The most notable overall changes in the story are less about what’s on the surface. First, there’s a shift in the protagonist/antagonist relationship between Peter Pan and Captain Hook. The less said in detailing that change, the better, but suffice to say, Law is called upon to do more than just an outlandishly evil bad guy with a chip on his shoulder and a hook on his hand. (And it’s equally unsurprising that Law is quite good in the moment where Hook gets to be fairly complex.)
An equally stark change is hinted at in this film’s title. This is no longer a story just about Peter Pan; you could argue that in this version, he’s not even the true lead, as opposed to Wendy, as portrayed by Anderson. Anderson, at least, delivers a stronger performance than Molony, though it’s arguably because the latter is tasked with playing up the faux-bravado of Peter Pan, which tends to be one-note after not too long. As Wendy, though, Anderson gets to work through more multi-dimensional material and seems up to the task.
If there is a place where “Peter Pan & Wendy” struggles, it is in the very notion of remaking such an antiquated story as “Peter Pan” and trying to modernize so much of what exists around the core of the story, while leaving that core intact. Some of the dialogue here feels a bit more anachronistic than was the case in the 1953 film, and yet the setting remains roughly the same. The Darling children are not straight out of the 2020s before they’re sent off to Neverland; Wendy is weighing what it would be like to go to a British boarding school, the concept of which feels at least a hundred years old (even if such schools exist today).
A good chunk of what happens in Neverland feels like the result of pushing back against the setting of this story, which is so heavily about the allure of youthful nostalgia that Hook all but spells it out in his antagonistic nature towards the young scofflaws he fights, one time saying “I find you guilty of being a child.” But even though the songs may only appear as grace notes on the soundtrack, and the characters may be less one-dimensional than before, there’s little Lowery can do to fully remove himself from the original “Peter Pan” by keeping so much of that film present here.
It’s not all for naught, of course. Lowery and cinematographer Bojan Bazelli create a verdant version of Neverland, one that’s both appealing enough to Peter Pan but never quite alluring enough to the Darling children once they get a full taste of it. Even though this will be going straight to Disney+, “Peter Pan & Wendy” looks and feels as big as any big-screen treatment should. Both Law and Jim Gaffigan (as Mr. Smee) are solid throughout, locking in very quickly to the childlike mentality of the story and how Lowery frames the yarn from the kids’ point of view. And of course, the bar is pretty damn low with regard to Disney’s other remakes; this film clears that bar with relative ease. On its own, “Peter Pan & Wendy” is enjoyable enough. But that too is a low bar, and considering that David Lowery has already made Disney’s one truly great remake, it’s perhaps logical that he wouldn’t hit another home run. It’s good that he tries, even if this isn’t quite successful enough to clear the fence.
/Film Rating: 7 out of 10