Wendy: A fresh new take on tired old Peter Pan

Beasts of the Southern Wild director defies odds with successful reimagining

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Director: Benh Zeitlin
Cert: Club
Genre: Fantasy
Starring: Devin France, Yashua Mack, Gage Naquin, Gavin Naquin, Ahmad Cage, Krzysztof Meyn, Romyri Ross
Running Time: 1 hr 52 mins

If If Afghanistan is the graveyard of empires, then Peter Pan is the Afghanistan of auteurial ambitions. Nobody, apparently, wants to see a reboot of JM Barrie’s best-known creation. PJ Hogan’s 2003 Peter Pan was a box office turkey, Steven Spielberg’s Hook – despite harnessing all the comic pathos of Robin Williams – was a notorious flop. Pan, a $150 million fantasy from 2015, grossed just $128.3 million worldwide.

Disney’s Peter Pan and Wendy, directed by the marvellous David Lowery, has been preemptively and sagely downgraded – for those still clinging to theatrical release as top tier – to a streaming exclusive next year.

Wendy, Benh Zeitlin’s eagerly anticipated follow-up to the much-fancied Beasts of the Southern Wild, has scored middling notices and minuscule box-office to date. This is a great pity. While by no means perfect, Wendy – which was made for a fraction of any of these other, well, panned endeavours – has originality, folklore, and old-school Americana to recommend it.

Opening in a low-rent diner alongside an anonymous long-haul train track, the film immediately evokes Bob Dylan’s hobo universe, the boxcar and junkyard fantasies traversed and explored in the singer’s earliest albums and, to some playful extent, in the memoir Chronicles.


In keeping with David Gordon Green's wonderful George Washington and in 
the true spirit of Neverland, Wendy is a sandbox from which all grown-ups are barred. Almost all.

When Wendy (Devin France) sees a chum jump aboard a train and vanish with an impish figure, it leaves an indelible mark on the girl.  Years pass. Wendy assists her tale-telling single mother (Shay Walker) at the diner, until one day the impish figure reappears. Wendy is spirited away by Peter (Yashua Mack) to a mysterious island enchanted by an undersea whale-like goddess known as Mother.

The Caribbean location shots and characterful faces make for a uniquely gritty fairy tale, one where Neverland is as unsettling as it is magical. Mack’s Peter is mercurial and vengeful, as Neverland’s ageing, mournful exiles can attest.

The idiosyncratic Beasts of the Southern Wild is a tough act to follow, but Wendy’s similarly anthropological approach reinvigorates its overworked source material where others have floundered.

Streaming from August 13th

Tara Brady

Tara Brady

Tara Brady, a contributor to The Irish Times, is a writer and film critic