Peter Pan & Wendy (2023) Directed by David Lowery
Disney’s new live-action film, Peter Pan & Wendy, joins the redundant commercial trend whereby the Mickey Mouse company has unjustifiably opted to modernize its quintessential classics, a reformulation of its iconic animated films transformed into a crass digitization more appropriate to the inane sensibilities of the 21st century. Straightforwardly, it’s an innocuous film and not as insufferable as my harsh judgment led me to believe. I suppose the simple fact of seeking a narrative depth beyond the horizon of fantasy fable gives it an intimate and affable spirit. However, it is still an adaptation of one of the most enjoyable adventures ever written, J.M. Barrie’s 1904 play, a celebrated and conservative fantasy tale that inculcates the importance of growing up, and a demystification of the misguided preconceptions of what the latter entails, accepting the cycle of life. As such, Peter Pan & Wendy is nothing you haven’t seen before. Untruthfully, the film pretends to be meditative and cautiously profound but in reality these are nothing more than sloppy tricks from a director who feeds on illusions and artistic infatuations. David Lowery is the director that Disney hires to give life and exuberance to this beloved story; speculatively, we could say that it is quite accurate to have someone like Lowery behind the camera, his contribution can be as skillful and rigorous as it is dull and uninspiring. Somehow it’s understandable why someone like Lowery would take on a project like this. I don’t dispute with his creative choices, I disagree with his typically insipid conviction that stylizing a narrative with stilted camera motions and pretentious philosophy equals great filmmaking, or at least effective filmmaking.
The worst thing about Peter Pan & Wendy is that it betrays its thoughtful material. The musings prompted by the desultory script are valid only when the story has a sense of narrative strategy, which, predictably, it rarely does. We all know this legendary story, the tale of the teenager who never wanted to grow up, played with dull amateurishness by Alexander Molony. Peter Pan lives in Neverland, recruiting children to be part of his youthful utopia, the “lost boys”. Another one of the ever-present characters is Tinkerbell, played by Yara Shahidi, Peter Pan’s faithful companion, a fairy who has the power to make you fly if you think of things that cause you extreme happiness. Part of Peter Pan’s adventures is always having nimble sword fights with his evil enemy, Captain Hook, ably played by Jude Law, the latter and his filthy pirates are the only adults in Neverland. Peter, in search of a mother to read stories to his group of lost boys, finds Wendy, played by Ever Anderson, a London girl who shares some of Peter’s childish ideals but is much more logical and realistic. Wendy, while in Neverland, along with her siblings and Peter Pan and the lost boys, discovers the transcendent necessity of what it means to grow up through exciting adventures. Lowery’s interpretation of the plot is highly endearing, mainly because it puts a very productive focus on Wendy’s character; therefore, the story has an interesting maturity to it. Yet the script is quite volatile, suggesting at first to be a movie about Wendy and then radically suggesting to be a movie about the mysterious past of the rivalry between Captain Hook and Peter Pan. As you will notice, it is a treacherous and inconsistent movie, it never has a practical methodology to grasp what exactly it wants to be as a Peter Pan movie.
Frustratingly, as is to be expected in a Disney live-action feature, the use of CGI is heavy-handed, rendering a world that is too plastic to be accepted as such. When the story begins to have natural tones, and the music begins to display signs of vitality, the cheap digital lighting aggressively intervenes to spoil everything. Not only are scenes under-lit, making everything look painfully dark, but it’s also replete of scenes that are over-lit to the extreme of making you want to wear sunglasses because of how intolerable it is to stare at this dreadful flaw. Technically, it’s evident that the film is inefficient, but there’s something about its pacing that I find satisfying. I don’t know if that has to do with the fact that the movie ended so quickly that I felt grateful for it, maybe that’s the sole reason. It’s just another version of Peter Pan, there’s no other way to define it, it is what it is. A lousy movie indeed, yet it is so simplistic in its banal outcome that I see no reason to criticize it with anger. Furthermore, it’s not all calamitous, Jude Law does what he can around novice actors and stuffy theatricality, he’s a good Captain Hook, nothing extraordinary but fun to watch, nonetheless. There are sequences that feel terribly isolated creating a glaring storytelling disproportionality, but overall, there is a certain functionality to it. In short, an unresponsive film, dry in emotion and apocryphal in its laughably phony poetic take on such a simple and self-explanatory story.