The movie takes some risks, but it just doesn’t quite pay off.
Angela Darling (Shay Walker) is a waitress who is raising her three children: Wendy (Devin France), Douglas (Gage Naquin), and James (Gavin Naquin). As a young child, Wendy witnessed local boy Thomas Marshall (Krzysztof Meyn) jump onto a passing train and disappear. Years later, Wendy and her brothers jump onto the same train and find that a young boy uses it to travel to a mysterious island where children don’t age. Yes, that boy is Peter Pan (Yashua Mack). It turns out that the island is powered by a spirit named “Mother” which protects the children. However, not everyone on the island is happy about this arrangement, and some of the older inhabitants are looking to destroy Mother and her chosen guardian, Peter.
This movie is absolutely gorgeous. The Southern railway aesthetic of the first act contrasts perfectly with the island locale of the rest of the film. Apparently it was shot in Montserrat, an island located South of Antigua, which looks exactly like every tropical island you’ve seen before. It’s more grounded and realistic than some of the Neverlands we’ve seen in movies like the Disney animated version or Hook, but it’s still clearly a magical location. The more the characters explore, the more surreal and amazing it becomes and it’s very well constructed. The cinematography is top-notch and it has a great soundtrack to complement it. Unfortunately, that’s most of the positives I can give for the film.
Having a film with all child actors is always a risk because there are not a lot of great actors under the age of 11. Acting is a skill that takes time to develop, so you’re really looking for people with natural ability. Benh Zeitlin, the director and writer of this movie, definitely lucked out when he found 8 year old Quvenzhané Wallis to act in his previous project Beasts of the Southern Wild. Not only was Wallis capable of delivering a performance well beyond her years, she was still clearly an adorable and vulnerable-looking child. In this film, Zeitlin cast 10 year old Yashua Mack as Peter Pan, and but he didn’t quite get as lucky. No question that Mack is absolutely adorable and that he has a natural physicality that often makes him seem completely at home moving through the location, but unfortunately he does not have the ability to deliver lines as naturally as Wallis. It’s made even more pronounced because Devin France DOES know how to do a line, even with a Southern accent (which seems to be her natural one, but it if not is even more impressive). I’m not saying that Mack doesn’t have talent, because in some scenes he absolutely nails it, but, again, that just makes it more obvious when he doesn’t.
A big part of the problem with this film is that, while it does try to redo the classic Peter Pan, it runs into some issues. The mechanism by which some people are children and some are adults is explicit in this movie and it immediately raises so many questions it distracts the viewer. It’s one of the central motivations behind the eventual plot, but it also seems arbitrary to the point that it almost doesn’t make sense that the kids are okay with it. Also, the fact that many of the characters on the island are black and that Wendy, a white girl, ends up being their savior, naturally seems to have called up a bit of controversy about that trope.
Overall, it’s just not a great film. Maybe it needed more happy thoughts.
If you want to check out some more by the Joker on the Sofa, check out the 100 Greatest TV Episodes of All Time, Collection of TV Episodes, Collection of Movie Reviews, or the Joker on the Sofa Reviews.
If you enjoy these, please, like, share, tell your friends, like the Facebook page (https://www.facebook.com/JokerOnTheSofa/), follow on Twitter @JokerOnTheSofa, and just generally give me a little bump. I’m not getting paid, but I like to get feedback.