REVIEW: Peter Pan and Wendy (2023)

"Oh, this magic belongs to no boy."

Disney’s latest live-action remake, Peter Pan and Wendy, hit Disney+ this Friday. Disney’s Peter Pan is far from my favorite animated classic, and I rarely enjoy adaptations of J. M. Barrie’s novel and play. The 2003 version starring Jason Isaacs is my favorite, and I like some side material like the Tinker Bell movies. Nonetheless, I’m a glutton for punishment when it comes to Disney, so I watched the new film. Let’s take a look. 

For the most part, Peter Pan and Wendy tells the story of Wendy Darling and her three brothers being whisked away to Neverland by Peter Pan. However, unlike every other version, it also tells the story of how Princess Tiger Lily is a girl boss, and Captain Hook is a tragic figure betrayed by his former bestie Peter Pan. This movie performs a bizarre combination of adaptation and “amending,” shaping the 120-year-old story into an emotionless “Yass Queen!” fest. 

Peter Pan and Wendy opens with a more or less shot-for-shot recreation of the animated movie’s beginning. The problem is that Nana the dog being so human-like and smart seems odd in live-action, as does John’s oversized top hat. Animation is the art of exaggeration, using larger-than-life elements to explain character in a limited runtime. You know more from looking at some animated characters than their words can tell you. After chiding Wendy for being a bad example to her younger brothers, Mrs. Darling (Molly Parker) sings a bland, unmemorable lullaby to put the young girl to sleep. Alan Tudyk plays Mr. Darling, which I find strange; I like him a lot, and I like Jude Law too, but the same actor usually portrays Mr. Darling and Captain Hook. It’s part of the message about childhood and being willing to grow up. I don’t understand why they cast two different actors, other than perhaps not understanding the story. That pertains to other parts of the film as well. Back to Wendy’s mother’s song, they pull the usual remake trick of playing the original movie’s songs as score instead. This has only worked for Cinderella, so I wonder why they keep trying it. It’s distracting and often doesn’t work for the more grounded (relatively speaking) tone they’re going for. They just can’t seem to find a happy medium between recreating these movies down to every detail, adding in filler that does nothing, or missing the point entirely. Sometimes, like in last year’s Pinocchio, they manage all three in one movie. 

Peter Pan and Wendy Review

I hate how Peter Pan and Wendy looks. It’s so dull, and every hint of color from the original has been de-saturated and shaded. The visual effects are okay, but nothing to write home about. I also want to mention director David Lowery’s remarks about why Tink doesn’t glow. He says it’s because it’s unclear where the shine comes from. She’s a fairy; she’s magic! And what about the pixie dust, which appears as glowing glitter? I don’t understand his answer, and that’s not the real reason. This is just part of the ongoing campaign to suck all color from these films. Speaking of the colors in the film, I don’t care about Yara Shahidi’s casting. There are serious structural problems with this movie and issues with casting, but this ain’t it. She’s okay in the role, although they don’t give her much to do, sadly. She does thank Wendy for being the only character who can hear her because this movie is obsessed with women and girl power. I also don’t blame Lowery for most of this, by the way. It reeks of Disney’s corporate meddling, and he’s an excellent director. Heck, his Pete’s Dragon remake for Disney just seven years ago was far better than this. 

Peter Pan and Wendy Review

The jokes are also pretty bad, like when one of the Lost Boys groans, “He’s singing again,” about Captain Hook. Actually, the pirates singing provide a couple of the best scenes in the movie. They genuinely sound good, and I Iike these songs. Another crummy joke comes in the form of a visual gag showing that Captain Hook dyes his hair. This ties into various instances of Peter calling him old. This isn’t funny and doesn’t make Hook any more interesting. He’s not a very good villain in general here, and Law is wasted on a role he should have been perfect for. Captain Hook was already a joke in the animated movie for some reason; I think he works best when taken seriously, like that 2003 adaptation, or surprisingly, Tinker Bell and the Pirate Fairy. Anyway, though, here he’s neither funny nor intimidating. I genuinely don’t understand what the intent was with this character. This is more of a nitpick, but why do people keep calling Wendy by her full name? Is this supposed to be iconic or cool? Because it’s really not; it’s just annoying after about the second time. 

Peter Pan and Wendy Review

Now, I’m going to be a real party pooper: I don’t like the social messaging changes in this movie. Plenty of people who know and care about Peter Pan more than I have already pointed out that making the Lost Boys a gender-neutral organization makes no sense. In Barrie’s book and play, girls are simply too smart to become Lost Boys. It has to do with girls aging faster, boys not wanting to grow up, etc. You may not like that, but write your own story, then. And who exactly are they sticking it to with this? Girls can be dumb too! I agree with that sentiment, but it’s not the power move they think it is. They also try really hard to make Tiger Lily, Wendy, and Tink into girl bosses in this movie. Tiger Lily is the one who “cleans up (Peter’s) messes” rather than a damsel to be saved. I like how they made her less of a racial stereotype (in my opinion; if you know more, I’d love to hear it). However, making her the real hero of the story is a little bit silly. Sure, make her more of a contributor, but this is ridiculous. They also go out of their way to show Wendy piloting the ship, and Tink is the one who eventually saves her. They even give Peter’s famous line about growing up being the greatest adventure to Wendy. Tink is also much nicer than usual and loves Wendy rather than seeing her as a rival. In one final character revision, they make Mr. Smee kind of a good guy, like LeFou in the Beauty and the Beast remake. He’s more of a hapless lackey who feels bad for the kids. I love Jim Gaffigan, but this was a mistake in writing, and much like Yara Shahidi, he isn’t given much to work with. 

Peter Pan and Wendy Review

Peter Pan and Wendy is a mystery. Why do the parents see proof of Neverland and keep the Lost Boys? This isn’t 101 Dalmatians, and these are kids, not puppies. Why make Captain Hook a sympathetic victim who missed his mom and lost his best friend if his death is still going to be a joke? What’s the point of this, and how are we supposed to feel? Why did they radically alter the personalities of so many characters? I’m not a Pan fan, but this is a crappy movie and an even worse adaptation. 

Peter Pan and Wendy (2023)

Plot - 3
Acting - 6
Music/Sound - 2
Direction/Editing - 2
Comedy - 1



Peter Pan and Wendy is a mystery. I'm not a Pan fan, but this is a crappy movie and an even worse adaptation. 

Comments (4)

April 28, 2023 at 10:53 pm

It looked stupid from the start.

April 29, 2023 at 2:41 am

I don’t think anybody expected this movie to be good from the start! Maybe they should have crocodile pop up and eat Hook while he falls in the water! Sure, that wouldn’t really improve that atrocity but at least it would somehwhat I guess… and Neverland looks like it just could be another part of great britain! In contrast to 2003 movie or Hook where it looked like actualy magical land! My fave Peter Pan adaptation is Hook by the way!

    April 30, 2023 at 2:24 pm

    Agreed entirely. I’ve seen bits and pieces of Hook but I think this is the worst Peter Pan movie I’ve seen yet and by quite a bit.

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