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Peter Pan & Wendy fly into fancy: Movie Review

Buena Vista Pictures
Buena Vista Pictures

After what seems like an endless parade of live-action remakes from Disney's canon of animated classics, is there any creativity left to actually make them any good? According to the new Peter Pan & Wendy, the answer is a shocking yes.

Yes, it seems this sub genre of family entertainment can fly. They can fly, they can fly, they can fly!

Director David Lowery approaches the classic Peter Pan story with such wonder, joy, naturalism and warmth that his new movie feels far more genuine than many other remakes of the last several years. Add in great production design and a committed cast with top-notch child actors and you’ve got a surprising winner on your hands (or hooks).

The plot follows a mostly earnest retelling of events from the 1953 animated Disney version, but more narrowed into the main plot between Peter Pan (Alexander Molony) and Wendy's (a smashing Ever Anderson) efforts to foil the evil Captain Hook (Jude Law).

Having a sharper focus on the main cast gives the movie momentum that makes its slow pacing more forgivable. Even though it's 70 years old, younger viewers would likely prefer and get more out of the brightness and pace of the cartoon version.

All of the children in the principal cast are charming performers - and that includes the teenage actors pretending to be children. Best of all, they all are taking the fantasy just seriously enough to be convincing without being farcical. The adults are just as great, especially Law’s balanced and winsome Hook and Jim Gaffigan's nuanced Mr. Smee.

This isn’t Lowery’s first recreation of a Disney classic: he was also the director and driver behind 2016’s remake of Pete’s Dragon. That film and this new Peter Pan share a lot in common, both good and bad.

For one thing, they both have exquisite, vast landscapes with beautiful cinematography. They both have playful, gentle scripts that make them suitable for children. They also have a sense of reservation with subtleties that suggest these child-focused are really more for adult viewers.

To be clear: this a winsome and appropriate film for children. But the slow-pacing and delicate tone of the movie might leave younger children feeling bored and older viewers wishing it wasn’t as simple a retelling as it is.

With the lack of innovation, however, comes magnificent production design of Neverland. The gorgeous vistas are actually of Newfoundland & Labrador (most of the film was shot here in Canada) and it looks stunning.

Despite its uninventive concept, the execution of its actors, effects, sets and music are all really terrific. With such high quality of filmmaking and large, expansive locations, this really should have gone to movie theatres first. (Shame on Disney for putting some of their best new movies on digital only.)

If home theatres are the best they can do, Peter Pan & Wendy still makes for an enjoyable family movie night in. Add it in to the higher tier of Disney's growing list of remade favourites.

Peter Pan & Wendy

8 out of 10

PG, 1hr 46mins. Family Fantasy Adventure.

Directed by David Lowery.

Starring Alexander Molony, Ever Anderson, Jude Law, Alyssa Wapanatahk, Jim Gaffigan and Yara Shahidi.

Now streaming on Disney+ for subscribers.