A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Wendy is a moody, modern-day retelling of J.M. Barrie's Peter Pan story that focuses on a young Wendy Darling (Devin France). Here, Wendy lives in working-class Louisiana and gets to Neverland by running away from home and jumping on a train, where she and her twin brothers meet Peter. In Neverland, life is grand until tragedy strikes, leading to unexpected consequences. Expect occasional strong language ("damn," "hell," "ass," and a use of "s--t") and a few scenes of danger and violence, including one intense sequence in which a boy's hand is cut off, and sad moments when it seems like a key character has died. Spoiler alert! Later, a beloved creature does die after being hunted. Characters have experienced traumatic loss, and there's a volcano that rumbles and spews ash. Unlike other Peter Pan adaptations, this film is less plot-driven and is slower-paced and more contemplative in a way that might be tricky for younger viewers to follow. It's also very focused on the importance of motherhood, which could be difficult for kids who don't have moms or have complicated relationships with their mothers. But it does touch on the universal Peter Pan themes of the wonder, wildness, and carefree innocence of childhood and the value of learning to appreciate family and the beauty of growing up.
- Parents say
- Kids say
What's the story?
WENDY is a retelling of the Peter Pan story from director Behn Zeitlin (Beasts of the Southern Wild). It centers on young Wendy Darling (Devin France), the daughter of a Louisiana diner owner who ends up in Neverland by jumping on a train with her older twin brothers, Douglas (Gage Naquin) and James (Gavin Naquin). Neverland is an island full of Lost Boys (and girls) -- but it's also home to a mysterious old man who apparently was once a Lost Boy, too. In this version, Peter (Yashua Mack) is charming, mischievous, and island-descended, and he and the Lost Boys are kept perpetually young by a magical "Mother," a mythical sea creature that seems to guard them in their fountain of youth. After an unexpected tragedy strikes the Darlings, Wendy discovers that there are some dark aspects to the idea of "never growing up."
Is it any good?
This visually impressive Peter Pan retelling focuses on Wendy but lacks a strong narrative thread beyond the chaotic wonder of a potentially never-ending childhood. Parts of the film are lovely and memorable, and in terms of cinematography, score, and production design, the movie is impressive. But the plot and the dialogue beg more questions than they answer, and there are upsetting twists that will leave viewers unsatisfied and disappointed, given the source material.
France is an expressive young actor, and -- like Brooklynn Prince in The Florida Project -- she's able to convey a lot. In fact, most of the amateur young actors do a good job, although they mostly just have to play, run, and scream in delight (there's quite a lot of hollering). The emphasis on the setting and the story's allegorical elements may lack appeal for younger viewers, but older moviegoers could be intrigued to figure out what Zeitlin is trying to say about childhood, adulthood, and what's lost and gained in the adventure of growing up. One character's story arc in particular fits into the Pan legend but is deeply upsetting to the point of being an unforgivable flaw. There's a lot to unpack in this leisurely paced, thoughtful examination of Peter Pan, but the movie falls short of the greatness expected as the follow-up to Beasts of the Southern Wild.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about the violence in Wendy. Do you think it's necessary for the story? Who do you think the target audience is? How can you tell?
How does Wendy cope with the difficulties in her life? Is she aware of them? How does she compare to other movie girls?
There have been several retellings of Peter Pan. How does this one compare to others you're familiar with? Which version do you like most?
Do you agree with the movie's opinion on growing up? Is it scary? Is it an adventure?
- In theaters: February 28, 2020
- On DVD or streaming: April 17, 2020
- Cast: Shay Walker, Tommie Lynn Milazzo, Stephanie Lynn Wilson
- Director: Benh Zeitlin
- Studio: Fox Searchlight Pictures
- Genre: Fantasy
- Topics: Magic and Fantasy, Adventures, Book Characters, Brothers and Sisters
- Run time: 112 minutes
- MPAA rating: PG-13
- MPAA explanation: brief violent/bloody images
- Last updated: March 19, 2021
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