Review: ‘Peter Pan & Wendy’ a real-live adventure this time from Disney’s recycling bin

You could say “Peter Pan & Wendy,” the latest voyage to the Disney+ recycling bin, is an unexpectedly strong movie. But it’s not unexpected, so really, you shouldn’t call it that.

The director and co-writer David Lowery has made nothing but interesting features, six so far, and while his latest (co-written by Toby Halbrooks) turns into a bit of a Lost Boy here and there in its brooding investigation of why Captain Hook, played by a happily camp-averse Jude Law, got that way, it’s a stirring adaptation of J.M. Barrie’s fantasy, now streaming.

“Peter Pan & Wendy” starts where it ought to, in London at night. In Lowery’s film, the Darling family (Molly Parker and Alan Tudyk appear as Ma and Pa in the bookend sequences) is about to send a trepidatious Wendy off to boarding school. Like the eternal boy she’s been hearing about in stories most of her young life, she prefers not to grow up too quickly.

The magical arrival of Peter Pan and Tinker Bell, and the whisking of the eager Darling children off to Neverland, changes the itinerary. Director Lowery and his digital-effects army deliver a quite-good initial flight (straight through Big Ben, into a kind of time-warp thingie up in the stars) and Neverland is played by the Faroe Islands between Iceland and Norway, plus Newfoundland and Labrador and bits of British Columbia. It looks like a place you’d actually love to visit, as opposed to, say, Steven Spielberg’s soundstage-bound “Hook,” which I still wake up screaming about sometimes.

“Peter Pan & Wendy” relates directly in visual terms to Lowery’s knack for real-world landscape amid fantastical wonders in films such as “Pete’s Dragon” and, more recently, “The Green Knight.” All the Barrie basics, and ideas cooked up in the 1953 Disney animated feature, remain in this version. Peter vs. Hook. Tiger Lily and the Lost Boys. The crocodile. The reluctance to grow up. Sword fights, pirates, flying, you know the drill. But “Peter Pan & Wendy” goes its own ways. Peter, played by Alexander Molony with a determinedly low-key touch, isn’t sidelined, exactly, but Wendy’s in the forefront. As Ever Anderson plays her, she’s a vibrant protagonist on her own quest. The Lost Boys and Hook’s pirates give us a multiethnic array of actors, which is the sort of thing we don’t really even have to note these days.

The narrative stalls periodically in its devotion to Hook’s vicious obsession with Peter, and the story behind that (no spoilers here). “Show me a child who truly knows the difference between right and wrong,” Hook says at one tense point, “and I’ll show you a man who can’t remember why it mattered in the first place.” Some of this psychodrama works; some of it works too hard. But Lowery invests the whole of it with a mood both grave and warm, with serious dramatic stakes.


3 stars (out of 4)

Rated: PG (for violence, peril and thematic elements)

Running time: 1:46

How to watch: Disney+