Modernized adaptations of classic stories are nothing new. In fact, according to certain Hollywood execs (not that I’ve heard from any), they’re all the rage right now, provided they’ve got plenty of additional fights and special effects (Jack the Giant Slayer, anyone?), often at the expense of the actual story itself. Said approach casually ignores the very reasons these stories are classics, and why they still resonate today: they’re mostly expertly crafted tales with compelling characters to whom readers and viewers attach themselves. So, while preparing to write about The New Adventures of Peter and Wendy, I decided I should watch another modernized adaptation of classic work. Y’know, for comparison’s sake. I attempted to watch I, Frankenstein; I, failed. I, don’t want to talk about it. Instead, let’s discuss something far better and more interesting. Happy thoughts and all that, right? I should have those if I’m writing about Peter Pan.
The New Adventures of Peter and Wendy updates J.M. Barrie’s classic tale of the boy who never grew up and the family of kids he once brought to Neverland. In this case, we’re in Neverland, OH, where the Darlings run a local newspaper called The Kensington Chronicle. Wendy (Paula Rhodes) is the advice columnist and vlogger, dispensing warm and witty advice on finding one’s way in the world. John (Graham Kurtz) desperately clings to his “adulthood” as the paper’s Assistant (to the) Editor-in-Chief (Mr. Darling, aka “Dad”, serves as the paper’s chief editor) and Michael (Brennan Murray)… well, as he puts it, is “a trailblazer of sorts.” He “work[s] for his family’s newspaper (in no official capacity outside the “mailroom”), play[s] a lot of video games, and smoke[s] a lot of…” well, in the show, they call it “fairy dust.” (Uh… all of that sounds really familiar. Let’s move on.) And Tinkerbell (portrayed by a POV camera and a series of chimes) sells the fairy dust to him.
And of course Peter Pan (Kyle Walters), now only nominally an adult, remains tight with the Darlings (and Tink): he keeps close friendships with Wendy and Michael and tolerates John when not avoiding him. Peter writes and draws comics for the paper when he’s not planning activities group activities like drinking nights or celebrations of Neverland’s 154th birthday. His home is filled with the toys and games he’s always loved, not to mention a signature boozy concoction known only as “Pan Punch.” Between his friends and his job, he’s got everything he ever wanted in life. Well, except for one thing; he pines for the heart of his charming, gorgeous, and somehow still-single best friend. (No, not Michael).
Wendy has feelings for Peter too. But as she becomes increasingly aware of them, she starts realizing that she, unlike him, does in fact want to “grow up.” She wants to see the world outside Neverland and experience all that adulthood has to offer. For her, sticking around her hometown means continuing to look after her brothers, and by extension of that, Peter as well. But leaving town would also mean leaving them, specifically Peter, behind. And Wendy’s willing to admit where she may be wrong; after all, Peter and Michael are perfectly happy goofing off, while Wendy, despite having a strong work ethic, college education and a job she likes, is not. Just as Wendy and Peter seem ready to admit their feelings for one another, he drunkenly (and accidentally?) makes out with stunning, wealthy socialite Lily Baghar (Lovlee Carroll), strengthening Wendy’s desire to leave Neverland… without him.
I’ve long thought that classic literary adaptations are best when they stay as true as possible to their source material, even when placed in a modern setting. Hence the successes that are Clueless (adapted from Jane Austen’s Emma) and Bernie Su’s Emmy Award-winning series The Lizzie Bennett Diaries (adapted from Austen’s Pride and Prejudice; maybe the trick is to just adapt Jane Austen novels). Said works don’t try to change the story or characters, much less literally blow them up; they find crafty and creative ways to analogize them in their new setting. And the result is far more satisfying than watching the end product of some haphazard, cliffs notes-style script tortured onto a screen by overuse of loud noises and flashy things. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle used Sherlock Holmes’s wits, sidekick (Watson), and arch-nemesis (Professor Moriarty) to compel readers to keep reading; he didn’t need excessive gunfights and explosions to make his stories interesting.
Peter Pan was my first favorite story. It remains one of my favorite stories and a large part of why I even like stories. Ergo, any content using it as source material will be held to a near-impossible standard. By me. Regardless of what’s been done to other classic works (don’t even get me started on comics). With that said, I love everything about this adaptation. Its analogous characters, imagery, and story are perfect updates of their originals. The characters, specifically, are portrayed exactly as imagined (only a bit older) and the cast does a remarkable job of bringing them to life in a beautifully realistic setting created and developed by Walters, co-writer Shawn deLoache and director Matthew Breault. They, as well as everyone involved, deserve a tremendous amount of credit for their true and accurate homage to Barrie’s original work. The story’s beats and plot points fit perfectly into Neverland, OH as it gives fans of the source material the satisfying Peter-Wendy romance that they’ve long awaited. Bright, funny humor and sharp references to other beloved works (The Office, Star Wars) further engender an attachment to this piece and its characters. From the sets to the sound and camera cues to the theme, everything about The New Adventures of Peter and Wendy is as ideal as one could wish.
Adding to my already-apparent love of this series is its fantastic trans-media companion content. The Kensington Chronicle actually exists online and features Wendy’s advice, John’s editorials and, of course, Peter’s comics. After watching the series (airing new episodes every Wednesday and Friday!), head over to The Kensington Chronicle website for “Peter’s Panels” and “Dear Darlings”. In fact, just watch and read everything related to this series. Check out The New Adventures of Peter and Wendy at EpicRobotTV on YouTube or at their website.
By Eli David