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Peter Pan & Wendy is a bold and thoroughly lovely retelling of a classic
★★★★ | Shot in Pan-a-vision
I really like David Lowery as a director. He takes wild swings that don't always connect, but sometimes it's the swing itself that matters.
Such is the case with Peter Pan & Wendy, a loose adaptation of the animated Disney film, but also a retelling and new contextualization of J.M. Barrie's timeless story.
It's a film at odds with itself. At once wild and free to explore the things its predecessors wouldn't, but also gangly and awkward, as if uncertain of itself and all its potential.
In a way, it's a perfect metaphor for the teenage years our hero, Wendy, faces as her childhood comes to an end. Everything is still ahead, yet closing the door behind her feels insurmountable. It's the first loss we face, but so intangible we can't articulate it until years later.
All of this is in Barrie's original text. At its heart, beneath the big adventure, is a melancholy longing for an Arcadia that never existed.
It's these parts that Lowery's film captures perfectly. The metaphysical elements that have come to define his filmography. Whether he's tackling loss and grief in A Ghost Story or the folly of reckless youth in Green Knight, Lowery's films all deal with the enormity of time.
In Peter Pan & Wendy, time is the real antagonist. Hook, Wendy, and even Pan himself are its victims. There's a sense that even if his body will not age, Peter Pan is an old soul grasping at something he doesn't understand anymore. His heart knows something is wrong, but he doesn't have the words to articulate it.
His nemesis, Hook, played superbly by a glowering and ragged Jude Law, is Pan’s mirror image. Even more so than before. He is what Pan fears, and Pan, in return, is everything Hook hates for losing. Time and tide have done their work, and neither has the means the cross the gulf between them.
It's a fascinating and daring move to shift the emphasis of their iconic battle in this way. Especially as Wendy, locked between the two, could easily become yet another damsel for the taking. Instead, her presence ushers in another kind of conflict, one neither Hook nor Pan fully understands.
But Wendy is neither mother nor an object of desire, and her determination to carve a future for herself burns bright at the heart of the story. In one of the film’s smartest choices, Lowery gives Wendy the big moments of self-actualization. It turns Peter into a tragic figure like Hook, giving Wendy the agency other adaptations lack.
Where Lowery's film stumbles are the moments that stick closest to the Disney animation. They're notable only in their faint recognizability, and equally distracting in a film that goes beyond mere live-action recreation. There's the crocodile, the clocks, and Tiger Lily, but they have no room to breathe.
And yet, it's already a miracle that we have a film as subversive as this. The small compromises do not harm the big picture, because that picture is a rich mosaic you can get lost in.
It's a gorgeous rendering of a classic. Imperfect and messy, but personal and earnest, as well.
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