It has been almost a decade since Benh Zeitlin released Beasts of the Southern Wild to rapturous acclaim and his long-awaited follow-up comes – at first – as something of a surprise. His directorial debut was a delicate, defiant miracle, an ecological parable that deftly blended folklore with haunting contemporary concerns post-Hurricane Katrina. Wendy, on the other hand, is the latest in a long tradition of Peter Pan adaptations. While the shift from Louisiana Bayou to Kensington Gardens might seem like a stumble toward conventionality, appearances – as the uncanny world of Neverland teaches us – can be deceiving.

Zeitlin’s fingerprints are all over this strange, wild yelp of an adaptation. Set much like his debut in the rural South and using nonprofessional actors, the action revolves around nine-year old Wendy, who jumps with her brothers on to a rusting freight train to an island where time has come unstuck and boys live in kindred with the natural world.

The skeleton of the original story is evident throughout and its presence both hampers and buoys. Zeitlin is at times too bound to J.M Barrie’s narrative beats: contemporary twists to the original tale are delivered with a perfunctory wink and nudge that makes the swirling, expansive cinematography and soaring score feel sometimes small. It is only when Zeitlin stops using Wendy to tell the story of Peter Pan, and uses Peter Pan to tell his own tale of untameable possibility, that the film soars.

Wendy’s resistance to growing up transforms into a richly considered fable of inherited environmental catastrophe, set against a world that feels, as Zeitlin is wont to make it, wondrously vast and achingly intimate. This is ambitious, wild filmmaking that pushes with childlike recklessness against the rigid bounds of literary adaptation: it doesn’t always succeed, but when it does, everything feels – just for a moment – extraordinary.



CAST: Devin France, Yashua Mack, Gage Naquin, Gavin Naquin, Shay Walker

DIRECTOR: Benh Zeitlin

WRITERS: Benh Zeitlin, Eliza Zeitlin

SYNOPSIS: In the contemporary American South, nine-year old Wendy Darling escapes with her brothers to an island inhabited by a boy who never grows up.