So, despite the fact that I tend to not get round to watching new programs or films until weeks, months or years after they come out—for some reason the gremlin inside my head decided today I was going to be punctual. On the release of the latest live action Disney film, Peter Pan and Wendy—on the actual day of the release—I would sit down and actively choose to watch it. I honestly don’t know why this film out of all of them got the gremlins interest but, here we are.
Now, first thing I have to say is that the film’s not ground-breaking. We’ve had plenty of updates to the Peter Pan universe since it came out all those years ago. I have grown up a big fan of all the Tinkerbell Franchise and, for whatever reason, Return to Neverland was one of my favourite childhood films (the music definitely may have been part of it). I remember sitting in my classroom, around the same age as Wendy, laughing along with all the other kids in the room at the gloriously cheesy ‘I do believe in fairies, I do, I do’ in the previous Live Action retelling.
We’ve seen Peter Pan. We know Peter Pan. This film was never going to change that. The core of the story would always be the same. However, I will say for the most part I had a really enjoyable time watching the film. The actor who played Peter Pan did a great job playing the impish, fun-loving yet scared boy. John and Michael were great little actors and the casting and costume-department did a great job at making them look like their cartoon counterparts (I appreciate the fact, in order for it to make sense John was wearing a top hat to look like a ‘pirate’ in their game, they gave one of Hook’s crew a top hat—good attention to detail).
Was it strange to me to see girls in the Lost Boys? Honestly, no, because they weren’t treated any differently than the boys in the group. They were all imps, all playful children and all filled with the same protective nature over Peter. The one throw-away they had, were Wendy asked why there were girls in the lost boys, wasn’t entirely necessary but I understand why they put it there. I personally think, instead of a defensive attitude, they should have had somebody complain about stories always getting it wrong or them being mistaken for boys… As I said, really I feel like it was unnecessary to bring up as they really felt like they were all of the same group anyway but I know they had to explain why they used ‘boys’ when it was a mixed group (brings up the question of who deemed them the ‘Lost Boys’ in the stories in the first place). I would have loved to see more about their group in fact and see more of a day in Neverland for Peter’s gang. Basically, I’m saying I want a Lost Boys series of stories.
Jude Law did a great job as Captain Hook. He could actually be quite intimidating in moments, and having his relationship with Smee be inferred through small moments rather than over-exposition was a great choice. Again, this would have been great to see for ourselves a bit more—either in a flashback or in intimate moments between the two showing the hinted at father and surrogate son dynamics. I do have a question about the crew—I assume Hook picked up a new crew before coming to Neverland? Because some of them were younger than him so there’s no way they were on that ship when Smee saved him as a child. We need a Hook and Smee story too… I need to know more about the Captain and his un-merry men.
They decided to change Tiger Lily’s part in the story. Or add to it I should really say. In the original she was kidnapped because she was, I believe, a ‘friend of Peter’s’—yet we only really saw small snippets of that friendship and it was barely even a friendship from what we saw. She was basically just used as the prop ‘damsel in distress’ for the boys games, and her family were used as a game to ‘fight’ according to the Lost Boys songs. In this new version we see more of that friendship with Peter and the Lost Boys. She’s an active member of their group, herself joining in the fight against the pirates. Being older than the other children and, potentially, having lived on Neverland the longest (based purely on the comment about ‘nothing changing’ on Neverland) she is significantly better off in these fights because of practice and age. She proves that she knows the terrain by often leading the rest of the characters through secret tunnels or knowing her way around the cliffs. And her friendship with Peter is solidified by her calling him ‘little brother’ in her native language. She is an active member and, from my point of view, she remained the same Tiger Lily but with a more modern take. She lost her damsel-in-distress and isn’t reduced to being a Princess to fight or protect.
