If there was ever a classic Disney animated film in need of an update, it's the 1953 "Peter Pan" movie. It's depiction of Native Americans have made it an uncomfortable watch - at best - and so "Peter Pan & Wendy" is one live-action Disney remake that is probably a good thing.
But this Peter Pan's flight plays it mostly safe and unimaginative. Neverland has never been depicted quite as boring, and a few big casting blunders makes "Peter Pan & Wendy" grow old, quickly.
Don't get me wrong: Casting Peter Pan as a Brit (young star Alex Molony) and Tinkerbell as an African-American (Yara Shahidi) is inspired. Comedian Jim Gaffigan also makes for the perfect Mr. Smee. But Jude Law as the nefarious Captain Hook just didn't work for me. Hook has always been more than just the hand, but Captain Hook - one of the most iconic villains in Disney's canon - just doesn't command the screen the way he should. Jude Law seems to be playing dress-up, and plays the character a bit too straight...Hook should be a bit hammy, no? Law's Hook feels a bit too lean.
The story is familiar of course, with Wendy (Ever Anderson) on the verge of "growing up," embarking on an adventure with her two younger brothers, John (Joshua Pickering) and Michael (Jacobi Jupe) as they follow Peter Pan and his fairy companion, Tink, on a journey to Neverland.
The movie smartly updates the adventure for modern times, not just with the diverse casting but mostly by getting rid of most of the plot involving the indigenous Neverland tribe. Tiger Lily (Alyssa Wapanatahk) is still around, now more of an empowered Princess, and there are still The Lost Boys, although as they explain, that's just a name (the group is made of up boys and girls, of different ages and races).
The themes of growing up, time lost, the inevitabilities of death and embracing change were mostly lost on me as a youth...but most adults will relate more with Captain Hook than they might remember.
Disney may have made a smart decision releasing this straight to their streaming service, because outside of the initial soaring flight to Neverland, the movie doesn't feel very cinematic.
The story is poignant enough for youngsters (watch out for this version of the ticking crocodile, depicted way scarier than you may imagine it would be in a Disney movie), but other than feeling like a necessary update to rid itself of negative historical stereotypes, "Peter Pan & Wendy" feels flat. There's no magic here, and isn't that Disney's MO?
Genre: Action, Adventure, Family.
Run Time: 1 hour 46 minutes.
Starring: Alexander Molony, Ever Anderson, Jude Law, Alyssa Wapanatahk, Joshua Pickering, Jim Gaffigan, Jacobi Jupe, Molly Darling, Alan Tudyk, Yara Shahidi.
Directed by David Lowery ("The Green Knight," "The Old Man & The Gun," "A Ghost Story," "Pete's Dragon").
"Peter Pan & Wendy" is streaming on Disney+ as of Friday, April 28th, 2023.
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