Wendy rivals the joy and mystery of its source.
Director: Benh Zeitlin (Beasts of the Southern Wild)
Screenplay: Zeitlin, Eliza Zeitlin
Cast: Yashua Mack, Devin France
Runtime: 1h 52m
By: John DeSando
One of the best literary allusions is for someone to be a “Peter Pan,” a Pollyanna who refuses to grow old. Benh Zeitlin, writer and director along with writer Eliza Zeitlin, remakes that story into Wendy about a wandering girl and her pre-teen friends. Zeitlin’s love of nature and kids is evident as it was in his acclaimed Beasts of the Southern Wild, which garnered multiple Oscar nominations.
The emphasis on her (Devin France) is a timely take on a little girl who runs from home and returns, always the mistress of her own heart even when she’s following charismatic troublemaker Peter (Yashua Mack). Although the shots of mountains and sea are almost too many, they and the kids are lovingly and powerfully rendered in a satisfactorly allegorical sense.
Although the fantasy has a few too many episodes that steal from potentially longer character-making scenes, I still get it—you can’t, even on a magical island, evade forever the demands of aging. Sophisticated audiences will immediately see a serious Disney-like philosophy at work, its emphasis on dealing with old folks and facing fate with equanimity. You might lose an arm, but you’ll still make it through if you believe in the goodness of life, especially of mother be she your own or a giant loving fish.
While the allegorical implications of this rugged, romantic, and lyrical adventure could fill a book, here it is necessary only to praise the sumptuous seas and mountains of Neverland, scenery J.M. Barrie would wholly approve. The eye-piercing beauty of the magical island, teeming with geysers of enigmatic steam, strikes the right balance between the beautiful dreams of children and the realities that bite them at the same time. Sometimes the tableau-like shots of nature are overwhelmingly sumptuous, just as the underwater world of the giant mothering fish is dark and foreboding.
At no point do the filmmakers create overly-colorful, unreal images that could lead a child to believe life is easy. Here it's work just to survive and beauty when you realize where the real beauty is—in loving fealty to friends and family.
Even the story’s Captain Hook must admit love is the salvation, and sometimes you can’t go home. Fortunately for our little band of adventurers, they can become adults and realize growing up is the greatest adventure of all.
John DeSando, a Los Angeles Press Club first-place winner for National Entertainment Journalism, hosts WCBE’s It’s Movie Time and co-hosts Cinema Classics. Contact him at JohnDeSando62@gmail.com.