The only two issues I would say I could find with her is they only throw out the ‘Princess’ title very roughly and I would’ve appreciated to know more about her title (is she an actual Chief’s daughter/Princess similar to Pocahontas? Or is it just a nickname?) and the use of her native language. I believe, if the subtitles were right, she was speaking ‘Cree’? However, she also speaks English—and often speaks in her native language to people she knows don’t speak it. Wendy very clearly doesn’t understand her native tongue but she takes a while to switch to English and then frequently tries to speak Cree (again apologies if I read that wrong) to people she knows won’t understand her—including, apparently the Lost Boys and Peter. I live in another country with a different language to my native one so I know it’s possible she just forgets and says it naturally before realising who she’s speaking too—however I think I would prefer it was written in a way that makes it obvious that that’s what happened. The way it currently is, especially with how calm it’s acted, makes it seem like an active choice which I don’t think is what they intended. I did however like the inclusion of the other language. Again, I would like to know more about Tiger Lily and her family and their relationship with Neverland. How did they get here? How long have they been here? What did they think when these other random kids suddenly arrived?
And now onto the main change from the original story, highlighted by the change in title. This story is equally about Wendy as it is Peter Pan. This story is about a Wendy who’s about to be sent to boarding school, who is being told she needs to grow up, who has to ‘set an example’ for her brothers by not making a fuss about it. This Wendy has issues that girls may have had around the time of the setting and probably still will now. I certainly relate to it. When I was Wendy’s age I decided I was going to age down and for a couple birthdays I ‘lost’ a year rather than aged one. I hated the idea of growing up and being a teenager (yes, specifically a teenager). This Wendy wanted a similar thing. She wanted to remain a kid and have the freedom to play fun games with swords, pirates and Peter Pan. She didn’t want to be her Mum, and she told her Mum this straight to her face.
Now, here’s a few things I appreciated about this new Wendy:
- She was asked to tell a story for the Lost Boys (similar to the original) but instead she asked Peter to tell one… Because, of course. Her Mum was the one who told the stories Peter listened to at the window… and Wendy didn’t want to be her Mum. She stayed firm with this even as she realised growing up wasn’t all bad. I was glad they went that direction as it proves that Wendy does know who she is, she’s firm in her belief of who she is and, of course, just because you’ve heard the stories doesn’t mean you’ll be good at telling them yourself. Instead she sang the lullaby, something she was comfortable doing.
- Her sword skills against the pirates didn’t come from nowhere. She already showed her prowess with a wooden sword in her earlier play fight with her brothers. By the sound of her Dad’s scolding, this wasn’t the first time she’s played these games… And not to mention, she had magic on her side at the time of the fight with Hook.
- When she was told to think of happy thoughts the first (technically, second) time she flew it was entirely images of her childhood, growing up. When she later regained her flight, powered with that Pan magic, her happiness came from the past, present and the future… and not just any future—a future that she pictured for herself where she had the potential to do what she wanted. One of those things being flying a plane (again, an earned moment as she’d already shown she loved to fly with the pixie dust and this film will be set around the time of great female aviation experts—Amy Johnson and Amelia Earhart being only two of them). I particularly liked this moment as it was never explicitly said by Wendy. It was entirely shown to us in a fast paced montage. This is how you should write these moments, especially as it directly reflected how she felt towards the beginning and you saw some things you know she must have learned whilst in Neverland.
- When asked to be the Lost Boys mother she said she wasn’t even sure if she wanted to be a mother. This is consistency at its finest. I’m not praising this moment because ‘girls shouldn’t dream to be mothers’—because, quite honestly, if a girl wants to one day be a mother, that’s their decision and good for them—but it’s consistent with Wendy in that moment. She said she didn’t want to live her Mother’s life. This statement to the Lost Boys not only backs that belief up but also states that, it’s not necessarily that she doesn’t want to be the ‘mother’ part, but that it just wasn’t something she was considering at that moment. She wants other things from her life at that time. She wants to take the time to be a kid and then choose what she wants to be and do. It’s not an anti-her-mother statement. It’s a pro- her decisions moment. Because of Neverland she realises that growing up for other people doesn’t have to be the same for her. She can grow up and still do what she wants to do (within reason). This ties into Tiger Lily telling her that ‘once she gets on the horse the path she chooses is her own’ (paraphrasing. She said it a lot prettier than I did).
