Peter Pan and Wendy, a new live-action reimagining of Disney's 1953 animated classic Peter Pan, is out now on Disney+ Hotstar in India. Although Disney initially had plans to release the film in theatres before bringing it to its own streaming platform, the film benefits from a direct-to-digital release which is great news for Disney+ and Hotstar subscribers. As expected, it's a children's film at heart, although some adults might be drawn to it for the nostalgia of revisiting a timeless classic.
Unlike the original film which explored themes such as romance and jealousy, Peter Pan and Wendy is a lot simpler and kid-friendly, taking on more modern, positive, and generally politically correct tones. It's still set in the same early 1900s timeline as the literature that the story itself is based on, but it takes a more contemporary and optimistic approach to the subject matter. Here's my spoiler-free review of Peter Pan and Wendy, streaming now on Disney+ Hotstar.
Peter Pan and Wendy review: Simplified plot without romance, jealousy
While the 1953 film is more closely based on the source literature (a 1904 play by JM Barrie), the 2023 film starts with the older film as a source point, and goes from there towards making it more relatable and easier to understand for modern audiences. It's a direct adaptation of the 1953 film nonetheless, unlike many other Peter Pan-based sequels, origin stories, or spin-offs that have come in the years between.
This means that the plot elements that revolve around jealousy and romance have been done away with or toned down a bit, which admittedly helps in making the movie more appealing to children. Conflicts are portrayed as mere innocent misunderstandings, rather than scheming by particular characters. Themes of violence are explored but have been considerably softened by corny humour, while the concept of death is largely ignored, unlike in the original movie.
Many elements of the story remain unexplained, particularly if you're completely new to the story of Peter Pan. For example, Peter's origins, the idea of Neverland, the magic behind why he won't grow up, and the origins of the Lost Boys (Peter's group of friends who live with him on Neverland) aren't properly explained. However, this doesn't hold back the story, which immediately distracts you with the fantastic landscapes of Neverland (shot in Newfoundland, Canada), the conflicts, and the concepts of growth and adulthood that make up the core of Peter Pan and Wendy.
At its heart, Peter Pan and Wendy is a story meant for kids, explaining that growing up is part of the adventure of life. Wendy's parents want her to act her age, be a role model for her younger brothers, and go off to boarding school where she can get the education she deserves, while she prefers to spend the time at home playing games. It's a concept that will appeal to many young viewers, and it's handled delicately and tastefully in the film.
There are also strong changes in the way female characters are handled, and small hints at Peter Pan's (Alexander Molony) privilege playing a part in his position in the hierarchy of Neverland's residents. The biggest change is, of course, in the title itself; it recognises the important role that Wendy Darling (Ever Anderson) plays in the story, and even portrays her as a strong character who does not need rescuing, and can get herself out of various fixes.
This also makes for more wholesome and meaningful friendships between Wendy, Tinkerbell (Yara Shahidi) and Tiger Lily (Alyssa Wapanatahk), devoid of the attraction that each of these characters have for Peter in the original source material, and therefore, the jealousy that it leads to. It's definitely a more contemporary approach, putting women at the front and centre of the heroics, while also pointing out how Peter himself is often helpless without the magic of Tinkerbell, the skills of Tiger Lily, and the maturity and understanding of Wendy.
The native tribe of Neverland (which Tiger Lily is a part of) simply exists in this version, playing no significant role in the plot of the film beyond Tiger Lily's own involvement. This is perhaps for the better, as it doesn't leave any room for criticism about the portrayal of an indigenous culture, and largely lines up with the Edwardian timeline of the film itself, suggesting that Neverland is indeed a place on Earth, albeit remote and magical.
Peter Pan and Wendy review: Jude Law gets Captain Hook right
Although the younger actors are fairly adept in their roles, it is Captain Hook - played capably by Jude Law - that truly steals the show. Excellent costume design is aided by impressive acting from Law, who not only commands the authority of his pirate crew, but also comes across as truly fearsome in the eyes of the protagonists and audience.
Jude Law plays Captain Hook in Peter Pan and Wendy
A bit later in the film, Law switches it up rather nicely to portray pain and anguish, showing the traditionally villainous Captain Hook in a much more human form. His origin story explains how he was just a victim of bad circumstances, having ‘grown up wrong' according to Wendy, but not beyond redemption. It's also shown that Peter Pan himself is to blame for much of what's wrong in Neverland, portraying the titular character's immaturity and refusal to grow up as something that is holding everyone else back.
Perhaps the most wasted casting choice in Peter Pan and Wendy is that of Captain Hook's first mate Mr. Smee, played by stand-up comedian Jim Gaffigan. Mr. Smee, who served as comic relief in the original film, barely does any of that in this movie despite a genuinely funny actor being cast in the role. Notably, the Lost Boys now also includes some young girls, although their origin story and how they came to be in Neverland isn't really touched upon, perhaps in keeping with the general tone of positivity in the film.
Peter Pan and Wendy review: Verdict
It isn't often that a big-budget film with a top-notch star cast from a big studio goes direct-to-streaming, but recent times have changed viewing habits. Just a few years ago, Peter Pan and Wendy would have seen a proper theatrical release, before eventually making it to streaming. Given that this is made for kids, it perhaps makes sense for this to release directly on Disney+ (Disney+ Hotstar in India), and also sends the message that streaming subscribers are being favoured in some cases.
The movie itself is firmly meant for kids, but there's something in it for everyone to enjoy. It's also firmly lacking in complications and controversy, and has plenty of subtle and not-so-subtle nods to modern ideas, despite its old-world setting. Disney+ Hotstar subscribers in India can watch Peter Pan and Wendy now.
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