Peter Pan & Wendy Elevates Heroines In Live-Action Reimagining

(L-R): Alexander Molony as Peter Pan, Ever Anderson as Wendy, Joshua Pickering as John Darling and Jacobi Jupe as Michael Darling in Disney's live-action PETER PAN & WENDY, exclusively on Disney+. Photo courtesy of Disney. © 2023 Disney Enterprises, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

Peter Pan & Wendy, now on Disney+, is the latest live-action reimagining of a classic Walt Disney Animation Studios film, 1953’s Peter Pan.

Disney reimaginings of animated classics come in two forms: a theatrical release or Disney+. When a film goes straight to Disney+, there are some lesser expectations because it tells me they don’t think it could be a box office hit. Disney has both Guardians of the Galaxy: Volume 3 and The Little Mermaid in May. There is not room for two live-action reimagininges less than a month a part. While it certainly goes for the nostalgic factor, it never truly feels like a big-screen spectacle. It also speaks to how things have changed since the studio’s release of Aladdin back in 2019. Mulan would have been a theatrical release if not for Covid and then of course, Cruella got a hybrid release for the same reason. This brings us to where we are now: Peter Pan & Wendy is now streaming on Disney+.

It feels somewhat darker than the animated version and for that, I feel like Disney+ is the best home. I don’t think it would do as well at the box office, especially not with some of the changes. While some of them are definitely better in representing the world we currently live in, there’s still room for improvement.

In adapting for live-action, it allows some more room for the back story. It’s something I appreciated in both Cinderella and Beauty and the Beast. In this case, the build on the backstories for both Peter Pan (Alexander Molony) and Captain James Hook (Jude Law). A 106-minute film means being able to do a lot more than the original 77-minute version. They stay true to the spirit of the film while adding other scenes altogether. Some of the storyline is substantially different from the 1953 film. Tinker Bell (Yara Shahidi) is not jealous of Wendy (Ever Anderson). There is no plot point in which John (Joshua Pickering), Michael (Jacobi Jupe), and the Lost Boys search for the island’s Natives. No do we see mermaids saving Wendy. Instead, Tiger Lily (Alyssa Wapanatâhk) is with the Lost Boys from the minute they find Wendy and she kicks ass!

The gist of the film is otherwise the same: Peter Pan ends up at the Darling home while searching for his shadow. He convinces Wendy, John, and Michael to join him in flying to Neverland. They do not sing “You Can Fly” but incorporate it into the score instead. I swear I heard a hint of John Williams’s classic Hook theme but it doesn’t appear anywhere in the credits. Speaking of Daniel Hart’s score, I love that they list every orchestra member in the credits. Anyway, Captain Hook orders his pirates to start launching cannon bombs at Peter. Wendy gets separated while the pirates capture John and Michael. At this point, the script starts diverting from 1953. There’s still a climactic battle between Peter and Hook. The ending is even somewhat different, too.

Who is Captain James Hook? This is something that the film seeks to somewhat explore. Was he originally someone that Peter Pan knew when he arrived in Never Land? How did they get to become enemies? The 1953 animated film doesn’t really explore this so the live-action, like earlier films, has time to offer some backstory. Will it fly with audiences? Time will tell. In any event, it speaks to a question of growing up and at what pace we should allow people to do so.

Outside of changing plot points, the biggest change is the treatment of the Natives. Outside of Tiger Lily, we barely see them aside from an establishing shot or two. Most importantly, David Lowery and Toby Halbrooks do not include any racist language in the script. I do love that they allow Tiger Lily’s character to kick some ass though. Much like the casting in 2019’s Aladdin, this by far one of the best improvements in Peter Pan & Wendy.

One of the main changes is the inclusion of girls in the Lost Boys. Historically, the Lost Boys have always been male. This is one of those decisions that might feel perplexing to some but it feels a bit off to not call them Lost Kids or Lost Children instead. They stick with J.M. Barrie’s original term of Lost Boys, for better or worse. At least they kept Tootles (Caelan Edie)–but where are his marbles?!? Imagine if one of them were a transgender girl–how would they feel if they were called a Lost Boy? I understand why they would want to stick to Barrie’s term but they really should have updated by making it co-ed.

As Wendy, Ever Anderson is a real revelation. Acting is in her genes, being the daughter of Paul W.S. Anderson and Milla Jovovich. Wendy is every bit a leading role in the film as Peter Pan and Captain Hook. Even though she doesn’t want to leave home or grow up, the actress brings something more to the role. The character is given an opportunity to evolve on screen in a way we’ve never seen in previous adaptations. Meanwhile, the film takes her character’s look in a different direction from 1953. It’s really for the best.

The credits in the production notes list Adult Wendy and Older Wendy. These are blink-and-miss it because I didn’t remember seeing them in the film. Unfortunately, Dame Maggie Smith is not cast as Older Wendy. It would have been the perfect opportunity to tie the film in with Hook! After all, Spielberg’s initial vision was for a live-action musical sequel to the 1953 film. Oh, well.

In reimagining the story in live-action, Peter Pan & Wendy elevates its heroines in the best way possible.

DIRECTOR: David Lowery
SCREENWRITERS: David Lowery & Toby Halbrooks
CAST: Jude Law, Alexander Molony, Ever Anderson, Yara Shahidi, Alyssa Wapanatâhk, Joshua Pickering, Jacobi Jupe, Molly Parker, Alan Tudyk, and Jim Gaffigan

Disney+ launches Peter Pan & Wendy on April 28, 2023. Grade: 3.5/5

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Danielle Solzman

Danielle Solzman is native of Louisville, KY, and holds a BA in Public Relations from Northern Kentucky University and a MA in Media Communications from Webster University. She roots for her beloved Kentucky Wildcats, St. Louis Cardinals, Indianapolis Colts, and Boston Celtics. Living less than a mile away from Wrigley Field in Chicago, she is an active reader (sports/entertainment/history/biographies/select fiction) and involved with the Chicago improv scene. She also sees many movies and reviews them. She has previously written for Redbird Rants, Wildcat Blue Nation, and Hidden Remote/Flicksided. From April 2016 through May 2017, her film reviews can be found on Creators.