Right on schedule, here’s another Disney live-action remake of one of their animated films. (*scream*) This time it’s a remake of the beloved 1953 classic Peter Pan, the timeless story by J.M. Barrie, based on his 1904 stage play, Peter Pan or The Boy Who Wouldn’t Grow Up. To date, there have been many, many remakes, reboots, reimaginings, and alterations to the Peter Pan story. Some great (2003’s Peter Pan), some horrifyingly bad (2015’s Pan), so here’s one made by Disney, the “birthplace” of the original animated feature. What could possibly go wrong?
Director and co-writer David Lowery (The Green Knight) is no stranger to remaking Disney films, as he already trashed Pete’s Dragon in 2016 with his reimagining of the animated/live-action musical (along with writer Toby Halbrooks).Lowey has stated that he couldn’t touch 2003’s Peter Pan as “that was the best one out there” as far as Pan remakes were concerned, so he had to come up with a different approach for his remake. In this spin, the Darling children, top-hat-wearing John (Joshua Pickering), little Michael (Jacobi Jupe), and teenager Wendy (Ever Anderson) are still in London, England, and the kids already know about Peter Pan and his adventures, as he’s a well-known bedtime story. While Wendy is upset (she’s about to be shipped off to boarding school), the real Peter Pan (Alexander Molony) shows up with his fairy, Tinker Bell (Yara Shahidi), and off they all go to Neverland.
Almost killed by Captain Hook (Jude Law), a befuddled Mr. Smee (Jim Gaffigan), and his band of motley pirates, Wendy meets the Lost Boys, who are actually a bunch of diverse boys & girls from all over, plus Princess Tiger Lily (Alyssa Wapanatahk), who has teamed up with them. Hook takes Michael & John to Skull Rock as bait to draw out Pan, which works. . . until a Meg-sized crocodile interrupts their sword fight. Back home safely in the forest, Wendy learns of Pan’s secret and, son of a gun! Everyone is captured by Hook and his pirates while Pan is incapacitated. While onboard the Jolly Roger, there is a tender, moving scene between Hook and Wendy just before he has her walk the plank to her death, which leads to the third act set piece: a battle onboard the flying ship with the kids fighting the pirates and Pan is mano-a-mano against Hook.
The good news: this movie looks gorgeous! The direction, the costuming, the set design, the cinematography, and the lighting are all magnificent. Plus the acting of some of the cast is excellent. Now the bad news: that script! OMG! This is not the family-friendly, whimsical, charming, goofy-silly, happy, and fanciful Peter Pan film you’d expect to see. Just like the bastardization of his Pete’s Dragon movie remake, Lowery’s version is bleak, dark, full of angst, and features the inner turmoil of the soul. There is precious little humor in the film, with Hook having painfully little of the wise-cracking, sarcastic, dark humor that he should. That same with Pan. Molony (miscast and his first movie role) is pretty dull with little screen presence, no impish charm, and no chemistry with Wendy.
Speaking of Wendy, Anderson is the glue that holds this film together. Whether acting circles around the others or wielding a blade like Errol Flynn, she is, without a doubt, the best thing about this movie. Her scene with Hook is awesome and should be in another movie. Comedian Jim Gaffigan has some funny moments, but clearly not enough. Tinkerbell is woefully underused and has virtually no personality and Jude Law’s Hook could have been a slam dunk, but alas, his Hook is sullen, guilt-riddled, and harbors deep psychological scars. Yeah, just what you want in a children’s movie, right? All the Lost Boys. . .er, Lost Kids are just generic, and Tiger Lily and her indigenous tribe are barely a blip on the screen. Tragic. Congratulations, Disney! You’ve managed to destroy yet another of my favorite movies! You must be SO proud!
**Now streaming exclusively on Disney+
Peter Pan (1953)
Forget all the movie remakes, retellings, and reboots of Peter Pan, as it all comes down to this: the one, the only, the original, and the best: the Walt Disney animated version done way back in 1953. Yes, this is the one I loved as a kid and I still do! Let’s dive right in!
Following author J.M. Barrie’s stage play in plot, we first check in with the Darling household sometime in Edwardian London. The parents, George & Mary, are very busy getting ready for a dinner party, while their rambunctious children are playing in their nursery. Doubly upset that they have a huge St. Bernard named Nanna for a nurse to watch the kids, George (voiced by Hans Conreid) reprimands 14-year-old Wendy (Kathryn Beaumont), 10-year-old bespectacled John (Paul Collins), and 6-year-old Michael (Tommy Luske) to all grow up! Later that night, the mischievous imp, Peter Pan (Bobby Driscoll) flies into their room, along with his fairy, Tinker Bell. Wendy is smitten with him at once and after they get sprinkled with fairy dust, whoosh! They all fly off to Neverland!
Once on the island, Wendy and her siblings are introduced to the Lost Boys (no, not the vampires!), a bunch of orphaned boys. They also meet the mermaids in the lagoon and the pirates on board the Jolly Roger anchored in the harbor. The pirate captain is the villainous Captain James Hook (Conreid again) who vows eternal death to Pan. Meanwhile, a jealous Tinker Bell tries to get the Lost Boys to kill Wendy, so Peter banishes her from their camp. John & Michael visit the island’s “Injuns” (one of the more dated, racist, and embarrassing moments in the movie) who think they kidnapped their princess, Tiger Lily. Truth is, Mr. Smee (Bill Thompson) did it in order to capture Peter Pan, but it backfires later on.
Wendy, Michael, and John get homesick and want to leave and, thanks to Tinker Bell’s betrayal, get captured by Hook and his pirates. Fortunately, Pan saves the day, nearly feeds Hook to his arch-nemesis (the crocodile), then sails a flying Jolly Roger back to London for a happy ending. You should really read the book, though, Peter’s a straight-up serial killer in that! This movie came out during the second classic wave of Disney animated feature films (the mid 50’s) when they had their footing on what worked and what people liked (Alice in Wonderland, Lady & The Tramp, Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty). Okay, so their depiction of our Native Americans isn’t good (it was normal for the time–just fast forward through that part), but the colorful antics, voice-over acting, and music is wonderful.
By far (for me, anyway) it’s Hans Conreid’s vocal characterization of Captain Hook that has always been (and always will be) the best Hook on screen. Oh, sure there have been other decent Hook’s out there (Dustin Hoffman in Hook, Jason Isaac in 2003’s Peter Pan), but his is the quintessential Hook. Period. And yes, there have been other Peter Pan movies out there, but they all owe their allegiance to this original animated one. It spawned a sequel, Peter Pan: Return to Neverland, a slew of Tinker Bell cartoons, and an incredibly cool TV animated series, Fox’s Peter Pan & The Pirates with Tim Curry as Hook! And yes, he was awesome!