It’s tough to say who is at fault for this never-ending list of live-action remakes that Disney is spitting out of its assembly line. You can chalk it up to “creative bankruptcy” over at the Mouse House, and it’s definitely true. But the nostalgia-sucking “animation is for kids and live action is real cinema” section of the audience can’t be let off the Hook because they’re the ones who created this demand with their money. It probably started with 2015’s “Cinderella,” and things kicked into high gear after the massive success of “Beauty and the Beast.” I assumed that with the direct-to-OTT release of Robert Zemeckis’ “Pinocchio,” which was critically panned across the board, Disney was going to cease this nonsense. “Peter Pan and Wendy,” being yet another direct-to-OTT production, gave me some hope that the production house was going to pivot towards original films in animated and live-action form. However, then I checked out their upcoming slate, and I don’t think the end is anywhere near.
Much like every live-action remake of a Disney animated classic, David Lowery and Toby Halbrooks closely follow a plot that’s as old as time. Wendy, Michael and John are living a peaceful life with their parents, Mary and George when suddenly a conflict arises. Wendy has to go to a boarding school, as it’s an essential part of growing up. But she doesn’t want to. That’s where Peter Pan and Tinker Bell come in and take all of them to Neverland because nobody grows up there. They’re antagonized by Peter’s archnemesis, Captain Hook, because he hates Peter for chopping off his hand. But much like every live-action remake of a Disney animated classic, Lowery and Halbrooks decide to change things up a little by coming up with a “deeper” reason for Hook and Pan’s rivalry. And it’s supposed to be this massive twist, which then concludes the rivalry on a rather positive note. However, the problem is that between the need to stick to the original and trying to do something “new,” this mind-boggling alteration doesn’t feel impactful in any way. The reason behind the ineffectiveness is a case of “show, don’t tell.” Peter Pan and Captain Hook go on and on and on about why they are enemies, and the writers do their best to underscore the fact that it’s not the same old reason. But the issue is that I’m only hearing about it and not seeing it. And what I am seeing is a vapid and soulless rehash of the oldest iteration of the Peter Pan story.
Why didn’t anyone tell Lowery or Halbrooks that if they are so confident about this change in the mythos, they should begin with that, thereby making the evolution of Pan and Hook’s relationship the centerpiece of the film? Did Disney prevent them from doing that because they thought that audiences wouldn’t eat this up if there weren’t direct visual parallels to something they had seen before? Or did Lowery and Halbrooks simply chicken out because they didn’t give this subplot enough time to marinate and just halfheartedly stuffed it into the plot via exposition? Well, whatever the reason might be, I hope it felt worthwhile to the makers.
The film could have been somewhat bearable only if the look and the overall pacing were okay. Every scene feels like it has been done out of obligation. There’s no passion or energy in it. They just happen because they’ve happened before—you know, just like the cyclical relationship between Peter and Hook. The apparent air of whimsy and wonder doesn’t really mix with this dull green and yellow aesthetic, which seems to have been borrowed from Jerry Bruckheimer’s “Pirates of the Caribbean” trilogy, but in the most unimaginative possible way.
Some of the wire work in the Disney live action film looks atrocious. The VFX and CGI are incredibly inconsistent, which has become typical for Disney productions nowadays. There is a decent set piece involving a ship rotating in mid-air. But the only rotating ship that anybody is ever going to remember is the one from “At World’s End.” Since we are here comparing films anyway, I’d advise you to go and check out the 1991 film “Hook” and the 2003 film “Peter Pan” and understand the kind of slop we’re being given nowadays. I can’t really compute how someone like Lowery can make this after doing “The Green Knight.”
I don’t want to critique the cast too much because most of them are kids, and they, hopefully, have a long career ahead of them, during which they can learn and develop their acting chops. Jude Law essentially carries the entire movie on his shoulders, thereby bringing me back to my original point: The movie should’ve spent more time on Hook growing from a kid to an adult. That would’ve given Law more screen time and the opportunity to flesh out why he holds such a grudge against Peter Pan. Anyway, what’s done is done, and we can’t cry over spilled rum. But before moving on, I’ll point out that the casting directors, Dylan Jury and Debra Zane, are certainly at fault here. It’s because of their choices that everyone, with the exception of Law and maybe Ever Anderson, feels insanely miscast.
At the end of “Peter Pan and Wendy,” Hook and Peter share this loving look, which cements my theory that this film is about the dynamic between David Lowery and Disney. It’s essentially a “few for me and one for Disney” kind of situation. You see, as much as I love Lowery’s work, it never turns into mammoth box-office hits so that he can keep making his abstract pieces of art. Yes, you’ll probably notice that the clip of Rooney Mara from “A Ghost Story” consuming a pie in a single take is going viral on social media with millions of views. You’ll find the image of Dev Patel holding a massive prop or a dissection of the cinematography and allegories in “The Green Knight” getting applauded on social media. But you’ll realize that the people who are now sharing and retweeting contextless posts never bought a ticket to watch the aforementioned movies. That’s why he has to come back to Disney to sell products like “Pete’s Dragon” or “Peter Pan and Wendy.” Well, I hope he has earned enough by making this film to get some of his obscure projects off the ground. If they fail, I guess he’ll return to the Mouse House to make yet another film whose main character’s name is a play on “Peter.”