‘Wendy’ review: A gorgeous take on ‘Peter Pan’

‘Wendy’ review: A gorgeous take on ‘Peter Pan’

Benh Zeitlin hadn’t made a film in seven years, since he exploded onto the scene with his Best Picture Oscar-nominated “Beasts of the Southern Wild” in 2013. Like a cicada, he’s woken up with “Wendy,” a take on J.M. Barrie’s “Peter Pan.” Was the eagerly anticipated follow-up worth the wait?

To paraphrase Barrie: “I do believe in Zeitlin! I do! I do!”

Granted, everyone and their cousin seems to have a riff on the “Pan” story in a drawer. But “Wendy,” which Zeitlin co-wrote with his sister Eliza, finally shakes up the tired tale. For starters, there are no white nightgowns, Brits or Cathy Rigby here. This is a uniquely American and Caribbean spin that quietly speaks to our working-class dreams.

The story begins not in a metropolis, but in a rural Southern diner owned by Wendy, James and Douglas Darling’s mom. One day, sitting on his bar stool, little Doug announces that he’s going to grow up to be a pirate, but his grandma disagrees. “You’re going to be a mop and broom man,” she says.

Devin France in
Devin France in “Wendy.”AP

As a freight train loudly passes by, Doug (Gage Naquin) angrily mutters under his breath, “I’m not gonna be a mop and broom man.” He runs outside,  jumps aboard the locomotive and disappears.

Months later, a poster with his picture and the words “Lost Boy” is hung on the diner wall. One night when the magic vehicle passes by again, Wendy (Devin France) and James (Gavin Naquin, Gage’s twin) spot a small boy running atop it — Peter! — and jump on, just as their brother did. The screen is bathed in dancing red light, children play, our hearts leap.

If you haven’t guessed, in this version, the children don’t fly with Peter to Neverland — they hop aboard a choo-choo. Is there anything more American than the lure of a train whistle in a small town?

Devin France, Gavin Naquin and Gage Naquin in
Devin France, Gavin Naquin and Gage Naquin in “Wendy.”AP

They arrive in Neverland — here referred to only as Peter’s Island — a volcanic place kept thriving by “mother,” a whale-like, glowing fish with magical abilities. Doug is there! Kids never grow up, unless they start to feel the weight of the world. Peter (the adorable Yashua Mack), clad in a dirty red school blazer, encourages his new recruits to let worries go in one ear and out the other, because he’s seen others fall to adult pressures.

There is a group of former Lost Boys on the island who’ve aged, and now are treated as lepers in a faraway area, kinda like the Forbidden Zone in “The Planet of the Apes.” Those elders provide the film’s conflict, but don’t call them villains. “Wendy” is more nuanced than that, as is the clever origin story of Captain Hook.

What a gift Zeitlin has with children. He showed that special skill with “Beasts,” but does even more so here, with the kid ensemble being full of personality and entirely unrestrained. The freedom and unbridled joy they find on the island are infectious, like their movie.

Source : Johnny Oleksinski Link

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