The boy who never wants to grow up returns once again, BRIAN VINER reviews Peter Pan & Wendy

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Peter Pan & Wendy (PG, 106 minutes)


Verdict: Just another (one too many) live action remakes

May the screen gods spare us from ‘reinterpretations’ of classic works of literature. No sooner have we been subjected to the BBC’s Great Expectations, which makes certain bold tweaks evidently on the basis that old Dickens didn’t get it quite right, than Disney tackles another famous story that filmmakers are incapable of leaving alone. The result is just as messy.

I admit I watched Peter Pan & Wendy, starring Jude Law as Captain Hook, with decidedly low expectations. My starting point, unhelpfully, was not really understanding the enduring appeal of JM Barrie’s original story. 

New release: Peter Pan & Wendy is now streaming on Disney+, it has been rated a PG and runs for 106 minutes

Cast: Alexander Molony and Ever Anderson take on the titular Peter Pan and Wendy roles, while Jude Law portrays the villainous Captain Hook

Cast: Alexander Molony and Ever Anderson take on the titular Peter Pan and Wendy roles, while Jude Law portrays the villainous Captain Hook

Adoring it seems to be a badge of Britishness, yet it is one I have never managed to wear, and not only because Michael Jackson called his creepy ranch Neverland. That cocky weirdo Peter Pan, his annoying sidekick Tinker Bell, the strange Lost Boys, Captain Hook and the crocodile, can’t we all just accept that it was a cracking yarn in 1904 that simply does not need endless recycling?

Apparently not. By my calculations this is the 12th big-screen version, no less, and there’s even talk of a horror ‘reimagining’ by the people who made the desperately ill-conceived slasher film Winnie-the-Pooh: Blood and Honey. That will be well worth missing.

This one, by contrast, is broadly speaking a live-action remake of Disney’s 1953 animation, except that American writer-director David Lowery has chosen to give it a very 2023 makeover, not least by empathetically handing Hook a set of mental-health and anger-management issues arising from Peter’s past treatment of him. Don’t expect villainy for villainy’s sake. 

At times, watching this film is like sitting in on a therapy session as a deeply disturbed pirate confronts his repressed memories. All of which will fly over the heads of its intended young audience as surely as Peter does over the rooftops of Edwardian London.

In fact, Lowery’s finely-tuned modern sensibilities make it almost surprising that Hook does not sport a prosthetic hand and a disability badge.

The director was accused of ‘wokeism’ as soon as the news broke that his Lost Boys would include, er, girls. They also include a Down’s Syndrome actor (which I’m all for, personally, and it’s worth remembering that Barrie gave the Peter Pan rights to Great Ormond Street Hospital). But they are such a pointedly multi-ethnic band that it’s hard not to be reminded of the late, great Victoria Wood poking fun at the way Mia Farrow adopted children, like someone choosing letters on Countdown until they had a sufficiently diverse collection.

As for the inclusion of girls, it directly contradicts Barrie’s line that the Lost Boys were boys who had fallen out of their prams, which girls were ‘much too clever’ to do. Yet it’s hardly the only amendment that might make the celebrated Scottish playwright wince in the celestial dress circle. Goodness knows how he would react to Lowery’s psychological rationalisation of Hook’s evil.

Impressive: Viner applauds Jude Law's performance, describing him as 'jolly good as the tortured Hook'

Impressive: Viner applauds Jude Law’s performance, describing him as ‘jolly good as the tortured Hook’

New role: While Yara Shahidi portrays fairy tinkerbell

New role: While Yara Shahidi portrays fairy tinkerbell

Beyond all this, the story follows a pretty familiar trajectory. As night falls on their affluent London home, Wendy Darling (nicely-played by Ever Anderson) and her two younger brothers are visited by Peter (Alexander Molony) and the mute fairy Tinker Bell (Yara Shahidi). Like Peter, Wendy doesn’t much want to grow up, which in her case is represented by the imminent prospect of boarding school. Peter saves her from it, by whisking her and her siblings off to Neverland, where of course it isn’t long before they fall foul of Hook, Mr Smee (Jim Gaffigan) and the rest of the dastardly, dim-witted, child-hating pirate crew.

There are some impressive special effects and a few dashes of wit that I enjoyed. For instance, when holed up at Skull Rock, the pirates’ thunderous chant of ‘No children in Neverland’ is subverted by Peter, disguised under a fake beard, to become ‘No-one but children in Neverland’.

Moreover, Law is jolly good as the tortured Hook. But ultimately this film adds nothing worthwhile to the mighty heap of Peter Pan adaptations. The warrior princess Tiger Lily (Alyssa Wapanatahk) still seems like a curiously superfluous character, while Peter, played by young Molony with a kind of earnest puckishness, just made me want to shout two short, sharp words at him: grow up.

Peter Pan & Wendy is streaming now on Disney +

Viner's final thoughts? 'Ultimately this film adds nothing worthwhile to the mighty heap of Peter Pan adaptations'

Viner’s final thoughts? ‘Ultimately this film adds nothing worthwhile to the mighty heap of Peter Pan adaptations’

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