Review: R.L. Allman’s Modern Retelling Of “Peter Pan” – Chapter 1
“With a dark, whimsical twist, we retell the story of Peter Pan, the boy who wouldn’t grow up. In this live-action modern version, San Francisco stands in as Neverland and we introduce Peter before his conflict with Hooke and take you on a wild ride around the gritty city of Neverland. You will meet the Lost Boys, Peter’s Street Gang, and many of your favorite Neverland characters, including a totally re-imagined Tinker Bell.”
I have to admit I had many expectations going into this film as Peter Pan was one of my favorite stories growing up. As I looked at the trailer thumbnail, I wondered, how exactly would Allman adapt the classic tale into a darker, whimsical twist?
In only 25 minutes Allman not only succeeds in capturing the essence of Peter Pan—the theme of not wanting to grow up—but also manages to pack enough intrigue through dialogue that the end of the episode leaves me wanting more.
In the whimsical tale, Peter Pan is imagined as a black boy, age as of yet unknown, looking to make a difference in the city of Neverland through graffiti and what he says is community organizing. The conflict kicks off when Peter Pan receives an eviction notice, politely disguised as raising the rent. Peter Pan must quickly come up with a way to make up the money.
In comes Tinker Bell, reimagined as an upcoming, sassy drag queen in the city of Neverland, who supplies more than enough “Fairy Dust” to sell in order for Peter Pan to make ends meet. But this isn’t an answer to their problems. If anything, it seems Peter Pan is hesitant in getting involved with the Pixie Dust because it seems like he feels it’s not going to make any real change in his community. Even more so, it’s hinted Tinker Bell, aka Tyler, grew up in foster care with Peter Pan and also seems to have a thing for Peter Pan, obviously jealous of his relationship with Tiger Lily. But while Peter Pan rejects the gentrification of Neverland, Tinker Bell is more than happy to play along, believing that some of them can make a name for themselves.
The relationship between Peter Pan and Tinker acts as a commentary on white privilege. despite Peter Pan and Tinker Bell coming from the same upbringing, it’s easier for Tinker Bell to move on, let go, and forge a new future because of the color of his skin while on the other hand, Peter Pan has a harder time making a name for himself because he has far less opportunity due to being judged by the color of his skin. Therefore, it’s easier for Tinker Bell to turn a blind eye to the gentrification going on in Neverland.
Then we move on to Peter Pan meeting Tiger Lily, who also received the eviction notice. It’s revealed that everyone in the neighborhood received the letter and already people are being evicted. Tiger Lily doesn’t have much screen time but considering in the Disney take she’s a princess to her native tribe, I’m sure there will be some commentary and character development in later chapters.
Later, we meet the Lost Boyz, reimagined as the neighborhood gang. After viciously branding Peter Pan on the shoulder with a lighter, the standard ritual to new inductees of the Lost Boyz. Then, in an animated sequence Peter Pan and the Lost Boyz go around sabotaging and graffitiing the rapidly gentrifying city of Neverland. At first, I wasn’t entirely sure how they were defending the community or fixing the community as Peter Pan said. But judging by later scenes where Peter Pan is caught graffitiing a building with a large, red H hung on its roof (yes, foreshadowing for captain Hooke), it seems the Lost Boyz terrorize areas that have already been gentrified by Hooke’s company.
Peter Pan in the end is caught by a security guard patrolling the perimeter of the building. Luckily, Peter Pan pulls a knife on the guard, giving Peter enough time to headbutt him and escape on his motorcycle. The scene cuts to a man being tortured by none other than Smee, Captain Hooke’s right-hand man. At first, as Smee seductively tortures a random man, viewers might believe this could be our Captain Hooke. But nope. The camera pans to the side and we see an uptight woman in a business suit who breaks into monologue about disposing of the “filth” of Neverland in order to make it a better place. Out of anger Captain Hooke orders Smee to find Peter Pan and burn his house down.
Ultimately Allman’s reimagining of the classic tale of Peter Pan, the themes of never growing old and defending your home, takes a new turn in a modern day retelling by crafting commentary around race relations in the United States. Allman’s Peter Pan really reimagines what it means to “grow up” and who has the luxury of growing up and making it in the world without being judged by the color of their skin. In this instance it seems “growing up” means abandoning your roots and selling out your community by turning a blind eye to injustices being committed against your community by systemic oppressive forces.
While there’s a lot to unpack in the short 25-minute episode, the pacing is quick enough to reel in viewers and packed with enough meaningful and obvious dialogue to the point where it left me wanting more. The visuals of the episode is gritty and dark, yes, but oddly fanciful. Through the colorful, brightly lit dressing room of Tinker Bell to the animated sequence of the Lost Boyz, Allman blurs the line of what’s considering childish and what’s staying true to who you foundationally are to your core.
I will definitely be on the lookout for more of this series and I would really like to know whether Allman plans to do any other modern retellings of classic fairy tales.