Cast: Devin France, Tommie Milazzo, Allison Campbell, Yashua Mack
Director: Benh Zeitlin
When you’re adapting a movie from an incredibly popular and well-known story, one of the main questions that should be asked isn’t whether or not you have a new take on the topic, but more so whether or not it’s necessary. We’ve seen the story of Peter Pan told dozens of different ways since its origin, but while Wendy puts a unique twist on that story, there doesn’t feel like there’s a distinct audience for this movie. If you enjoy gorgeous Caribbean landscapes and remedial adventure movies, then Wendy has the majority of what you’re looking for. Excluding that though, Wendy feels more like Zeitlin trying to be too creative for his own good and not giving us much of a payoff.
The movie follows Wendy (France), a young girl in the rural South who spends her time with her friends at her mother’s diner. When a mysterious train comes through their town one day, Wendy and her friends board it with the intention of going on a grand adventure. When they meet Peter (Mack), a rambunctious young boy who lives on an island where kids never grow up, it looks like Wendy is finally getting her adventure. As with most adventures, things don’t go as planned and the group now has to face the actions of their consequences and face the reality of their situation. When compared to the story that has been shown to us plenty of times before, I appreciate the changes that Zeitlin pushed for. I’ve never seen a version of this story where the characters weren’t obviously British, so shifting the setting to the American South immediately creates a culture shift. There seems to be a greater appreciation for the lore surrounding these characters, so if you’re an avid fan of these characters, you may find yourself learning something new about their world. That being said, for a movie centered around adventure and intrigue, the movie is quite dull for the first two acts. It definitely ends on a high note, but it sure takes its sweet time getting there and most of the 112 minute runtime drags significantly. You’d think it would be action-packed from start to finish, but almost like a real adventure it has periods where nothing really happens. Sure those moments are filled with gorgeous scenery, but it’s not enough to carry the movie forward. This is a strange choice for Zeitlin after directing the critically-acclaimed Beasts of the Southern Wild, but I can see his vision even if it isn’t fully realized. Wendy is serviceable enough to entertain and captivate anyone who watches it, but it’s lacking in a few key areas that prevent it from really becoming the movie that Zeitlin wanted it to be. For a movie with a cast predominantly made up of children, the acting isn’t really the problem here as each character harnesses the energy of a true childhood adventure. I’m sure Searchlight was expecting something a little stronger from their investment, and while it’s not a particularly bad movie, Wendy doesn’t deliver the way that everyone involved was hoping for.
Overall, Wendy is far from the worst movie of the year and a good chunk of people watching it will get something out of it, but the disappointment seems to more from the idea of what could’ve been versus what we actually got. It’s design doesn’t feel super child-friendly, and I have a hard time believing adults would go out of their way to find this movie. Not all risks pay off, and while Zeitlin’s efforts didn’t really pay off here, I’m sure he’ll get more opportunities in the future.
Overall Score: 5/10