Starring Devin France, Yashua Mack, Gage Naquin, Gavin Naquin
Austin Family Critical Rating: **** of *****
Austin Family Family-Friendly Rating: **** of *****
It’s been eight years since writer/director Benh Zeitlin exploded onto the independent filmmaking scene with Beasts of the Southern Wild (2012), a wildly imaginative story about a six year-old girl navigating the Southern bayou after a flood destroys her home. That film received four Oscar nominations (including Best Picture) and cemented Zeitlin as one of the most talented filmmakers of his generation.
For his follow-up film, Zeitlin has made Wendy, an unconventional adaptation of Peter Pan, in which the character of Wendy (a fantastic Devin France) takes the reigns as our protagonist (as opposed to Peter Pan).
As the movie opens, Wendy, Peter (Yashua Mack) and other children have run away to an island in which they roam free. As always with Peter Pan, there is an emphasis placed on the children’s fight against growing up – a thematic concern Zeitlin takes to new levels here. There are times when Wendy seems downright hostile to the notion of adulthood; however, I think Zeitlin is attempting to put us in the minds of these children, and truly consider what feelings and emotions get lost as young people mature into adults.
Filled with many of the elements of magical realism that were found in Beasts of the Southern Wild, Wendy is a feast for the senses, from Sturla Brandth Grøvlen’s astonishing cinematography to Dan Romer’s rousing score. At times, it runs the risk of feeling a little too similar to Zeitlin’s previous film. But it’s exciting to think that many children will be introduced to a more experiential kind of filmmaking with this movie, as Zeitlin uses a familiar childhood story as an entry point to larger ideas and bold storytelling techniques.
As was the case with Beasts of the Southern Wild, Zeitlin is excellent at working with child actors. The film is a fresh take on an old story, and from a filmmaking perspective, I’m fascinated to know where Zeitlin goes from here. The film is rated PG-13 for some thematic material involving violent images. I would recommend the film for ages ten and above.
Photo credit: Devin France in the film WENDY. Photo by Eric Zachanowich. © 2019 Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation All Rights Reserved