This past weekend, Disney+ debuted a live action version of Disney’s 1953 Peter Pan, which itself was based on J.M. Barrie’s 1904 play, Peter Pan or the Boy Who Wouldn’t Grow Up. The reviews have been mixed to say the least. While Rotten Tomatoes “Tomatometer” has a score of 66% from 106 critic reviews, the Audience Score sits at a lowly 17% based on over 2,500 ratings!
Although a huge improvement over the studio’s last live action adaptation of Pinocchio, Peter Pan and Wendy ultimately disappoints. Not because the screenplay is too close to the 1953 animated cartoon, but rather, it is too far away. Director David Lowery, who also wrote the screenplay with Toby Halbrooks, chose to make sweeping changes from the original story. He’s done this before with 2016’s live action version of Pete’s Dragon. In that case, it became a much better film than the original and totally worth watching if you haven’t already. But this is different. Peter Pan is a solid story with great characters, amusing hijinks and engaging plot. It’s a shame to try to change it up. Many other directors have done so but few of their works are superior to Disney’s animated tale. So, Lowery and crew were already on an upward battle to begin with.
Some changes, like removing negative stereotypes of Native American Indians, are definitely welcomed. Other changes? Not so much. Some fans have gotten upset over the fact that the new film features Lost Girls in addition to the Lost Boys. Others have had trouble with the fact that a blond bombshell was not cast in the role of Tinkerbell. Neither of those changes bother me at all. What annoys me is that this movie is so different from the classic story. Oh sure, all of the original players are still here and technically, the film does resemble the famous story, but it’s not J.M. Barrie’s Peter Pan. At least not in spirit. The main character actually takes a backseat. It should be renamed, Peter Pan and Wendy, but Mostly Wendy.
Left: Captain Hook (Jude Law)
Right: Smee (Jim Gaffigan), Tiger Lily (Alyssa Wapanatahk) and Tinkerbell (Yara Shahidi) (Walt Disney Pictures)
The movie begins with Wendy’s (Ever Anderson) last night with the family before being sent off to boarding school. The kids are playing pirate games instead of getting ready for bed. Mr. Darling (Alan Tudyk) is upset that his children are…children while Mrs. Darling (Molly Parker) is the wise, understanding and patient parent. She tries to explain to Wendy that boarding school will be a new adventure, but Wendy is having none of it. While understandably angry, Wendy is so pouty that she is already unlikable.
Instead of retelling the classic story, Lowery assumes everyone watching is already familiar with tale. Some of the best scenes are just glossed over and rushed. There is no buildup of anticipation of what is to come. The Darling children have heard their mother tell many inventive stories about the boy who didn’t want to grow up, that Peter Pan is practically a rock star. But when Peter (Alexander Molony) and Tinkerbell (a beautiful Yar Shahidi) arrives in the middle of the night, no one is alarmed to find these strangers in their bedroom. They are happy to see Peter of course, but they don’t seem all that fazed by the experience either. There’s no “stranger danger” here. Peter asks if anyone wants to join him on a trip back to Neverland, and all three kids, Wendy, John (Joshua Pickering) and Michael (Jacobi Jupe), jump at the chance no questions asked. They learn how to fly immediately. What follows is a pretty cool trip in the sky on the way to Neverland though.
The new tale is also different in that it is rather bland. Everyone is nice. Instead of Tinkerbell being jealous of Wendy, the two become fast friends. The former mean girls, aka the mermaids, are only briefly shown and are not really a part of this story. Tiger Lily (Alyssa Wapanatahk) is wise beyond her years and is never captured by the pirates and therefore, there is no need for Peter to rescue her. Tick Tock the crocodile, a favorite character of many, is not nearly as comical as his cartoon counterpart. About 10 times the size of a real crocodile and with a healthy appetite to match, Tick Tock will frighten little ones.
It should not surprise anyone that the best characters in the film are Jude Law’s Captain Hook and Jim Gaffigan’s Smee. But even this baddie and his right hand man do not come as you would expect. There is a reason for this as we learn that “Hook wasn’t always Hook.” Backstories are also given about Peter and Tiger Lily too, but fortunately, these are done through dialogue and not flashbacks. I’m not sure why so many filmmakers feel the need to show how different characters became who they are. Villains can’t just be villains without a reason anymore.
Despite the swordplay, Peter Pan and Wendy isn’t as thrilling as it could be and not nearly as fun as it should be. Instead of an adventure, we get messages. Girls, regardless of age, are always wise and mature. Boys and men are immature, angry and are afraid to grow up. Wendy takes over every scene that she’s in while John and Michael have little to do besides calling Wendy for help.
It has been reported that the script for Peter Pan and Wendy had to be re-written four times. Perhaps the film’s lack of charm is due to storyline being overworked in an effort to get every detail “correct.” Don’t get me wrong, there are some good messages given in this movie about friendship, but they often feel forced. There’s a lot of interaction in this movie, but not a lot of joy. Colors are muted, the humor is lacking, the film’s sound goes back and forth from loud to super soft. At least the kids on the screen look like their having fun.
Main image: Peter Pan (Alexander Molony), Wendy (Ever Anderson), John (Joshua Pickering) and Michael (Jacobi Jupe). (Walt Disney Pictures)
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