WENDY (2020)

 Greetings again from the darkness. When you think of Peter Pan, you likely envision either the 1953 animated Disney film classic or the writings of J.M. Barre, who first introduced the character in his 1902 adult novel, “The Little White Bird.” Whatever your impressions and memories of Peter Pan, they likely differ from those of filmmaker Benh Zeitlin, who was Oscar nominated for his stunning 2012 film, BEASTS OF THE SOUTHERN WILD.

The story begins at a small town greasy spoon diner nestled along railroad tracks. Birthday boy Thomas (Krzysztof Meyn) is devouring a plate of bacon and taking ribbing from the locals who are teasing him with tales of his future working at the diner. He storms out yelping “I ain’t gonna be no mop and broom man”. Toddler Wendy watches as Thomas jumps on the passing train and disappears with the wind. A few years later, Wendy (newcomer Devin France) and her older twin brothers James and Douglas (Gage and Gavin Naquin) are awakened by a passing train and spot a giggling Peter (Yashua Mack) running along the top of the cars. The siblings climb out the window and leap to join Peter. Soon, they are on an adventure to an island (we assume is Neverland) which seems to be populated with kids who run and jump and play all day. Among them is Thomas, who hasn’t aged a day since his birthday bacon.

Any re-imagining of a classic comes with risks. Messing with people’s childhood memories inevitably leads to push-back. Benh Zeitlin gives the impression that he’s a passion-project only type of filmmaker. This interpretation means something to him, and it’s obvious in the detail and creativity. The similarities in visual style to his previous “Beasts” film are obvious, and render quite a different look and feel than we are accustomed to with fantasy movies. But then, this is not a Peter Pan for kids. It’s really a philosophical analysis of life. Everything is an adventure for kids, and then somewhere along the way, we lose ourselves and start the ‘adulting’ portion of life – leaving our childhood dreams behind.

Buzzo represents the once young boy who lost faith. He’s now an old guy dreaming of recapturing his youth. Mr. Zeitlin’s film, which he co-wrote with his sister Eliza Zeitlin, includes magical elements, fantasies, realism, life lessons, hardships, and the importance of personal connections. The score from Dan Romer is exceptional, as are the performances from youngsters Devin France and Yashua Mack. It was filmed on the volcanic island of Montserrat, and thanks to the mythical “Mother” who lives underwater, it becomes a fable about keeping the faith and never growing old. J.M. Barre’s famous first line was “All children, except one, grow up.” Are you that one child, or have you lost faith?

watch the trailer:

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