Disney+ review: New 'Peter Pan' film defined by diversity

Fred Hawson

Posted at May 02 2023 01:43 PM

Alexander Molony and Ever Anderson in 'Peter Pan & Wendy'
Alexander Molony and Ever Anderson in 'Peter Pan & Wendy'

Wendy Moira Angela Darling (Ever Anderson) was the eldest daughter of Mr. and Mrs. George and Mary Darling (Alan Tudyk and Mollie Parker). She was the older sister to her brothers John (Joshua Pickering) and Michael (Jacobi Jupe), with whom she still enjoyed playing pirate sword fight games. She was unhappy that she was going to boarding school already the next day and told her mother that she wished she would not grow up. 

That night, Peter Pan (Alexander Molony), a favorite character from their mom's bedtime stories, flew into their nursery together with his tiny fairy friend Tinker Bell (Yara Shahidi). He taught the three Darling children how to fly by thinking of happy thoughts, and then invited them to fly along with him following the second star to the right and straight on till morning all the way to Neverland, where children did not have to grow up.

Film versions of J.M. Barrie's classic play have been done since 1924 when there was a silent version by Herbert Brenon, that is still considered the best film adaptation up to now. It casted a female actor, Betty Bronson, as Peter Pan, something that has been done for stage productions of the story since 1904 (Nina Boucicault, Maud Adams, Pauline Chase, etc.) and would be done well into the future (Mary Martin, Cathy Rigby, Sandy Duncan, etc.)

The most iconic film version would be the 1953 animated adaptation by Walt Disney, and its images remain the way most people would envision Peter Pan, Tinker Bell, Capt. Hook and the Darling children. Live action films have also been done to update the material for modern audiences, most of whom fall a bit short of expectations when compared to this animated classic, including "Peter Pan" (2003) and Steven Spielberg's "Hook" (1991). 

In this latest live action adaptation by Disney, diversity casting was done as is the current norm. That the pirates and the Lost Boys were a mixture of races is already no surprise. Tinker Bell is played by an actress of mixed race, Yara Shahidi, the most stunning looker in this new cast. However, the addition of girls among the Lost Boys was notable, especially since Barrie himself originally wrote that girls were too clever to get lost. It is remarkable for finally casting a Native American actress (Alyssa Wapanatâhk) as Tiger Lily. 

There was not much joy or fun in this version, matched by its dull color palette. The mood turned very dark by the end of the first hour with the scene of a terrifying fall and landing (!), so scary for young viewers. Not much camp in Jude Law's Capt. Hook, especially as we get his sad back story. This also broke tradition of casting a different actor for Mr. Darling, of whom Hook was symbolic. Despite the order of their names in the title, Wendy played the central role here, not Peter. 

This review was originally published in the author's blog, "Fred Said."