© Disney + / Courtesy Everett Collection
Even if he could grow up, JM Barrie’s age-defying conman must feel like he’s trapped in a time loop, and often brought back to life. This live stream is among the least creative of the category.
With “Peter Pan and Wendy,” Disney sets out to bring the boy who refused to grow up into the 21st century — not as literal, as those taxing live-action/cartoon hybrids liberate the computer-generated Smurfs in Manhattan or Tom and Jerry wreaks havoc on an upscale hotel. It’s still the studio’s latest take on Edwardian England, the way JM Barrie’s play was and the animated feature that inspired it. But the sensation is very much of the moment, as director David Lowery (who did a great job updating “Pete’s Dragon” for Disney) updates the 1953 classic with contemporary priorities.
The new movie offers a variety of possibilities. Shameful Native American stereotypes corrected. The beloved Tinker Bell character can now serve as a role model for a wide range of children. Sharing the duties of a hero, Wendy declares, “This magic does not belong to any boy!” Even Captain Hook, once treated as irredeemable crocodile fodder, is revealed to be a misunderstood figure from Peter’s past cut out of touch with his happy thoughts.
These are thoughtful developments of the ever-evolving Disney formula, and they’re somewhat impressive and sure to come under scrutiny in the run-up to the studio’s massive reboot of “The Little Mermaid” next month. Lowery has a whole palette of agendas to balance here, only one of which is taking classic Disney animation and translating it into live-action, and the result is safer than satisfying. Where “Peter Pan” was a phenomenon, this straightforward version is just a shadow, jogging around and trying to have fun on his own.
Lorre, whose script was co-written with longtime production partner Toby Halbrooks (“They Have No Saints’ Bodies”), doesn’t seem particularly concerned about recreating past cartoons, save for some obvious costume choices: Peter (Alexander Moloney) appears In his trademark Alpine hat and tattered green ensemble, John Darling (Joshua Pickering) dons a top hat and specs, while baby brother Michael (Jacoby Jobe) brings a teddy bear on the trip.
As expected, the movie opens at the Darling House, where Wendy (Iver Anderson) and her brothers play pirates with wooden swords. The older sister is an equal sharer of mischief that Anderson embodies so convincingly. The daughter of Milla Jovovich and director Paul W.S. Anderson, she’s the closest to breaking through among the young cast — so resolute and charismatic at times that the movie could just as easily have been called Wendy, had it not been for Benh Zeitlin not getting there first with his spin on Beasts of the Southern Wild. About the legend.
Lowery focuses more on Jude Law’s salty, long-haired Captain Hook, pointing out what could be “mischievous” – a reframing around the villain – except that he’s beaten to that idea, too, by “Hook”, leaving the latter scrambling to assert what Try to do exactly that. It’s not Wendy’s story, it’s not Hook’s story, and it’s not a direct replay of the original.
If anything, Peter Pan is the weak link here. Moloney plays the forever young rogue with an oddly earnest focus. Peter stubbornly resists coming of age, but for the most part he comes across as a joyless adult, his face stern and his lips closed in an expression of all-seeing sarcasm. In a way, humanizing Hook has the negative effect of making Peter look like an idiot. This must be how elementary school children feel about many of their fathers’ heroes: closer examination reveals that many of them are less perfect than they were taught in previous generations. But is this really what audiences want from the new Disney movies?
“Peter Pan and Wendy” treads the line between paying homage to the previous film and doing its own thing, delivering Tinker Bell (Yara Shahidi) with a 200-watt smile whose imaginative words sound like tiny trills to human ears. Only Wendy makes an effort to understand her. Unlike some Disney movies, this one doesn’t feel particularly educational, leaving some flexibility for parents in how they discuss the movie with their children. My mother and their suffocating mother (Molly Parker and Alan Tudyk) are living proof of why Peter doesn’t want him to grow up – although there is a cute moment when Mrs. Darling catches a look that says she’s met Peter Pan a lifetime ago. .
Most adults certainly can relate. Lowery has the difficult task of appeasing them while trying to give younger audiences a formative viewing experience. And so we get some paradoxes, as when the familiar flight plan—“the second star to the right and straight into “Early Morning”—takes an unexpected detour through a magical portal in Big Ben. On the other side, the Faroes represent Neverland: a gleaming emerald grass It shines over sharp, dark rocks, far away from any continent that could be a dream or another dimension entirely.
Visually, the film owes more to later entries in the “Harry Potter” series, with its dark black-and-green atmosphere and bleak visual effects, than it does to older Disney cartoons. By now, our eyes are tired of fake lens flare and digitally generated magic clock effects. All these years after “The Lord of the Rings,” this trilogy still dictates the look of young adult fantasy films — as when the camera pans side-by-side with Tiger Lily (Alyssa Wapantak) on horseback, then transitions to a sexy wide shot as she ejaculates. Peter Pan from a cliff.
One sequence, in which pixie dust allows Peter and Wendy to spin Hook’s ship 360 degrees in midair, looks as authentic as anything in Laurie’s “The Green Knight.” At times like this, the footage should be shown on the biggest screens, rather than squeezing onto whatever device people are using to watch Disney+. But the narrative does not rise to the same level. In Disney’s rush to adapt more of its prized IP, the studio has reduced yet another classic to mere “content,” to be swept up and forgotten.
“Peter Pan and Wendy” premieres on Disney+ on April 28th.
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