‘Wendy’ excels in magical coming of age tale

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Photo Credit: Courtesy of Searchlight Pictures

The island of eternal youth is returning to the silver screen in the visionary tale “Wendy.” 

“Wendy” is a retelling of the classic “Peter Pan” story through the lens of Oscar-nominated director Benh Zeitlin. The film follows a young girl named Wendy and her twin brothers as they travel to a mysterious island where eternal childhood is promised. As the youthful adventure progresses, several elements from the iconic original story begin to find their rightful place among the narrative.

The shining star of “Wendy” is Wendy herself, played expertly by Devin France. The young actor’s performance is subtle, innocent, mature and mesmerizing all at once. Her performance is shockingly effective and insightful for her age. She serves as the film’s moral compass, providing a gateway for viewers to join in on the narrative. Both her line delivery and her physical acting are flawless. Her performance beautifully conveys all of the wonder of childhood, while also hinting at the onset of maturity and growth. 

Another first-time actor, Yashua Mack, is equally electrifying in the role of Peter himself. His unchained energy is absolutely infectious, injecting pure entertainment into all of his scenes. He’s physically all over the place, scattering around the set pieces and dancing all around, emulating the true spirit of the iconic character. It’s extremely heartbreaking to watch the joy in his eyes fade during the more emotional moments, which only adds to the effectiveness of those scenes. Zeitlin was able to work alongside two previously unknown performers and turn them into absolute scene-stealers. 

The rest of the young ensemble is wonderfully innocent and unique in their various quirks and personalities. Twin brothers Gage and Gavin Naquin play two sides of the same coin in their portrayal of Douglas and James. Their performances are unpredictable and bursting with energy. As the narrative progresses and a divide forms between them, it is fascinating to watch them tackle more serious thematic moments as such young actors. Gage Naquin incorporates a defeated angst into his portrayal, clashing with the seemingly perfect world the children of the island have achieved. 

The cinematography of “Wendy” captures the fantastic wonder and unpredictability of being a kid. Camera shots are often up close with the action, but loosely floating around when following the scrambling children. Close-up shots emphasize a sense of immersion for the audience, making viewers truly feel like they are running alongside the eternally youthful children. The scenery is absolutely gorgeous, ranging from sunlit shores to glowing caverns. Despite the large and sprawling natural location, the small protagonists are able to inhabit it with a magical presence. 

The story and message of “Wendy” are truly where the film exceeds expectations and shines beautifully. The concept of growing up, parental reliance and innocence are emotionally explored throughout the context of the story. Wendy’s journey, as she searches for eternal childhood, becomes more meaningful and heartwarming as she slowly begins to realize the reality of life and the importance of growing up. Several sequences highlighting musical harmonies, pure childhood joy and heartbreaking dialogue are true tearjerkers. Zeitlin took a well-known children’s story and converted it into a wholly original and fine-tuned tribute to the wonders of childhood and life. 

By taking a familiar tale and incorporating an emotionally poignant message, mesmerizing visuals, performances and wonder, Zeitlin has created a masterpiece of storytelling and thematic expression. 

4.5 hook hands out of 5