This independent version grows up way too fast.
Writer/director Benh Zeitlin, the genius behind the dazzling “Beasts of the Southern Wild,” has made “Wendy,” an alternate version of the “Peter Pan” story with the girl Wendy being the main protagonist. Unfortunately, it’s yet another recent failed attempt to bring out the best of the story, with “Pan” being the most insipid. It’s more moody and sad than it is dazzling, and take it from me, there are lovely shots and locations.
The atmosphere and story is not set in London, but instead, Louisiana, where we meet young Wendy (Devin France) and her twin brothers (Gage and Gavin Naquin), who all find their way to an island, where a magical porpoise (which Peter Pan calls his mother) guarantees the laws of time and physics will be violated, as long as they believe in her. At least I think it’s a porpoise. Oh, why am I talking so big? It’s Neverland, and you can never grow old there. You know that; everyone knows that.
But even this place has some adults. Actually, they are kids who grow at an accelerated rate, because of how they lose their spirits. Island policy. Maybe that’s one of the reasons why Captain Hook is the bad guy. Never read the book, so I can’t say for sure.
This Peter Pan (Yashua Mack) is the first one to be African-American, and he’s the one who takes the kids to Neverland. At first, given his hairstyle, I thought he was a girl, especially since I recall seeing Sandy Duncan portray the character on a televised play as a child. But I promise you: he’s a boy.
I mean no disrespect to the cultures, and I do admit he’s a wise one, because he knows the island better than the other kids, and he never lets anyone correct him otherwise.
“Wendy” is an attractive film, because of its visuals, locations, and performances from France and Mack; but it’s also a confusing and negative film because of its lackluster script and lack of character developments.
Maybe we needed the Wendy character to be the main protagonist, instead of Pan, and that’s fine by me, but she’s written so flat that it’s difficult for us to care about her. She often appears and feels moody, and you’re waiting for her to have her independence and courage. I praise the young newcomers for their performances, but not for their studies.
The story of the kids aging because of faith and belief is all sad and convoluted. It’s kind of like if a kid got turned into a dog, and it would grow faster than a person would. This has nowhere to go, and the dialogue is often convoluted. Yes, one of the kids eventually would become Captain Hook, because of this curse, but it all seems so obvious. I’m just thankful they, at least, don’t go “Lord of the Flies” on each other.
The island was filmed in Montserrat, and they are beautiful spots in the environments and water. And there are also fantastic colorful visuals of the undersea creature, even if it was filmed under water, which often looks murky because of the darkness and pollution. It’s really the tone and noise that persuades me to like them. Certainly much more realistic than the recent CGI lands in “The Call of the Wild.”
Benh Zeitlin and his sister Eliza both give “Wendy” an ambitious appearance, but they somehow miss the mark on the narrative and character study. It’s not “Beasts of the Southern Wild,” unfortunately, but I’m also lucky it’s not as dumb as “Pan.”