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Another Day, Another Lifeless Disney Live-Action Remake

By Sara Clements | Film | April 28, 2023 |

By Sara Clements | Film | April 28, 2023 |


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After finding success at A24 with A Ghost Story and The Green Knight, David Lowery is back at Disney taking on another live-action remake. While it’s highly doubtful that Peter Pan & Wendy will receive as many positive reviews as his last outing, Pete’s Dragon, he still manages to bring to life one of the better Disney rehashes of the last few years (even if it’s still not that good).

The story of the boy from Neverland is one most of us know well, so let’s make this quick: Wendy (Ever Anderson) and her two brothers, John (Joshua Pickering) and Michael (Jacobi Jupe), don’t want to grow up. Luckily for The Darling siblings, Peter Pan (Alexander Molony) and his fairy sidekick Tinker Bell (Yara Shahidi) are quick to rescue them from the prospect of adulthood. Wendy and her brothers soon find themselves flying to Neverland. There, the Darlings meet an amusing, diverse cast of Peter’s friends, The Lost Boys, along with the Native inhabitants of the land like Tiger Lily (Alyssa Wapanatâhk). They also get a little too close to the end of the blade of Peter Pan’s greatest enemy, Captain Hook (Jude Law).

The cast is the film’s greatest strength, especially with newcomers who genuinely impress. As the film’s star, Molony captures Peter’s adventurous, daring, and mischievous personality to an infectious degree. He’s a pretty cocky and immature kid at times, which balances out great against the maturity that Anderson brings out in the imaginative Wendy. Shahidi sparkles as Tinker Bell. She still has the familiar sass, but refreshingly without the jealous flair. Out of the young cast, it’s Wapanatâhk as Tiger Lily that really steals the show. No longer just a damsel in distress, and now allowed to speak in her Cree language, it’s a refreshing portrayal that was too many years in the making. (Remember when Rooney Mara played Tiger Lily? That was only eight years ago.) Wapanatâhk is an assured, calming presence on the screen. She also kicks ass with two tomahawks and the film incorporates Indigenous singing into the score for her own theme which is fantastic.

As the film’s villain, Law sinks his hook into the role with menacing glee, but only as much as Lowery and Toby Halbrooks’ script allows. Though still sinister and cunning, the character’s transformation is quite puzzling. Hook gets some emotional moments that bring more depth to the character as he ponders his lost childhood, and as a layer of complexity is added to Hook and Peter’s relationship, but this makes the tone way more serious than the character in the 1953 animated film, whose emotional moments were used for humor. He does still have some comical moments, but they’re very few. Hook is missing all flamboyance, as well. It’s a role that could have been brilliantly camp had it even just stuck with a more 17th-century garb (Dustin Hoffman did it!). The animated character twirls his mustache in a bright crimson and yellow coat with a ruffled collar and stockings. Here, Hook looks like any ol’ pirate.

Live-action is good for many things, like production design. The detail that’s created for this film in comparison to its 1953 counterpart builds settings that feel more lived in. Live-action offers the opportunity for magical moments that feel more real to us, too. The film really shines in how it sweeps across London, in a thrilling flight, and across the beautiful green landscape of Neverland. Lowery knows how to capture the beauty of natural wonders (in this case, Newfoundland and Labrador), as seen in The Green Knight, and Peter’s world initially feels quite mystical. But what befalls Hook’s drab transformation ultimately also affects the rest of the film. As our own Kayleigh Donaldson puts it, it’s all to do with realism. The animated film can feel warm even in the darkest scenes, but when we move away from lush green landscapes here, there’s a lack of color or personality that creates something lifeless.

“The aching focus on realism starves cinema (and modern prestige TV) of its creative potential,” Donaldson says, and that couldn’t be more true here (and probably The Little Mermaid, too. Have ya’ll seen Flounder?!). This focus on realism affects more than just appearance. It was once fun to watch a child beat a rotten codfish like Hook, but the action in Peter Pan & Wendy is so boring. It’s like they’re thinking too much about how it’s an adult fighting a child, especially in Hook and Peter’s first fight sans the high-flying gags and taunts from the youngster that make the scene in the animated film memorable. Like Blanche DuBois, we don’t want realism. We want magic!

Wendy explains that Neverland wasn’t what she expected, just like we couldn’t have expected Disney to be in a constant losing battle with itself. Kids are going to eat this up just like young millennials did with Peter Pan (2003), but will the Mouse House ever be able to recreate its own magic?