- And finally, for my last one, it’s sort of in the same vain as the previous. At the beginning she’s told to ‘set an example’ for her brothers by sucking it up and going to boarding school with her head held high… because that’s what grown up’s do (a very British ‘Keep Calm and Carry On’ attitude that prevails in many families to this day, including mine) and a regular story would do just that. I really expected by the end Wendy would do just that. She would knock down any emotion she felt and suck it up. But she didn’t… and yet she still set an example by being the person she already was. She sacrificed herself to the pirates, even though she tried to let her brothers take the fall for the broken item in their room at home, and this led her brothers to look up to her as an older sister. This is implied to not be out of character however (John was shocked when she blamed him, making me believe this didn’t usually happen and was more to do with her bad feelings towards her father’s ‘grow up’ attitude). And then when she joins in the sword fight, going back to playing the games she played with her brothers earlier, it inspires her brothers to fight back also. She accepts that her parents may not be right, that she can be herself and still grow up, and that’s the example she decides to set for her brothers—that they can be themselves. She even becomes an example for the Lost Boys, for Tinker Bell, for Hook and for Peter Pan himself. She becomes an example by just being herself—and honestly that’s a beautiful message to have.
Okay, okay, I’ve gushed over some of my favourite parts. Now I need to balance it out because this film wasn’t perfect either. It fell into the trap that a lot of recent films have in that it felt like it was hitting ‘story beats’. Bear with me because thinking how to describe this is going to cause me a headache.
So basically, when you start a story you work out your characters, many other things—and then lastly your plot. Within the plot you’ll be writing down highs, lows, struggles and how they overcome them. When it comes to writing them it’s then your job to make it appear natural, to have those story beats in mind but still allow the writing to lead you wherever it goes. It’s a hard balance but when done well the piece should be seamless. Your reader should be able to look deeply and write down the plot to its barest essentials but there should be plenty of other things working around these bits to disguise them slightly (subplots and side-tracks etc.). The issue with this film, as so many recently, is you can almost feel them ticking off their story beats (their planned plot). You know what’s going to happen because it’s following a pattern… a pattern that will barely ever change. You can feel… oh yes, we’ve hit the hardest point… and, oh yes, it’s time for the Hero’s realisation. It feels predictable… but that’s not because other stories aren’t predictable and this one is, it’s because it’s not disguised well enough. I call this in my head the ‘de-dum, de-dum, de-dum’ writing as it’s like a drum hitting in my head when a point is hit.
Unfortunately this story beat problem was only being exasperated by how quickly things were happening. Wendy’s speech to her Mum was quick. The introduction of the Lost Boys, brothers being kidnapped and going to rescue them happened in the space of a few minutes. Every story beat went quickly which meant you couldn’t take in or process what was happening. You couldn’t get to love the characters because you weren’t allowed enough time with them. Backstory items were only hinted at and not explored. Things like ‘why does James not remember where his old bedroom used to be’ become questions that could easily be answered if the time was spent on them. Peter and James’ relationship could be explored better and shown through flashbacks, instead of hints and stories told by other characters.
The beats were being hit but they didn’t allow themselves to really sit with these characters and this world. And it’s an interesting world with interesting characters. As I said a few times, there’s many things that could be explored further—and part of the reason I’d like to see them again in their own programs or films is because I wish this film had allowed itself the time to truly explore at least some of these different areas. Don’t just hit story beats and not allow yourself to discover different characters, side-tracks and stories. As long as you’re heading the right way, every path in that direction is the right one.
So, is Peter Pan and Wendy a good film? In terms of enjoyability I would say yes. It’s a visually stunning film with great actors and costumes (one thing I didn’t even have the time to mention was how Tinker-Bell retained her sassiness whilst not being limited to hating the only other female in the area—i.e. in the original, Wendy). Is it a ground-breaking film you’re going to come to time and time again? Probably not, but it doesn’t need to be. There are certain areas that could have been written better and interesting avenues I wish they’d explored but I do think, for the most part, the modern changes and even additions of more ‘book accurate’ pieces were done well. However, my issue with the film is that I left it with more questions than answers… and I’d love a fresh take that explores something outside just the titular characters. Peter is nothing without his Lost Boys, so prove that to us.
And so to end this not-brief not-really-a-full-review (I could write for a lot longer about this film, I swear) I’d like to end with a list of questions I had at the end of watching. I hope you enjoy and you’re having a great day, wherever you are. Keep thinking happy thoughts.
- Where the Native Americans the first ones there on Neverland? How long have they been there? Why are they there? How did they feel when these random children started showing up? How did Peter and Tiger Lily become friends? What did they think when the pirates arrived?
