Peter Pan & Wendy (2023) ☆☆1/2(2.5/4): A pedestrian version from David Lowery

David Lowery’s latest film “Peter Pan & Wendy”, which was released on Disney+ yesterday, is surprisingly pedestrian to my surprise and disappointment. Because Lowery has impressed us a lot with a series of distinctive works such as “A Ghost Story” (2017) and “The Green Knight” (2021), we certainly had some expectation on what he could with that classic children’s story written by J. M. Barrie, but he just seems to be no more than a hired hand here instead of freely wielding his own artistic talent and creativity, and that is a big letdown to say the least.

The most disappointing thing about the movie is that it does not bring anything particularly new or refreshing to its very familiar story, which, as many of you know, has been adapted into variously different films for many years. Sure, there is always that classic Disney animation film “Peter Pan” (1953), but there are also a number of interesting variations ranging from Steven Spielberg’s “Hook” (1991) to P.J. Hogan’s “Peter Pan” (2003), and you may also appreciate Benh Zeitlin’s “Wendy” (2020) despite its flawed aspects.

Compared to these three notable movie adaptations of Barrie’s original story, “Peter Pan & Wendy” does not have much distinguish itself on the whole. Sure, Wendy in the film, played by Ever Anderson (She is the daughter of Milla Jovovich and Paul W.S. Anderson, by the way), has more pluck as a girl who will be more excited about having adventures than assuming a motherly role for the Lost Boys of Neverland, but the screenplay by Lowery and his co-writer Toby Halbrooks does not delve that deep into Wendy’s conflict about adulthood, and it duly depicts her awkward relationship with Peter Pan without any new insight to enliven these two well-known characters.

The movie also lacks freshness in case of Peter Pan. Although newcomer Alexander Molony is as likable and spirited as required by his role, his character feels more like a symbol rather than a living character in my inconsequential opinion. As poignantly reflected by Hogan’s 2003 movie, remaining young and innocent forever feels like a sad curse rather than a blessing to cherish, but Lowery’s version does not reflect on that much when Peter eventually says his goodbye to Wendy around the end of the story (This is not a spoiler to any of you, right?).

Moreover, Neverland in the film does not look that wondrous while feeling deficient in magic and wonder. You may enjoy a brief moment showing a bunch of mermaids with tentacles who look like much more glamorous cousins of Ursula in Disney animation film “The Little Mermaid” (1989), but, sadly, they do not appear again in the film. I also like the nearly wordless acting of Yara Shahidi, who easily steals the show from Anderson and Molony during her several key moments in the film. In addition, it is certainly nice to see Tiger Lily being played by Native American actress Alyssa Wapanatâhk, but this striking supporting character remains a mere plot element to the end, and that is another disappointment, though casting Wapanatâhk is much better than that criticized casting in Joe Wright’s “Pan” (2015).

In case of the Lost Boys, I am rather depressed to report to you that they are usually no less than background details just like Wendy’s two younger brothers, and that makes me a bit nostalgic about “Hook”. Yes, that film is still a bit too flawed for me to recommend, but it does not lack anything in case of those good child performers in the film, who are relatively more colorful in terms of appearance and personality.

Not so surprisingly, the most fun in the film comes from Captain Hook, and Jude Law, who incidentally has more hair on his head than usual, plays his petty but memorable villain character with campy gusto while also bringing extra gravitas to the story as demanded by a little more complex relationship between his character and Peter. Steadily standing by Law, Jim Gaffigan, who has been mainly known for his comic performances but has also shown more serious sides of his talent during last several years, brings an ample amount of humor and personality to his equally well-known supporting role like late Bob Hoskins did in “Hook”, and his solid acting here in the film confirms to me again that he is now one of those ever-reliable character actors to welcome in any kind of film.

Anyway, “Peter Pan & Wendy” is not a lousy product at all, and I enjoy its technical aspects including the jubilant score by Lowery’s frequent collaborator Daniel Hart, but, if you have admired Lowery’s previous works as much as I have, you will also observe that he could do better than this. After all, he already collaborated with Disney in “Pete’s Dragon” (2016), and his own distinctive cinematic style was not inhibited at all in that enjoyable film, which is also friendly and gentle enough for young audiences and their parents.

To be frank with you, I even doubt whether young audiences will really enjoy “Peter Pan & Wendy”, considering that it has several moments which may be a little too grim and intense for them. Because the kids are usually tougher than expected, my small concern is probably unnecessary, and I guess it is likelier that they will be more disappointed with the lack of unadulterated fun and excitement in the film, so I will gladly recommend them to watch Hogan’s 2003 version or “Pete’s Dragon” instead.

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