“Peter Pan & Wendy” — A Live-Action Remake Lost In Never-Watch-Land

Peter Pan & Wendy (2023) is the latest in the lineup of classic Disney feature cartoons remade into live action. Upon watching, it will quickly become obvious as to why it bypassed theaters and headed straight to streaming.

For over one hundred years, J.M. Barrie’s beloved tale is one of those that many have strived to tell, re-tell, twist, or modernize and fail. Whether on stage or screen, it’s such a fantastic world of fantasy and childhood adventure, that containing it outside of a book’s pages is a feat. On the big screen, no entries aside from the 1953 Disney cartoon and the much-beloved Hook, have brought in audiences or acclaim. The latest attempt is by director David Lowery, who brought Pete’s Dragon to life for Disney in 2016.

Peter Pan & Wendy feels like a film by two separate committees. It is very much a remake in the sense that the first half stays true to its cartoon predecessor. The plotlines, characters, even action sequences are nearly cut frame for frame from the cartoon.

Oddly though, the film is extraordinarily bland and earthy. All bright colors have been banned from costumes and sets, and there’s little whimsy. The barren yet beautiful landscape of British Columbia gets emphasis as Neverland, yet at no point ever looks like an inviting place to be. To that point, the great appeal of the two successful predecessors were the bright tones, the romance of the scenery, and magic of Neverland. This version was barely visible, heavily shadowed, and devoid of anything that would assist human survival.

After an elongated introduction to the Darling family and Wendy, played by Ever Anderson (who looks identical to a young Milla Jovovich, because that’s her daughter), we meet Peter Pan. He comes across mildly charming but as more of a brat than someone you’d want to travel with. At this point, we are covered in Pixie Dust and thrust into Neverland without reason, other than Peter said so.

We quickly encounter Captain Hook, played far too maniacally by Jude Law, and run into the Lost Boys accompanied by Tiger Lily. Even though the cast of characters are plentiful, we as the audience are barely given more than an introduction. There are few moments, no arc, or backstory from anyone outside of Wendy, Peter, and Hook. Everyone else is forgettable set dressing.

Even Tinkerbell is reduced to a mute, wasting the talents of Yara Shahidi.

The unfortunate reliance on the few sets they had made the film stagnant as, aside from the B-roll of Canadian islands, it was predominantly set in four locations. The Darling’s Attic, Hook’s Pirate Ship, Lost Boys Dark Hideout, and some unlit Caves made this feel more like a play at times than a film, but who could tell when you can’t physically see the actors?

After two isolated songs bringing this film nearly into the category of musical, we enter the second half, where the film takes a turn and license to try something new. Instead of stretching out the source material or much-needed development of existing characters, we learn that (SPOILER) Hook was once a lost boy and Peter’s friend.

He was banished by Peter for missing his mother and wanting to go home, only he never made it and was raised by pirates until he became a grown-up. Now he hates Peter Pan and rightfully so. From the audience standpoint, the film doesn’t do justice to Peter. He’s spoiled, snarky, and doesn’t care about anyone but himself for more than a few seconds. I will give it to the filmmakers that, be it unintentional, I’ve never seen Peter Pan come off as the villain before.

Peter is redeemed, of course, and makes some amends with Hook, all during a fight scene between children and well-armed, adult pirates where no one ever dies. We also get our heavy-handed female empowerment moments as Wendy makes a pirate ship fly on her own and saves all the boys. Disney still tries to bring modern ideas and equality to times where it didn’t exist, but it’s a kid’s story in a made-up land, so who cares.

This take on the well-known tale really fell as flat as the color palette they shot it on. It’s yet another disappointing, failed, and ultimately boring effort to tell a story we all want to see done well. Feel free to pass on this, or hate watch it and talk through the entirety as you won’t be able to physically see much of it anyway. Don’t feel bad if you send this film to Never-Watch-Land.