Peter Pan & Wendy: how far is it from the literary work?

The film Peter Pan & Wendy, released on April 26 on Disney +, has reinterpreted some themes of the original work, how many similarities or differences are there between James Barrie’s story and the latest transposition by David Lowery?

Peter Pan & Wendy: how far is it from the literary work?

All the children grow up, except one.

Perhaps it is the most famous incipit of literature, the most magical that has inspired every type of artist and beyond, a phrase that after almost 100 years manages to make children and adults dream also thanks to the first transposition by Walt Disney. There fairy tale of Peter Pan, and its author, is an extraordinary story that continues to make millions of readers dream and above all to donate funds to the London children’s hospital. But perhaps not everyone knows that behind the story of the child who doesn’t want to grow up, there is a very profound work (even more than one might think) and it is precisely in conjunction with the new television adaptation by Disney, Peter Pan & Wendywhich is worth highlighting the similarities and differences between the original work and the latest transposition.

Peter Pan & Wendy: just another remake?

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Peter Pan & Wendy: Alyssa Wapanatâhk in a scene from the film

Absolutely yes, as it is one of the most versatile fairy tales from the point of view of symbolism and meaning, it will have to be told continuously, as the facets of the characters allow this possibility. The fairy tale, indeed the Peter Pan story it is a timeless text that must be shared and staged with all possible mastery, from animation, to comics, from seriality to theater, so the re-propositions are welcome. Obviously one cannot forget the great masterpiece created by Disney in 1953 which somehow fixed the most important film that was made on this story in the collective imagination. A film so well represented, from which the directors, screenwriters, designers and actors who approach Neverland must somehow have something to do with it.

Peter Pan & Wendy, the review: make a happy live-action

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Peter Pan & Wendy: Jude Law in una scena del film

The latest live-action, available on Disney + from April 26, decides for the very first time to use the first original title of the work, finally giving the same space and the same importance to both Wendy and Peter Pan. The story, after many editions, regains possession of the originality of the theatrical script by inserting the co-protagonist of the whole story within the title. In fact, Wendy is not only Peter Pan’s sidekick, but she is literally the protagonist of Pan’s life, she decides to follow the boy to give her some love, even if as a kind of nurse, even if in this case the “love” theme has changed a bit. The story of Peter Pan, going back to animation film most famous ever, it has always been a gripe of Walt himself, in fact in the thirties he was so impressed by the play, that he also took on the role during a school play and for this reason he decided to create the animated feature film after the success of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. The problem, however, were the rights to the work, which the writer had donated to Great Ormond Street Hospital in London. The agreement with the health institution took place after a long time and the Second World War, together with other technical and political hitches, further delayed the production times of the cartoon which only took place in 1953, after Pinocchio, Bambi and Cinderella.

Peter Pan & Wendy: the differences with the texts (many) and some analogies (few)

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Peter Pan & Wendy: Ever Anderson in una scena del film

A book like Barrie’s seems terribly simple, but if you then deconstruct it by starting to study character by character, feature by feature, you realize you have a very profound text in your hands and not very easy to stage. Let’s start with Pan’s nemesis: James Hook. Hook is a cultured person, and is very fond of good manners, and it is one of the reasons for the hatred with Peter, an always irreverent daredevil of the grown-ups and of all those who prevent him from playing. On the one hand, his elegance contrasts with Pan’s mockery. Obviously the captain hates Peter for his impertinence and wants to avenge, among other things, his right hand that the child threw to the crocodile. Also Hook has a problem with being a child when Pan has a problem with growing up. Have all these facets been addressed in the new film? Unfortunately not… indeed the new reinterpretation has given us an extraordinary Captain Hook from the point of view of the actor’s performance Jude Lawbut with an absurd storyline and background: being Peter’s friend and then being kicked out of the Lost Boys band is the most risky one could expect in the rewriting of this fearsome pirate.

