Disney’s Live-Action Remake of Peter Pan is Serviceable
In 1904, J.M. Barrie finished Peter Pan: The Boy Who Wouldn’t Grow Up, and since then the story has been re-imagined on stage, on the silver screen, and even with a live TV production. Every generation gets its version (sometimes more than one), and the most famous (or infamous) is the 1953 animated Disney classic, the 1991 Steven Spielberg live-action version Hook, the 2003 live-action version that never really captured a wide audience, and the fairly recent 2015 flop Pan from Joe Wright. At the core of the story is that none of us really want to grow up and take on the responsibilities of adulthood, and to avoid such a wretched future, we’d be willing to fly off in the middle of the night to a place called Neverland and fight an evil pirate while chasing great adventures.
If you want to explore the optimistic and playful aspects of the story, then Walt Disney animation and director Steven Spielberg are your best bets. On the flip side, you wouldn’t expect the director of A Ghost Story (2017) and The Green Knight (2021) to follow suit. Writer-director David Lowery and his co-writer and collaborator Toby Halbrooks (The Polyphonic Spree) on those projects wouldn’t be expected to dwell on the cheery aspects of the story, and they certainly don’t. Instead, we get exactly what they expertly deliver in their work – lush photography and a slightly twisted perspective on what makes people (young and old) tick.
We first meet Wendy (the talented Ever Gabo Anderson, daughter of Milla Jovovich and director Paul W.S. Anderson) as she frets over being shipped off to boarding school, while still finding the energy to stage sword fights with her younger brothers in all corners of the upstairs bedroom they share. Yet another piece of broken furniture results in the parents (Alan Tudyk and Molly Parker) lecturing Wendy about how her time for fun has passed and that she should set an example for her brothers. This is the same evening (and very early in the film) where Tinker Bell (Yara Shahidi) and Peter Pan (newcomer Alexander Molony) show up to whisk the three kids away from drudgery and towards adventure and fun.
What to say about Neverland; the “Lost Boys” aren’t really living a carefree, desirable life, and fun seems to be a bit hard to come by. Their leader, Peter Pan, is certainly a moody dude. Adventure does strike every time Captain Hook and his band of pirates attack. Jude Law seems to relish the role and his handlebar mustache, gravelly voice, and grumpy demeanor is one of the film’s highlights – along with comedian Jim Gaffigan (underrated as an actor) as first mate Smee.
In this iteration, Peter Pan is a bit of a blah character, as the focus is on Wendy and Captain Hook. We do get the origin story for Peter and Hook, and the visuals (Newfoundland, Faroe Islands) from cinematographer Bojan Bozelli are matched by composer Daniel Hart’s score. Director Lowery has modernized the tale by having the Lost Boys include boys and girls of multiple nationalities, a biracial Tinker Bell, and a heroic Tiger Lily played by Alyssa Wapanatahk. Kids will enjoy the flying scenes, sword fights, and the giant crocodile, however, it’s fair to wonder if the film is too dark and joyless for youngsters…plus the focus on Hook’s disenchantment is more for grown-ups than kiddos. In fairness to Lowery and Halbrooks, they were also behind the excellent and underappreciated Pete’s Dragon (2016).
We have come to accept that Disney classics are being re-made and re-imagined as live-action flicks, and it’s no surprise that some are better than others.