After watching “Peter Pan and Wendy,” I finally get why Disney is making live action remakes of their animated classics. It’s not to honor the original, but to correct the problems that some people have with the original. And by doing so, they show it is Disney who has the biggest problem with the original narrative, depiction of characters, or societal views.
When you watch the original Disney animated classic on Disney+, you will be greeted with a warning that states: “This program contains negative depictions and/or mistreatment of people or cultures. They were wrong then and are wrong now. Rather than remove the content, we want to acknowledge the harmful impact, learn from it, and spark conversation to create a more inclusive future together,” before the film starts. There is no such warning before “Peter Pan and Wendy,” implying that, theoretically, everyone should be happy with the newer version because it corrects everything that was wrong with the original.
But is it a better film? The simple answer is no. It’s a typical Disney live action remake.
What surprised me about “Peter Pan and Wendy” is how radically different it is from the original Disney animated film. Walt Disney took liberties with the original, too, so you can’t totally fault the new version for all the changes. In fact, some of the changes are more faithful to the original story written by J.M. Barrie. My problem is that Peter is not the central character in his own story — it’s Wendy. (Though, perhaps our expectations should have been different, given that they added Wendy’s name to the title.)
Wendy, played by Ever Anderson, is more of a leader in this version, though she comes off as tough and uncaring at times. She rarely smiles and is troubled by the era-appropriate expectations of becoming a lady.
In this version, she’s bothered that her parents are sending her to boarding school and expect her to be on the path to adulthood. I don’t think Wendy comes across as likable; instead, she’s mad that the whole world is seemingly against her. That is a mistake; in my eyes, Wendy was the mother figure and voice of reason in the original. Here, she becomes the hero.
Then there is Peter. Alexander Molony plays him, and there is no sugarcoating his performance — awful. His portrayal is emotionless, boring, and often robotic like he’s reading lines off of cue cards. He has no real presence or impact with his performance. If the director instructed Molony to play the character like Mr. Spock, then mission accomplished. But that is not Peter Pan to so many.
Peter should be the child that never grew up, but in this version, Peter seems more like he is miserable, never smiles, and doesn’t know how to have fun. He also comes off as though he wishes he was anywhere else but in this movie.
The one standout for me was Tinker Bell, played by Yara Shahidi. She seemed like the only character having fun and genuinely expressing joy. They radically changed Tink’s character, too, sometimes for better and sometimes for worse.
In this version, she’s not jealous of Wendy — they’re best friends. In fact, she’s seemingly even better friends with Wendy than she is with Peter, because Wendy wants to know more about Tink and to hear her speak. When Wendy finally says goodbye to Neverland, she cries more that she will miss Tink, not Peter. This underscores the impression that Peter and Wendy had no real relationship (and definitely no chemistry).
And then there is Captain Hook, played by Jude Law. I am not the biggest fan of Jude Law’s acting. He usually comes off as bored and doesn’t really push himself. And big surprise: that’s how he plays Hook.
The character is also radically changed here. This goes back to Disney’s more recent trope that there are no real villains, just misunderstood people. Some may like the change, and others may think it doesn’t work. For me, if you don’t have a strong, evil villain, you aren’t going to have a good movie.
(It should be noted that Walt Disney felt the animated version of Hook was not all bad, stating that “The audience will get to liking Hook, and they don’t want to see him killed,” as cited in “The Disney Villain” by Ollie Johnston.)
Another shocking change was the crocodile chasing after Captain Hook. First, I am shocked that no one at Disney thought to refer to the character by his name, Tick-Tock. They essentially turned the crocodile into Jaws. This is not a lovable, goofy looking crocodile to add some comic relief. This is a giant monster showing no mercy to its victims as he eats them and rips them apart. For some kids, this will be pretty scary, so exercise caution.
As I had mentioned, many characters and storylines have been radically changed from the original. Check below for a full list.
- Tiger Lily, in this version, is never a damsel in distress. She is basically Rambo-lina. In fact, it’s John and Michael that are kidnapped by Hook, not Tiger Lily. Peter does not save Tiger Lily. Tiger Lily saves Peter.
- To be more inclusive, The Lost Boys are both boys and girls.
- Tinker Bell does not betray Peter and The Lost Boys by leading Hook to their hideout. Wendy sings a song, and Hook hears it from miles away. Tink is nothing but good in this version.
- James Hook was once a Lost Boy and Peter’s best friend. He started missing his mother, and Peter banished him from the Lost Boys and Neverland forever.
- Wendy does walk the plank in this version, but she is not saved by Peter. She is saved by Tinker Bell. Tink gives Wendy pixie dust that makes her fly, and Wendy basically becomes Peter Pan for the rest of the movie. According to Hook, “She has the boy’s magic.” Wendy replies, “This magic belongs to no boy,” given that both Peter and Wendy need the pixie dust from Tink to fly.
- At one point, Peter can’t fly and is falling to his death, and Wendy saves him. Peter never saves Wendy.
- Peter once lived in The Darling’s home before they lived in it. That’s why he visits so often.
- Peter apologizes to James (Hook) for treating him so poorly. Soon after, it appears James falls to his death, and he is presumably eaten by the crocodile. Just before the movie ends, you see James and Smee floating on some of the ship’s debris. Peter comes back to rescue James, and they become friends again.
Overall, “Peter Pan and Wendy” has very little going for it, and it’s not very good.
It’s patently obvious that Disney would prefer that you watch this over the original animated “Peter Pan.” Disney wants to correct some of their former choices, and it sometimes comes off as preachy. Rafiki once said, “The past can hurt. But the way I see it, you can either run from it or learn from it.”
I’ll add another thing: you can’t change the past. You learn from the mistakes of the past, and you try not to repeat those same mistakes going forward. I feel that If Disney wants to promote evolved and current values, then they should write new stories and make movies that reflect positive changes.
I give “Peter Pan and Wendy” a 4/10.