It's fair to say that Disney's ongoing project to remake most of its animated classics as live-action/CGI hybrids has been met with a degree of justified cynism from some quarters. The project, it can be convincingly argued, is largely devoid of artistic merit – nothing more than a corporate exercise to cash in on the enduring popularity of countless titles in the House of Mouse canon without having to come up with any creative or engaging new concepts.


Most of these films are either slavish rehashes of films that aren't in much need of an update – Pinocchio being a particularly egregious recent example – or uninspired reimaginings that do little to improve on the originals, and few if any will be remembered long after their release.

Of course, whatever you think of their artistic failings, the films have made more than enough money for Disney to press on with the project unabated – and it appears that these live-action remakes are something cinemagoers are going to have to reckon with for the foreseeable future. The release of The Little Mermaid is imminent, while the next few years will also see new takes on Snow White, Lilo & Stitch, Hercules, and doubtless many more, not to mention a sequel to The Lion King directed by Moonlight's Barry Jenkins.

It's therefore something of a breath of fresh air when a filmmaker actually manages to inject some personality into one of these films. That's the case with David Lowery's new film Peter Pan & Wendy, which is now available to stream on Disney Plus having bypassed a theatrical release. The film stars Alexander Moloney, Ever Anderson and Jude Law and has a sort of old-fashioned sense of adventure and charm to it that should make it a hit with younger viewers. It also doesn't shy away from delivering some genuinely sinister moments, with Law excelling as the wicked but not necessarily irredeemable Captain Hook.

Lowery is perhaps best known for writing and directing the sublime film The Green Knight in 2021, but he also has previous form when it comes to remaking works from the Disney catalogue: in 2016, he adapted one of the studio's more forgotten works Pete's Dragon – a live-action/animation hybrid from 1977 – into a rollicking and poignant adventure starring Bryce Dallas Howard and Robert Redford.

Peter Pan & Wendy is perhaps not quite at the same level as that film, nor is it anywhere near as consistently enchanting as The Green Knight. The narrative can feel uneven at times and some of the character dynamics would have benefited from having a little more room to breathe, as would Lowery's thoughtful ruminations on the theme of growing up. But the film nonetheless retains his trademark directorial stamp – combining an earthy, natural feel with a magical sense of wonder and awe – that ensures it seems a far cry from the more mechanical live-action remakes of recent times. In short, it's a film with style and soul rather than just a meaningless product.

Peter Pan and Wendy (1)
Peter Pan & Wendy. Disney

The question must be asked, then, of why it is being dumped straight to Disney Plus without first getting a theatrical release. It's by no means the first time this has happened to one of these films, partially due to the effects of COVID, but it does feel like a rare case of a live-action remake that would have really benefited from being seen on a big screen. That's because Peter Pan & Wendy actually feels genuinely cinematic, featuring some sublime visuals that see Lowery making the most of the beautiful Canadian landscape moonlighting as the mystical Neverland, while also delivering some impressive tracking shots and making nifty use of special effects.

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It's a particularly unfathomable decision when we consider that 2023 hasn't exactly been a vintage year for children's entertainment. The Super Mario Bros Movie may have performed well at the box office, and there has been a consistent conveyor belt of animations such as Mummies, but aside from perhaps Puss in Boots: The Last Wish, nothing has really stood out as a genuinely great film.

Peter Pan & Wendy is by no means perfect, but it could have very competently filled that void, providing younger viewers with an enjoyable swashbuckling adventure that simultaneously gives them some interesting things to think about. Frankly, it is more deserving of a cinema release than most of the previous live-action remakes – and should be praised for not sticking resolutely to a dreary formula. If Disney must insist on pressing on with its remake obsession, we could do with more filmmakers like David Lowery bringing some style to proceedings.

Peter Pan & Wendy is streaming on Disney Plus — sign up to Disney Plus for £7.99 a month or £79.90 for a year now.

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