- Where are the other fairies in Neverland? Is there still a Pixie Hollow here? Does Peter know about it? Does anyone?
- Who brought Peter to Neverland? Was it Tinkerbell?
- How did James get to Neverland? If he was the first lost boy, was he there before Peter? Is Peter not counted as a lost boy? When did Peter (or whoever took Peter) decide to start taking random unhappy children to Neverland?
- We saw mermaids in the sea at Neverland right? Do they come to the Island?
- Is there only the Native Americans, the Lost Boys and the Pirates on this entire island? Where did everyone else go? They were living in what looked like ruins of buildings. Where are those people?
- What do the Lost Boys eat? Where did they get their clothes? Is it like ‘Hook’ where they imagine it and it comes?
- When did the pirates develop their love of singing? The Lost Boys complained that Hook and his crew were ‘singing again’—meaning this is a regular thing? Where’s that bit of the backstory?
- Why did the pirates never figure out the stuffed teddy was not alive?
- So did James ‘grow up wrong’ because he tried to force himself to be something he’s not? How did he get to the place he is? Where did he live? Did he live on a ship with Smee? What happened to the original crew then? Where’s the Smee’s single dad days backstory?
- Where did Peter’s Mum go? And why does nobody ever mention their dads?
- Why does Wendy tell all these kids that they have mothers that love them out there? How long have they each been there? Come on, Wendy, what if they’re an orphan or they were abandoned? Not everyone has a great Mum or Dad.
- What are the Darlings going to do with all these kids? Are their parents even available to take them back? Do the Darlings just have tons of kids now? How are they going to afford to look after all of them? Was this secretly Wendy’s plot to get out of Boarding School since her parents clearly won’t be able to afford it now with all these mouths to feed?
- Why wasn’t there a bigger deal about James not being able to think happy thoughts? That should have made me cry.
- Why didn’t Peter go and pick Hook out of the water? He just instantly went ‘Oh well, I guess he’s dead. So sad’—rather than fly down to rescue him? Are we sure he’s not the real storybook Peter Pan secretly wishing to kill everyone?
- What the magic-herbs does Tiger Lily grow that can mend a fall from that height WITHOUT MAGIC?
- Why did James (and maybe Peter) know the lullaby Wendy was singing? I was genuinely waiting for them to say that Wendy was related to him in some way or that Wendy’s Mum had been a Lost Girl at some point. Seriously, how did they know? Kids I knew grew up with the same nursery rhymes and we still didn’t all know/remember the same ones.
- How far are we from WW2? Because, if I were Wendy I would stay in Neverland… The Blitz is coming for your ‘bright future’, Wendy.
- You know, I like the whole ‘don’t be afraid of growing up, it could be fun’ message but, I, as a full grown adult would be the first one on that boat back to Neverland. I like to assume the Darling parents hear these stories are real and decide to go there themselves. Growing up’s for the young… Being an adult sucks, in my experience (sorry kids…). Or maybe I just don’t think enough happy thoughts… because, depression, you know?
- I know this isn’t a question but I would be doomed as a kid in this place. I was/am afraid of heights so there was going to be no happy thought coming about to even try to fly.
I probably could come up with multiple more questions but I’m really tired and need to get some sleep. I hope you enjoyed this review. If you want me to review any other films, ask away—I may say yes, you never know. I recently watched Strange World too. I could review that? Although I promise you having to explain the ‘story beat’ part would cause me a headache again.
There is so much more I could say of the parts of Peter Pan and Wendy. I didn’t even get a chance to go through Peter’s de-(spoiler), you-know or James and Peter’s relationship. Again, if this were written into a long-form, more fleshed out story this film could have been genuinely amazing (if not really interesting). Oh well, there’s only so much you can do with formulas, right?
Thank you for reading. What did you think of Peter Pan and Wendy? Is there something I missed?
EDITED TO ADD (POST SLEEP): That zoom out used in the film looked like one of my old PowerPoint fades. Please don’t use that in expensive films. I died laughing seeing it. Also, my Mum and I would like to know when Peter lived in the house and how long he was away, since it was not a very old looking house (maybe Edwardian). And, lastly, James grew up– came back to Neverland to find his friend– and his friend went ‘No, you’re an adult so you’re evil’. Yep, Peter’s not a nice person. Very book accurate but should’ve been called out on it more.