Movie Review: Disney’s “Peter Pan & Wendy” Doesn’t Stick its (Never) Landing

Jon Favreau’s live-action adaptation of The Jungle Book was inspired by both the Rudyard Kipling novel and classic Disney animated film. Similarly, David Lowery’s Peter Pan & Wendy claims to be based on both J. M. Barrie’s 1911 novelization of the stage play and Disney’s 1953 animated classic. Unlike The Jungle Book, there’s very little evidence of the animated version having much of an impact on this version, which is a shame given the barrage of Peter Pan-based films since the source material entered the public domain. It shies away from what should have been the secret sauce of this Disney+ original, existing in the minds of viewers alongside Universal’s Peter Pan from 2003, Warner Bros. Pan from 2015, and Searchlight Pictures’ Wendy from 2015. In other words, there’s been no shortage of live-action adaptations of the same story in the past twenty years, and this version doesn’t have enough pixie dust to fly above all the competition.



On the night before Wendy Darling (Ever Anderson, Black Widow) is to leave home for boarding school, she and her brothers are visited by their bedtime story hero, Peter Pan (Alexander Molony, The Reluctant Landlord). Whisked away to Never Neverland, Wendy discovers a world where children never grow up, but it also comes with the danger of Captain Hook (Jude Law, Captain Marvel) and his pirate crew, forever locked in a battle for vengeance with Pan.

From the director of Disney’s 2016 reimagined version of Pete’s Dragon, David Lowery creates a grittier, less fanciful version of Neverland. Rather than celebrating Mary Blair’s bold colors in the animated classic, this version offers a palette that feels unnecessarily muted and restrained, sucking some of the visual fun from the property. With the project’s history of campy stage musicals and Disney’s lighthearted animated feature, Peter Pan & Wendy instantly feels too dark and heavy for such fanciful fair.

Wendy has always been the main character of the story, without whom there would be no introduction of Peter Pan, although in Peter Pan & Wendy, there’s no doubt that this is Wendy’s film. Fans of the animated classic or other versions of the story will be quick to spot many changes to the two source materials, namely in the vein of political correctness. Wendy, for example, never becomes a damsel in distress in need of Pan’s assistance, and neither does Tiger Lily (Alyssa Wapanatâhk, Bones of Crows), who takes on an elder sister role to Peter and whose dialogue is largely subtitled. And the Lost Boys, despite retaining that moniker, are a mix of genders.

But the biggest change, and the one that ultimately weighs down the fun of a typical Peter Pan, is the added backstory that explains the longstanding rivalry between Peter Pan and Captain Hook. It’s especially hard to take if you’re a fan of Stephen Spielberg’s Hook, in which Peter Pan has grown up only to find that Hook, in spite of his age, has remained very childish. Here, the two enemies cross into frenemies, with Hook being a deflected Lost Boy who left Neverland, grew up, and returned an unrecognizable pirate. The film also break’s the longstanding tradition of casting a dual actor as Wendy’s father and Captain Hook, giving the role of her paternal parent to Alan Tudyk from all of Walt Disney Animation Studios’ recent films.

With the exception of the melody of “You Can Fly! You Can Fly! You Can Fly!” being transcribed into the score, Peter Pan & Wendy has a hard time calling itself a live-action adaptation of a Disney animated film. The reality is that it’s yet another in a long line of film adaptations of J.M. Barrie’s original novel. Unfortunately, this adaptation is missing some of the pixie dust that’s meant to make each trip to Neverland feel truly awe-inspiring.

I give Peter Pan & Wendy 2 out of 5 thimble kisses.

Peter Pan & Wendy is now streaming on Disney+.

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Alex Reif
Alex joined the Laughing Place team in 2014 and has been a lifelong Disney fan. His main beats for LP are Disney-branded movies, TV shows, books, music and toys. He recently became a member of the Television Critics Association (TCA).