Benh Zeitlin proved that he is the filmmaker to watch out for with his critically acclaimed, four-time Oscar nominated feature debut, ‘Beasts of the Southern Wild’. The film was praised widely by critics across the world, and even considered the finest entry in Sundance in the past years. Nearly 8 years later, Zeitlin brings to us his second feature, ‘Wendy’, a passion project that he penned with his sister, Eliza, something that he dreamed of working on all his life.
The film comes with a fresh promise as it offers an achingly soulful story about growing up that is filled with nostalgia, and centers around a young girl who gets lost in a mysterious, magical island. Wendy sets out on a journey of her lifetime with her two brothers, which ultimately takes her to Peter. But she soon realizes she needs to fight for her freedom and the people she loves. More importantly, she fights to keep the spirit of youth, only to realize that it’s time to grow up.
‘Wendy’ makes use of magical realism brilliantly well in order to explore certain real-life fears and insecurities people have about growing up. Especially in today’s day and age, where our future feels doomed, while the past is all we have. In case the story sounds familiar to you, it is because ‘Wendy’ is a loose reimagination of a childhood favourite classic. Here’s everything you need to know.
Is ‘Wendy’ Based on a True Story?
No, ‘Wendy’ is not based on a true story. The film is, in fact, an interesting, modern-day reimagination of J.M. Barrie’s classic, ‘Peter Pan’. Instead of focusing on the boy who wouldn’t grow up, Zeitlein shifts focus to Wendy, the girl who returns home from Neverland after she decides that she’s ready to grow up. In this way, the film becomes symbolic of the changes each one encounters as we grow up even when we think we don’t want to. This was also an inspiration for Zeitlin to make the film.
‘Peter Pan’ has been a favourite for filmmakers from almost as long as there have been in films. This includes the 1924 black and white silent film of the same name. The story has since then been adapted several times, with Disney’s adaptation being the most famous one till date. But none of these screen adaptations ever center around Wendy, making Zeitlin’s film both quietly revolutionary and precious.
Zeitlin’s Childhood Influence
Benh and Eliza Zeitlin spent their childhoods in Queens, where they grew up obsessed with Peter Pan, which eventually evolved into ideas for their own adaptation. Zeitlin spent more than 7 years working on ‘Wendy’, and worked on it so meticulously that it shows with its marvelous visual style and intricacies. The magical realism used in the film adds to the surrealism in Wendy’s adventures. More importantly, it serves to portray the vividness of youthful spirit, a dynamic energy, that is also tinted by nostalgia and memories, which is what gives the film a dream-like quality.
In an interview, Zeitlin described how neither him nor Eliza wanted grow up and change. But it was the massive success of ‘Beasts’, that made them realize that they had to. This was partly why the duo chose to work on Wendy’s perspective. Another reason was their life-long dream of making an adaptation of Peter Pan which was influenced by their own childhood fears about growing up. In an interview with TheWrap Zeitlin expressed:
“In our childhood world, you know, we looked at adults and we just thought, how could that happen to us? What are we going to lose that’s going to turn… who we are now, which is wild and free and imaginative…into people that we don’t recognize? People who are destroying the planet, who don’t care. The things that adults do that children never do. It terrified us.”
The part about adults destroying the planet also directly ties up to adults in ‘Wendy’ destroying the “Mother”. Zeitlin’s reimagination explores several themes when it comes to growing up, especially with the way it explores childhood, parenthood and evolving dreams and desires. But it essentially looks at the hope that comes from remembering and creating something with love, which is also what Benh and Eliza Zeitlin do with ‘Wendy’.
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