminize the character’s black locks into two sheets of grungy brunette is an example of correct modern adaptation). There’s no reason I should feel personally affronted when Peter (played by newcomer Alexander Molony) snaps up the scene with a swear-free diss that seems borrowed from the heydays of Frankie Muniz, and yet.

Will children hear Peter’s lines and clap with glee? I honestly don’t know. In good faith, PP&W could be operating under a second language where kids could eat this up and grown-ups are left scratching their heads at the things that didn’t happen: thrills, original dialogue, or any swelling of emotion. Aside from some spectacular lighting and a scene where the camera trails Hook in a circular motion as he dodges snapping crocodiles, there aren’t a lot of inspiration beyond the intended viewer’s comprehension of cinematic shots. But in that way, I’d much prefer not sharing the same lingo as the intended audience than to see a gritty, noir-ish interpretation (I should say that PP&W is rather gray for the most part, but I found it relevant to the in-between phase of childhood and adulthood). Molony and Ever Anderson (who plays Wendy) earnestly encapsulate their characters to the full extent that I can see how first-timers of the story might conjure up their faces when they think of Peter Pan and Wendy.

I don’t always shake my fist at remakes, but I think they now resemble punch-in-the-face reminders that film is not Neverland. Some faces are forever imprinted on their characters no matter the amount of following remakes, while other fictional characters may host a gallery of different actors. In the same vein, Lowery’s take is not unlike hearing a big-name celebrity do an audiobook of a story that isn’t theirs. It’s there for people who asked for it, and if this is a reminder that there are movies that exists just for kids, that’s good enough for me. And if those kids grow up to watch Rooney Mara eat a pie for five minutes and call it atmospheric art — even better.

Peter Pan & Wendy
dir. David Lowery
106 min.

Now streaming on Disney+