Is Peter Pan & Wendy a live-action remake or an apology for the ’53 animated classic?
Peter Pan & Wendy Synopsis
A live-action remake of the 1953 Disney animated classic, Peter Pan & Wendy narrates the adventures of Wendy Moira Angela Darling after her brothers and her are spirited to Neverland by Peter Pan, the boy who refuses to grow up. This modern retelling of J.M. Barrie’s masterpiece also depicts Wendy as much more than a damsel in distress. An intrepid heroine who’s instrumental in helping Peter rediscover himself.
It’s about a week after the release of this latest Disney animated classic live-action remake by David Lowery. Somewhat without surprise, the Internet is flooded with strongly worded negative reviews. Most of which, IMO, are fair and not just spiteful dissing.
These reactions, in turn, implore consideration of the question of, should Disney focus on creating new stories rather than feverishly rework its catalogue of classic works, the latter usually to lacklustre reception?
But for the moment, let me put aside this question and instead, comment on J.M Barrie’s original masterpiece, for I feel that is the source of all the unhappiness with David Lowery’s remake.
Now, I’m sure you already know the story, more or less, so I wouldn’t go through that. Instead, I’ll highlight that a century after the release of Barrie’s play and novel, Neverland and the Peter Pan persona continue to fascinate literature students and pop culture geeks like me, because this children’s adventure is very much a horror story in disguise.
I mean, look at all the sinister elements lurking at every corner. Barrie based Peter after Pan, the horned satyr god of Greek mythology who is associated in some circles with the devil. The Greek God of the Wild who died too. The Lost Boys are described as boys who fell out of their prams and left unclaimed for seven days—infant deaths or babies who were kidnapped.
In the original story, Wendy becomes a mother figure to the Lost Boys and forgets about her own mother. As is well known, the climax of the story sees Peter Pan kicking Captain Hook into the jaws of the Ticking Crocodile.
These dark undertones are increasingly unsettling the more you think about them, aren’t they? Little wonder that in the Once Upon a Time series, Peter Pan and the Lost Boys were portrayed as villainous.
In the 1953 animation, Disney downplayed these sinister elements by tweaking the story or masquerading everything as a rowdy (boys’) adventure. As a grim reflection of the world back then, the studio also included some very unflattering depictions of Native Americans as well as portrayed Peter Pan as a charismatic white messiah that everyone, especially women, absolutely adores.
These 70-year-old decisions hang heavily, oh so heavily, over Lowery’s 2023 remake. In the form of story rewrites that would give Barrie a stroke. Rather than attempt to reinterpret the Scottish novelist’s ambiguous tale or critique it, the changes come across as downright desperate efforts to remold the story for current sensibilities AND to apologise for the misguided views of the ’53 production. An apology the likes of, “We’re sorry! We know we did wrong! Here’s how we think the story should be!!!!!!!!!!”
Such an apology is praiseworthy from a social point of view, for sure. But it also transforms the tale into a cumbersome, almost bizarre outing—one that sorely lacks any real sense of adventure or exposition.
The story changes moreover enforce superfluous heroism on Wendy and in doing so, strip the life from Peter Pan. (One review that I read stated the movie ought to be called Wendy and Peter Pan) It doesn’t help too that there are no memorable action or musical sequences throughout the movie to uplift. Or that Alexander Molony’s performance simply doesn’t project the sort of springy, mischievous, petulant charm the world associates with Peter Pan.
Hate to say this but given the inherited problems, perhaps it would have been best for Disney not to remake this. Or the studio could have attempted a revisionist take the likes of what Once Upon a Time did. The latter would have at least felt more spirited.
Returning to the question that I mentioned earlier, yes, I’ve long since also wondered why Disney is so obsessed with re-doing its animated catalogue.
What’s the point of documentary-like blow-by-blow retellings or unwieldy reinventions to apologise for misguided views decades ago? Why not, you know, make new stories? Or adapt from other classics? Surely there’s still a wealth of material out there that is suitable for adaptation.
Disney will have to confront these issues sooner than later.
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