"Don’t Mess with Peter Pan!"
What You Need To Know:
The movie WENDY is filmed in a stream-of-consciousness style that sometimes is confusing. The dialogue doesn’t always make sense, and the boy who plays Peter speaks with a Caribbean accent that’s hard to understand. In the original Peter Pan play and novelization, ultimate message is that all children must be with their parents, grow up and have families of their own. Thus, Peter’s resistance to growing up is actually a tragedy. WENDY, however, inverts this message. It has a Romantic worldview that celebrates childhood and having no responsibilities. WENDY contains pagan elements and brief foul language.
WENDY is an arthouse re-imagining of the Peter Pan story where a young girl and her two brothers, led by a young boy named Peter, run away from home and travel to a mysterious volcanic island where aging and time have come unglued. Filmed in an unsatisfying stream-of-consciousness style, WENDY has a Romantic worldview that inverts the original story’s meaning, which is that growing up is a greater adventure than remaining stuck in a childish fantasy land, alone and without any parents to love you.
The movie opens in a restaurant by a railroad track in a mythical time, where the restaurant’s owner, a single mother named Angela Darling, takes care of her three boys, Thomas, Douglas and James, and her female toddler, Wendy. Everyone is celebrating Thomas’ birthday. However, when Angela and her mother engage is some horsing around, Thomas sees a strange figure on the train that’s stopped briefly on the tracks. Thomas wanders outside and gets on the train, never to be seen again.
Several years later, Wendy has become a precocious little girl. She loves it when her mother tells her stories. One night, a strange sound coming from the night train wakes Wendy and her two brothers, James and Douglas. They go to investigate and encounter a young black boy named Peter. He entices them to hop on the train, and suddenly the train is speeding down the tracks. The next morning, near a bridge, Peter pushes the Darling siblings out of the train and into the water. They all have to swim to a nearby island with an active volcano.
The island is populated by a group of young boys with Peter as their leader. Every once in a while, steam from the volcano under the island explodes in vents leading to the surface, like a geyser. Among the boys on the island, Wendy sees their missing brother, Thomas, and he hasn’t aged a day!!! He also doesn’t remember Wendy or her brothers.
One day, Peter takes Wendy and her brothers into an underwater cave. In the water is a large magical fish of some kind whom Peter and the lost boys call “Mother.” As the children swim in awe of this creature, the movie hints that the magical fish is part of the reason the boys on the island never grow up.
However, the island is also populated by an elderly man tending a donkey. Wendy discovers that the old man used to be one of the lost boys under Peter’s spell. Apparently, the boy strayed onto the other side of the island, which turns children into old people in a matter of days or weeks (the timeline is unsure). Peter tells Wendy and her brothers never to travel to the other side of the island, or they will grow old like the man with the donkey.
One day, Wendy and her brothers swim out to a shipwrecked boat just offshore. They swim into the part of the ship that’s underwater, but Douglas suddenly disappears, and when James tries to search for him, he returns to shore, where his right hand has suddenly aged. Peter convinces James to cut off his hand. Then, Wendy wraps James’ arm and, against Peter’s wishes, runs to the other side of the island to get help. There, they find a community of old people, but no one seems able to help them. James decides to stay with the old people, and Wendy returns to the other side of the island.
While living with the old adults, James quickly becomes a middle-aged man. Meanwhile, he’s fashioned a hook for his missing right hand. He rallies the old people kidnap some of the lost children and to get the shipwrecked ship afloat so they can kill the magical fish. They figure that, if they eat the fish, they will all turn young again.
However, Wendy rallies the remaining lost children to stop the adults from killing the magical fish. The stage is set for a big finish.
The movie WENDY is filmed in a stream-of-consciousness style that tries to seem lyrical but sometimes is confusing. Also, the boy who plays Peter has a Caribbean accent that’s hard to understand. It doesn’t help that his dialogue in the script, and that of Wendy’s, who narrates part of the movie, contains sentences that don’t quite make sense.
In the original Peter Pan play and novel, Wendy Darling’s adventures with Peter Pan and the Lost Boys are fun and exciting (and sometimes funny), but the play and novel’s ultimate message is that, eventually, all children must be with their parents, grow up and have families of their own. WENDY, however, inverts this message. It celebrates childhood and having no responsibilities. In celebrating childhood, it also extols returning to a primitive, “natural” state, as symbolized by the island where Peter and the Lost Boys live. This is a Romantic worldview. The filmmakers add some pagan elements to this Romanticism. Thus, the magical sea creature, who the Lost Boys call “Mother,” is depicted as a primordial, life-giving “mother” archetype and is almost viewed like a goddess by them. The creature’s body contains strange organic lights and appears to be the representation of Tinkerbell, the fairy in the original Peter Pan stories. WENDY also has some mostly light foul language and violence. Ultimately, however, it’s the movie’s Romantic view of childhood and adulthood that warrants extreme caution.
WENDY has a lot of metaphorical content that might be interesting to unpack, but the original Peter Pan stories by J.M. Barrie are even more fascinating and worthwhile. The novel is a good read, and the television version of the play starring Mary Martin from 1960 is especially fun to watch. Steven Spielberg’s sequel to the Peter Pan story, HOOK, captures the message of Barrie’s novel and play pretty well too, while adding some new twists.