The Adventures of Peter Pan vs Peter Pan & Wendy: similarities and differences

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Peter Pan & Wendy: Alexander Molony in a scene from the film

And Peter Pan? Things didn’t go well for the protagonist either, very bad indeed. Peter is a nihilist, he is the emblem of a lost childhood: he is a child who has been denied a future because he died before becoming completely real. This focal point of Peter Pan’s soul is unfortunately totally reversed, in this film we see him insecure in some situations (a utopian situation for James Barrie), not very charismatic, even up to losing his flight, another founding element of Peter’s character: he doesn’t even need fairy dust anymore as living in Neverland his happy thought is constant, which here declines miserably. Peter Pan is an ageless child, an entity trapped in the dramatic consequences of his own decisions, which reacts with the aggressive passivity that transforms him forever into the archetype of infantilism and irresponsibility. Several times within the text he will carelessly forget the name of his friends and will be present during the adventures more for personal gain than for real interest. Peter lives immersed in a Dionysian reality that belongs only to him and that only contemplates his interests. In Lowery’s film we are presented and sketched a character who loves to play, but not in the way described by Barrie, he is a character at the mercy of situations who gets overwhelmed by what is happening around him and who even takes into consideration the fact of staying with Wendy in London: unfortunately the reinterpretation of Pan is the most negative part of the entire film as it changes too much the heart of this character.

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Peter Pan & Wendy: Captain Hook’s ship in an action scene

The gripe is maybe the lack of courage (but not only in this film, perhaps in all those seen so far) in showing the public the “real” Peter Pan, an iridescent hero, bordering on psychosis, as at the beginning you would follow him in every battle and then realize that you are just a pawn in his game, with very little importance. And the trusty Tinker Bell fairy, friend of a thousand adventures? Here too we are faced with an interpretation that wanted to turn the tables on the coalition with Wendy: this invalidates Barrie’s ideas regarding Tinker Bell. He does not escape the feeling of possession that the fairy has for her Peter. She is jealous of Wendy you don’t have to turn around her so much, at the first opportunity she even tries to get her eliminated too, however her devotion to Peter is so high that she decides to sacrifice her life for him . This is a strong feeling, indeed very powerful, in fact only after realizing that Wendy cannot be a danger, she the fairy decides to become friends with her. Having completely reversed this situation was another point against the film because Tinker Bell’s evolution towards “strangers” is very interesting and having her locked up only in Wendy’s little helper has mortified its meaning. Wendy’s role he is not badly cast, the same characterization given by Ever Anderson is very fresh and decisive and is very close to that described by Barrie himself. The fear of a little girl who is entering the most difficult age, that of growing up, is well represented by the actress daughter of Milla Jovovich, even if here it is depicted by entering boarding school and not by the classic exit from the brothers’ bedroom. Another protagonist who is perfectly staged instead is right Neverland. The Island, which has always been designed as a tropical paradise, here approaches a British landscape (much more consistent with Barrie’s idea) with a chromatic struggle of cold and warm tones that form the backdrop to a world desaturated by the vivid colors of the Neverland from 1953.

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Peter Pan & Wendy: una scena

The big difference with the animated film is there for all to see right from the trailer, however the hands of Lowery and director of photography Bojan Bazelli, manage to give the viewer the Neverland closest to Barrie’s imagination that one could ask for. Sheer cliffs, green meadows typical of the English coasts, a wild and gloomy undergrowth make Neverland finally that magical and mysterious place that the English author wrote at the beginning of the twentieth century. In this Neverland, in addition to the pirates, there are also Indians and sirens: another sore point. Tiger Lily and his tribe of Pellerossa (yes we use the terms written by Barrie) practically not received, like the sirens, and relegated to extras without particular characterizations; a Tiger Lily practically transformed into an errant knight transporting people from point A to point B. And last but not least, the main theme of the game is too much replaced by the theme of adventure (a substantial difference) . Inside Neverland all the inhabitants create a circular and continuous vortex precisely to mean that the games on the island are of infinite duration, one must always have fun, and one can only stop in the absence of Peter. This theme is mentioned in some dialogues, in some looks, but perhaps we wanted to explore the adventure too much, forgetting the game: the true beating heart of Neverland. However, despite these points against, the film will represent a new way of approaching (in this case far too distant) the work of Barrie while maintaining the generic focus:

The importance of keeping a small infantile part of oneself, albeit in the ineluctability of growth”

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