a young Peter Pan and crew peer over a mountain ridge
Credit: Disney

Peter Pan & Wendy is a puzzlingly bland take on one of the liveliest children’s stories of all time. The film’s implicit justification of its own existence lies in its attempt to rewrite some of the 1904 source material’s more problematic elements, but this ham-fisted effort results in a rather charmless if inoffensive tale. As the title might suggest, much of this revision goes toward transforming the female lead, Wendy Darling, into a girl boss, complete with kickass sword-fighting skills. Far from the nurturing fusspot of the original play and the 1953 animated film, this Wendy declares that she “doesn’t even know if [she wants] to be a mother!” Tinkerbell gets similar treatment—no longer a jealous coquette but a metaphor for good communication skills. Tiger Lily, who out of all the characters needed the most actual reconceptualization from her racist origins, ends up reproducing the “noble savage” trope anyway, as she alone among the Lost Boys possesses preternatural wisdom and warrior prowess. The outcome of this shallow attempt to “empower” female characters is much more pandering than it is inspiring. Whereas the delight of the original Peter Pan story is in its irreverent amorality, Disney has given us a remake weighty with self-conscious lessons.

The female characters are not the only ones flattened by the film’s clumsy revamps. Jude Law makes for a decidedly mopey Captain Hook, drained of his campy villainy in favor of a tragic backstory to explain why he’s so mean. By the same token, Peter Pan himself, stripped of almost all his callous mischief, ends the film apologizing for “being a bad friend.” Peter Pan & Wendy, in short, is a perfectly harmless movie parents can put on for their kids without worrying about bad influences or having difficult conversations. And there’s value in that. All told, this Peter Pan just isn’t fun. PG, 106 min.