Review: Despite its best efforts, ‘Peter Pan & Wendy’ is caught in the no man’s land of Disney adaptations



Ever Anderson as Wendy in Disney’s live-action “Peter Pan & Wendy,” on Disney+. (Disney Enterprises, Inc/TNS)

By Tyler D'Errico, Contributor

Disney’s live-action remakes have had a seemingly insurmountable task ahead of them: to remain faithful to the original film while also being different enough to stand out. Some of the most successful products of this era, like 2021’s “Cruella,” went in a completely different direction from the original.

“Peter Pan & Wendy,” directed by David Lowery and based on the 1904 play and the subsequent 1953 film, tries to do this but is filled with so many incongruous elements that it ultimately fails to make an impression.

There are two distinct tones present in “Peter Pan & Wendy,” which was released on Disney+ on April 28. One retains the magic (no pun intended) of the original while changing it to be from Wendy Darling’s perspective. The other is a gritty reimagining that paints Peter Pan as a flawed character and as an antihero.

Either of these tones would have worked on their own. One extended sequence involving a pirate ship defying the laws of physics suggests a clear intention to keep the whimsical tone of the original. Flipping the perspective always works, particularly if it’s from the perspective of an ordinary character in a magical world.

On the other hand, the film retains some of Pan’s more narcissistic qualities from the original. The film also gives us some backstory for Captain Hook that we’ve never seen before, and could have expanded on that to make him a sort of tragic hero character.

Instead, “Peter Pan & Wendy” attempts to do both, and while some elements succeed, the overall result is an incongruent, jumbled mess in serious need of some pixie dust.

From left, Alexander Molony as Peter Pan, Ever Anderson as Wendy, Joshua Pickering as John Darling and Jacobi Jupe as Michael Darling in Disney’s live-action “Peter Pan & Wendy,” exclusively on Disney+. (Disney Enterprises, Inc./TNS) (TNS)

One twinkling bright spot in the film is Darling. If the film were just called “Wendy,” I’d be okay with that.

In the original film, Pan drags Darling and her brothers to Neverland. Here, Darling drives the story forward, whereas Pan is actively trying to stay in the past. As she bonds with characters like Tinker Bell and Tiger Lily, Darling realizes that growing up isn’t all bad, something that Pan fails to do.

Ever Anderson imbues the character with the sort of emotional range that you can only get in live-action. Anderson also gets one of the few jokes in the film, when one of the Lost Boys keeps shooting arrows at her and Darling says, “Stop doing that!”

The other standout is Jude Law as Captain Hook. Peter Pan’s croc-fearing adversary is still as menacing as ever, but the added backstory and Law’s performance give him another layer that makes him more than just the guy who shoots people who interrupt his monologues. He also has wonderful chemistry with Smee, played by Jim Gaffigan, which the film could have done so much more with.

The film also could have taken the time to explain some of its own lore. For example, I would have appreciated if they explained how Hook could wound Pan through his shadow. Or, for that matter, why is his shadow separate from him in the first place? Why aren’t the other Neverland residents’ shadows separate as well?

“Peter Pan & Wendy” had a lot of potential. It’s just too bad that it got lost on the way to the second star.