‘Peter Pan & Wendy’ breaks free… a little bit
I wonder if Peter Pan & Wendy isn’t close to the best possible version of this movie we were going to get.
I don’t mean this is the best possible Peter Pan movie, although I still haven’t seen one that felt totally successful. And I also don’t mean this is the best possible Peter Pan movie director David Lowery could have made, given he’s one of the most interesting American filmmakers working today.
But Disney’s live-action remakes of their own animated films have been largely uninspired, and in some cases outright soulless, and even though Lowery himself already made one of the few exceptions with his remarkable adaptation of Pete’s Dragon, you have to assume Disney is going to have kind of a stranglehold on these movies, and directors are going to have to work to free themselves wherever they can.
But I’ll be darned if Lowery doesn’t do it. Not completely—this all could have been a lot deeper, maybe darker, maybe stranger. But you can see where he’s working to push outside of the strictures to create something approaching art, or at least something a little different. This isn’t a beat-for-beat remake of Disney’s 1953 film, although there’s plenty that will be instantly familiar to people who remember that one. But Lowery stages the action as the rollicking adventure it’s supposed to be, and the way he moves his camera is exciting, and occasionally thrilling, swooping and floating in ways that feel new. And his contemplative side comes through, too, as he adds an extra layer to the Peter Pan / Captain Hook rivalry, giving it some melancholy that pushes and pulls our sympathies, even if just a little bit. And there’s a wonderful diversity to the casting, even beyond just having a variety of skin tones.
There’s an alternate universe where David Lowery made a Peter Pan movie with ultimate freedom, and imagining that makes watching Peter Pan & Wendy a little bittersweet. But that’s not the universe we live in, and as far as this one goes, the movie he made is still pretty charming.
Peter Pan & Wendy is on Disney+.