'Peter Pan'-inspired flick 'Wendy' fails to soar

BY NEIL MORRIS, CN+R Film Critic
Posted 3/12/20

More “Lord of the Flies” than “Peter Pan,” “Wendy” appeals to folks who wish their charming childhood fiction had more strange creatures and feral children in it. Writer-director Benh Zeitlin waited eight years to make a follow-up feature to “Beasts of the Southern Wild,” and he kinda ended up making a sequel.

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'Peter Pan'-inspired flick 'Wendy' fails to soar

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Devin France stars as the titular heroine in "Wendy."
Devin France stars as the titular heroine in "Wendy."
Photo courtesy of Searchlight Pictures
Posted

More “Lord of the Flies” than “Peter Pan,” “Wendy” appeals to folks who wish their charming childhood fiction had more strange creatures and feral children in it.

Writer-director Benh Zeitlin waited eight years to make a follow-up feature to “Beasts of the Southern Wild,” and he kinda ended up making a sequel.

Wendy (Devin France) and her brothers James and Douglas (Gavin and Gage Naquin) live in a dusty rail town, their mother running a greasy spoon where the townsfolk go to dine and grow old. Their friend Thomas disappears one day after he hops a train to somewhere.

Years later, Wendy and the boys awake to see a mischievous youngster perched atop the passing train, beckoning the children on a journey that ends on a volcanic tropical island populated by children who don’t age. Their gift is powered by a magical sea creature named “Mother,” but you suddenly start growing old if sad thoughts infiltrate your psyche.

The primary pleasure while watching “Wendy” is spotting Zeitlin’s version of the familiar “Peter Pan” plot points: the origins of Captain Hook and Tinkerbell, his conception of Neverland, etc. When combined with Zeitlin’s expert camerawork, the ingredients are there for an intriguing update.

However, the film never finds a consistent theme or its childlike wonder. It mainly amounts to wild, screaming kids and divining the cockeyed motives of Peter (Yashua Mack). Even when an antagonist arises, the character arc of him and his minions isn’t clearly defined, either.

At one point, Wendy leaps off a sea cliff, confident she can fly only to splash into the sea. Similarly, the movie “Wendy” tries to soar but ends up all wet.

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