Director: Benh Zeitlin
Starring: Devin France, Tommie Milazzo, Allison Campbell, Yashua Mack, Gage Naquin, Gavin Naquin, Kevin Pugh, Ahmad Cage, Krzysztof Meyn, Romyri Ross, Lowell Landes, Shay Walker
Running Time: 111 min
BBFC Certificate: 12
Original Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1
The classic story of Peter Pan is wildly re-imagined in this ragtag epic from Benh Zeitlin, director of the critically acclaimed and award-winning Beasts of The Southern Wild. Lost on a mysterious island where aging and time have come unglued, Wendy must fight to save her family, her freedom, and the joyous spirit of youth from the deadly peril of growing up.
Steven Spielberg had a rare misfire with Hook, his re-imagining of Peter Pan. It’s popular, yet widely considered a failure, not least by its director. Benh Zeitlin has followed up his intoxicating 2012 film, Beasts of the Southern Wild, with his own take on J.M. Barrie’s classic tale. Wendy is released this week on Blu-ray and is an astonishing piece of work, superior to Hook in many ways; though I fear it is doomed to fall between the cracks it excels in embracing. It’s not an obvious choice for young teens and its eccentricities, while also ostensibly being based on Peter Pan, could leave adults oblivious. Little ‘uns who saw the relatively recent Cbeebies production (“tick-tock croc!”) would be shocked. And for adults, certainly some sniffy reviews feel the story isn’t up to par.
That’s a shame because Wendy is an exhilarating and beautiful adventure. It is clumsy, especially compared with the utterly peerless original work; Peter Pan is truly timeless. However, the scattershot approach and bonkers plot suits this telling. It reminded me of Richard Adams’ Tyger Voyage or the Rupert Bear stories that delighted in fantasy being a bit weird. Aimed at children, but embracing a dark fairy tale that treats them like grown ups.
As with many films starring children, success relies heavily on the inexperienced cast. This bunch of whipper-snappers are fabulous. Devin France is wonderful in the title role and Yashua Mack is enjoying himself as a full-blooded, suitably unpredictable Peter Pan; tormented sentimental child or selfish demon. The palette is muted and the film is lively and energetic. Sturla Brandth Grøvlen’s photography flashes with light and colour in varied locales around the island the children inhabit, and there are frequent moments of literally unadulterated joy.
It wobbles a bit in the third act and some of the plot points become a little heavy handed. We lose the some of the clean and classic tropes (there are no pirates, sewing kits or swashbuckling), yet the conceit to bring in the famous villain is devilishly clever. And it rallies by the end, with a final coda that has a well-timed dollop of sentimentality to leave a grin on your face. Wendy is a triumphant fantasy that embraces the fine tradition of children’s classic fairy tales, the kind that continue to haunt us ‘Olds’.
Sturla Brandth Grøvlen adopts a lovely film grain suiting both Wendy’s real home and the varied natural environments of Neverland. The faithful HD transfer embraces the full range of light and sporadic colour, not least Devin France’s piercing eyes. It’s a handsome looking film.
The soundtrack feels like a surround remix of a stereo source, but this is fine. It’s a solid presentation of a film that’s supposed to be a bit chaotic. Dialogue is always clear and centred, and the volcano makes its occasional presence felt. Dan Romer’s score is rarely shy, embracing the sense of rambunctious adventure Peter Pan would be proud of.
The extra features are welcome, though a bit routine. There’s plenty of meat in this film that could have been explored more thoroughly, but I think it will struggle to find its audience, so the simple fact it exists is the most important thing.
Behind The Scenes – The Making of Wendy
UK Theatrical Trailer