“Be Ready” in The Lion King, “Poor Unlucky Souls” in The Little Mermaid, “Hellfire” in The Hunchback of Notre Dame — in most Disney animated musicals, the villain will get the most effective music. Often, this isn’t an issue, as there’s by no means any query as to who we should be rooting for. Wendy, a brand new, nonmusical adaptation of Peter Pan from Beasts of the Southern Wild director Benh Zeitlin, additionally offers its most fascinating beat to Captain Hook. The issue is that it by no means fairly recovers from that shift; the pirate stays probably the most fascinating a part of a narrative that’s, for as soon as, presupposed to belong to Wendy.

In Beasts of the Southern Wild, Zeitlin used the lens of magical realism to inform the story of a younger woman prevailing over hurricanes, erosion, and rising sea ranges in her Louisiana bayou group. He takes an identical method with Wendy: As a substitute of an ageless boy named Peter Pan whisking Wendy Darling and her two brothers to the magical island of Neverland, the place Peter’s crew, often known as the Misplaced Boys, cavorts with mermaids, fairies, and pirates, the gang hitches a trip on a prepare to a distant island seemingly untouched by man. The magic that happens on Neverland additionally isn’t supernatural in Wendy — there are not any mermaids or fairies — a lot because it’s tremendous and pure. Peter and his cohorts, all of whom are different youngsters who ran away, “fly” by leaping from nice heights into water, and pay their respects to a glowing fish they name Mom.

Devin France as Wendy.
Picture: Eric Zachanowich/Searchlight Photos

Nonetheless, past its ties to J.M. Barrie’s authentic story, and its deal with Wendy (Devin France) as the primary character, the movie doesn’t have an excessive amount of to supply; there’s little character growth or justification for retelling this well-worn story. A lot of Wendy’s runtime is stuffed by whimsical, Terrence Malick-esque footage of the youngsters operating amok on the island, screaming and laughing as they get muddy.

For some time, the easy great thing about the imagery, together with the whimsical rating by Dan Romer, is sufficient to hold viewers captivated. Zeitlin and cinematographer Sturla Brandth Grøvlen have a knack for capturing picture-perfect pictures, from youngsters dancing amid big shadows to golden slivers of solar within the grass. As the youngsters yell, they summon explosions from the earth, with Peter really inflicting the island’s volcano to bellow smoke. That loveliness makes a later transition to the extra barren a part of the island much more putting, given the area’s melancholy, fairly than malevolent, grownup inhabitants.

However man can’t reside on magnificence alone, and the story beneath the movie’s magnificence is finally skinny. This model of Wendy runs away from house over her worry of changing into caught, as she sees it, like her mom (Shay Walker). Her mom appears glad, however admits she had to surrender her extra adventurous goals when she had youngsters, and he or she always has to work to assist them. Wendy’s compulsion to observe Peter appears to be a promise to go away that type of compromise behind.

a group of children on a rowboat in Wendy

A journey by means of Neverland.
Picture: Searchlight Photos

The query of how a lot of maturity is compromise and acceptance of duty will get misplaced within the wild rumpus, then turns into the burden of the grownup characters, who’re deeper just because extra has occurred to them. Wendy diverts from Barrie’s story in how they arrived on the island, and the reveal of Captain Hook’s origins constitutes the movie’s largest twist. Hook turns into fascinating and sympathetic due to how Zeitlin has rewritten his story, and scenes along with his motley crew are the dear few which are freed from Wendy’s Hallmark-card-esque spurts of narration. (“Keep in mind the voice you heard, the one which mentioned, ‘Sneak away’?” she asks, in an early scene. “That is the place it got here from.” It’s only a contact too saccharine, particularly when the sensation that dialogue is attempting to invoke is already evident within the dreamy, wistful imagery.) The grownup characters really feel extra fleshed out and thought by means of, and their cause for searching Mom is straightforward to grasp.

Wendy’s racial dynamics complicate any common theme Zeitlin hopes to convey, particularly as he doesn’t appear to register them as problematic. Wendy and her brothers are white, and Peter and all however one in all his followers are black, and the result’s a mixture of “magical black man” tropes and an all-too-familiar white savior narrative. Wendy is at all times meant to be extra mature than Peter, but it surely reads badly right here, as a white woman scolds a black boy for being irresponsible and explains to him how his world really works. The movie’s major deal with constructing a way of aesthetics makes these flaws that rather more obtrusive.

Like Beasts of the Southern Wild, Wendy is gorgeous to take a look at, however Zeitlin’s debut had a developed set of essential characters, whereas his follow-up leans slightly too closely on the framework left by Barrie’s story. He doesn’t appear to have realized the central lesson that these characters are supposed to study: that residing means greater than operating, yelling, and taking part in. Hook and his gloomy crew finest illustrate that, regardless that they aren’t furnished with the first-person narration Wendy has. As a substitute, the magic round them is basically unexplained, which simply makes them extra fascinating. They’ve the most effective music within the film.

Wendy is in theaters now.