The beauty of Peter Pan & Wendy is unmistakable. Director Benh Zeitlin, who won an Oscar for his previous film, Beasts of the Southern Wild, builds the children’s world through expressionistic means and whirling sunlit sequences. At times, this results in a cinematic masterpiece that can rival any animated Disney feature.
The first 50 minutes or so of the movie drift beautifully, sifting through Wendy’s life, a curly-haired toddler (Devin France) bouncing around in a Louisiana diner. Then, she hops a train coaxed by a laughing boy named Peter (Yashua Mack), and the drift gives way to churning, to chugging wheels, driving music and skin-prickling momentum.
Wendy’s compulsion to follow Peter is an attempt to escape the confines of her home and the reality that she has little control over her destiny. She wants to make her dreams a reality and leave behind the compromises she feels forced to make as a parent. She is a very strong-willed girl who doesn’t like to settle for less than she deserves.
When she and her brothers jump aboard a train, it’s the start of their wild adventure to Neverland, a place where children live in a world where they never grow old. The only thing that keeps them from growing old is Mother, a whale-like creature who watches over them.
Despite their wild and wacky adventures, the kids are never quite happy. They’re always running, yelling and playing, but they don’t know what to do when the world starts to crumble or their friends go missing. The world is a dangerous and scary place, but it’s also a place where they’re free to be themselves.
Very Good Performances
There are a few good performances in the primewire movie, but the overall story is far too thin and lacks any real emotional impact. The main characters aren’t developed enough to matter, and the film doesn’t seem to have learned the central lesson that Barrie’s original tale is supposed to impart: That childhood doesn’t come with a guarantee of adulthood.
As in Peter Pan, Wendy’s quest to find her way home ends in disaster. She meets a fairy named Tinker Bell, who tells her she’s been kidnapped and that she’ll only be saved if she believes in the fairy world. She also has a visit from the villainous Captain Hook, who takes her hand and attempts to take her hostage.
Focus on the Children’s Twee Escapades
When the film focuses on the children’s twee escapades, it’s as if the filmmaker is striving to capture an overly childlike exuberance and optimism that is almost too naive for its own good. This is especially true of Peter and his cohorts, who behave with a level of precociousness that often borders on ludicrousness.
As a result, the film ends up feeling more akin to a tweet re-telling of Lord of the Flies than a deeply felt take on Peter Pan. It’s not even that the film tries to subvert the moral at the heart of many Peter Pan adaptations; it simply repositions the story in a jarring way, leaving its more serious elements to be deconstructed instead of embraced. That’s a shame because the story itself is genuinely beautiful.