Peter Pan & Wendy Review: Jude Law’s Captain Hook Is the Reason to Watch David Lowery’s Disney+ Movie

Disney Plus, Kids TV, Peter Pan & Wendy, Reviews, Television

TV ReviewAs a retelling of both J.M. Barrie’s novel and Disney’s 1953 animated classic, Disney+‘s Peter Pan & Wendy is a mixed bag. But as a retelling via director David Lowery, it’s totally on-brand.

The first half-hour of the 106-minute movie (streaming now on Disney+) suggests a beat-for-beat retread (à la Jon Favreau’s The Lion King), but Lowery’s quirky preferences permit a more offbeat take. And once Peter, Wendy et al reach Neverland, the story takes on new life.

Lowery paints Neverland with the same brush he used to revive Arthurian England in The Green Knight. Rather than flush the screen with tropical flora, he steeps it in austerity. Soft, inviting beaches become harsh drops into unforgiving waters. Vibrant jungles become sleepy woodlands. More “treehouse in the sky” than “fantastical hideaway,” Lowery’s Neverland and its bright-eyed, dirt-caked denizens are effective conduits for the message he’s intent on getting across: Growing up is hard, and it’s something we all must do.

Meanwhile, the source material’s fantastical facets — fairies, mermaids, a Jaws-sized crocodile — are present but less prominent, forfeiting screen time so that characters such as Jude Law’s Captain Hook get some love.

Peter Pan and Wendy

Jim Gaffigan as Smee

Hook echoes the cartoonish menace of his animated counterpart without ever feeling like a copy. Law’s take on the scoundrel is a cautious balance of goofy theatrics and startling vulnerability, a juggling act in which the performer is also trying to sell us on his character’s life story. Complementing him beautifully is Jim Gaffigan’s Mr. Smee, the bumbling sycophant doubling as Hook’s first mate. The two are a blast together, though Lowery misses many opportunities to further endear their dynamic to his audience.

As visually and tonally distinct as it is, Peter Pan & Wendy doesn’t distinguish itself the way Lowery was probably hoping. Lowery and co-screenwriter Toby Halbrooks treat fun as an afterthought, instead prioritizing the potent (but perhaps too earnest) themes around growing up and running away from your problems. As surprising and likable as this effort is, a bit of joy could have made this adaptation an all-timer.

Peter Pan and Wendy Review

Yara Shahidi as Tinkerbell, Alexander Molony as Peter Pan, Ever Anderson as Wendy, Joshua Pickering as John Darling and Jacobi Jupe as Michael Darling

Lowery’s previous foray into all-ages filmmaking, the live-action Pete’s Dragon remake (also co-written by Halbrooks), had a better handle on what it wanted to do, how it wanted to do it, and whether or not Lowery’s vision was compatible with the original story. Peter Pan & Wendy doesn’t possess this awareness. Instead, it tries so hard to reconcile its obligatory beats with Lowery’s go-deeper-than-you-have-to storytelling that it ends up feeling like an incongruous mix of both.

Lowery’s approach has unexpected upsides, though. Here, Wendy (played by Black Widow‘s Ever Anderson) finally exercises something the character has always needed but never fully had: agency. Anderson’s performance, guided by Lowery’s sure-handed direction, imbues Wendy with the strength, resilience and gumption of a bona fide heroine, one who easily stands toe-to-toe with Peter Pan himself (The Reluctant Landlord‘s Alexander Molony). The rest of the young cast is largely unremarkable, chiefly because the script isn’t particularly interested in making any of them memorable. Even Tinker Bell (black-ish‘s Yara Shahidi) feels sidelined.

THE TVLINE BOTTOM LINE: Peter Pan & Wendy is a thematically sound but frequently joyless adaptation saved by a few excellent performances and a brilliantly unique take on Neverland.

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