Arts movie review

Peter Pan reimagined

Zeitlin crafts a visually stimulating but ultimately dismal recreation of the Peter Pan story

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Devin France stars as the titular character in ‘Wendy.’
Courtesy of Fox Searchlight

Directed by Benh Zeitlin
Screenplay by Benh Zeitlin, Eliza Zeitlin
Starring Devin France, Yashua Mack
Rated PG-13, Now Playing

In Wendy, director Benh Zeitlin puts a creative twist on J.M. Barrie's story of Peter Pan. While the movie’s visuals and sound effects are quite impressive, Zeitlin’s slow-moving, actionless plot fails to capture the moviegoer’s attention. 

As the movie begins, viewers are introduced to a young girl named Wendy and her two twin brothers, James and Douglas. Discontent with their dull lives, the three siblings escape their home by jumping aboard a passing train. With the help of a mysterious young boy named Peter, they travel to a magical island where kids never grow up and experience the pure exhilaration of childhood.

After a while, however, the children discover that the island has a dreary side as well, one in which grown men and women, aged and devoid of hope, grumble and toil in the dust. As the children on the island begin to internalize the dark realities of life, it is up to Wendy and Peter to protect their friends’ youthful innocence. 

Filmed in the Carribean, Wendy boasts outstanding visuals. The shots of the island, full of trees, beaches, and active volcanoes, are breathtaking, and they evoke feelings of awe and admiration. Moreover, the frame of the movie is in constant motion; it appears to ride the waves, flow with the wind, and frequently cuts back and forth from one character to another. This technique contributes to a sensation of movement and helps to keep viewers on their toes.

Like the visuals, the soundtrack is quite impressive. The music is fast-moving and mystical, filling the movie with suspense. In one scene near the film’s conclusion, a few of the children begin singing a song to praise the “mother,” a giant whale-like sea creature that gives the island its magical power. As their voices grow louder, more and more islanders, including both the young and the aged, join the chorus. With all of the islanders singing in unison, the simple song transforms into a powerful and poignant anthem.  

Despite the excellent audio and visuals, Wendy sports a lackluster storyline. The plot is elementary, slow-moving, and often completely stagnant. The many scenes of grumpy old men and women grimacing and shouting at happy young boys and girls are boring and sometimes cringeworthy. In addition, the scenes are repetitive. For example, on several occasions, the children dive into the water to experience the majesty and power of the “mother.” Such scenes, while perhaps visually stimulating, fail to advance the storyline.

In spite of these flaws, Zeitlin does manage to pull together a relatively powerful ending. As the movie fast forwards through the children’s lives, the viewers watch as Wendy and her friends grow up to become teenagers and eventually parents. In the final scene, Wendy sees her own children run off to board the same train that she had once taken long ago, elegantly bringing the film full circle.

Overall, however, it seems that Zeitlin focuses too much on creating a film where emotion is driven by artistic sensory experiences; in exchange, Wendy fails to find ways to pull viewers into the plot and stimulate them intellectually.