On this edition of INTERVUE, Director Benh Zeitlin takes us to the world of Peter Pan in his latest film Wendy. This classic story of Peter Pan is wildly reimagined in this ragtag epic. Lost on a mysterious island where aging and time have come unglued, Wendy must fight to save her family, her freedom, and the joyous spirit of youth from the deadly peril of growing up.
I sat down with director Benh Zeitlin to talk about this new re-imagined chapter of a classic children’s tale.
What is the new movie Wendy about?
It’s a movie that starts with some of the basic elements of Peter Pan but then goes off completely to tell a new story. It’s a wild adventure film and it’s about this kid Wendy and her brothers who enter this world and think that are going to grow up forever and they find out that actually whether they grow up or not hinges on staying happy and care-free forever if that ever changes. If they stop believing that the magic will work, they could get old very quickly.
It’s an action-adventure movie with kids where what’s at stake is whether or not they grow up. They control that emotionally. so, it’s very much a film that lives inside these kids’ emotions. It’s an emotional experience of what it’s like to lose your youth.
Why did you choose Wendy for this new version?
Well I think for a lot of reasons> One of the main ones is when you look at the original story, you know story of Peter Pan is about escaping from the world, running away, having a good time. We became more interested in the story of this character, Wendy, who is the girl who is this desperate to feel adventure and feel loudness and know what it is to do whatever she wants and become completely free but then she also goes home. She goes home because as much as she wants to be free, her heart is almost too big to let go of everything.
She still loves her mother. She loves her brothers. She loves her friends and she just can’t let go and do whatever she wants. A lot of what the film is about is wrestling the tension of wanting to be totally free and love & care & Family and how those two things pull against each other and eventually how you resolve them.
Let’s talk about the cast. You have this group of amazing kids and elderly actors. You’d mentioned in other interviews that they weren’t professional actors. Is this correct?
No one in the cast has ever acted before. We really wanted to find kids that were real and wild and not kids who have practiced acting all of their lives or kids who have ever tried acting before. The number one thing that we wanted to find was kids who had actually who would follow Peter Pan if he came to their window and who had that look in their eye like “This kid is dangerous”. They’re impulsive, they’re brave. They’re not afraid to do what they want. We wanted that very real energy in everybody in the cast. So, we couldn’t just go looking into acting schools or for parents who had trained their children very intensely to do acting. We had to find kids who were just kids being kids but who had excellent incredible talent.
Talk to us about the song that we hear throughout the movie
Yes, there’s a lullaby that’s at the center of the score of the film. I wrote the music with my composer and we wanted to find a melody that it felt like it existed forever. On that connects to you this feeling as if your mother was singing to you when you were a small child. So, the beginning of the film, the first thing we hear is this mother humming this simple melody to her daughter. The melody expands and becomes the basis of this whole score. Each time you hear it, we want to connect back to the feeling having your mother singing to you when you were an infant. For me, when I hear the song of my parents sang to me when I was youth, it gives me an indescribable feeling of nostalgia for being tiny and so connected in this other era of life when you and your mother were like one creature.
How did you get inspired with the creature under the water?
I got inspired by a combination of animals. She’s a giant bio-luminescent earth goddess called The Mother. It’s the protector of all children in the film who breezes the volcano and who is at the center of this of this surreal ecosystem on this version of Neverland. When we were designing her, it’s creatures who lives all the way in the deepest depths of the ocean who breathe from geothermal vents. So they breath from the heat coming from the center of the earth almost like this primeval creature that lives off the core of the Earth.
Our ideal is that there is a backstory of the film that was this eruption on the island and why Peter is the only one left on this island. This creature had come up from the center of the Earth and like Peter, the creature was lonely. Peter and the mother come to take care of each other in the movie. In this version of Neverland is how children stay young is through the protection of the creature called The Mother.
In the film, technology is not involved with the kids What do you think is happening now in this era with our children? Do you believe that they are losing this real moments like how to appreciate nature or use their imagination to play like the children in Neverland?
I do think so. I think one of the things that was the most alarming was for me was that in our film when kids go to Neverland that there’s no technology. There’s no houses, they never go inside. They still don’t have beds. They don’t have a clubhouse. They play and play and then they fall asleep wherever they stop playing and start as soon as they wake up. The one game turns into the next and the next and the next. That’s something I remember from childhood very viscerally especially from playing outside in the dirt, in the sand, in the water. Playing in nature where we are climbing trees and being connected to our actual planet.
I found one of the things, most disturbing, in trying to cast the film is that another thing we absolutely had to find is that a find a kid who likes to play outside and understands playing in nature and isn’t afraid of it and have a love for the actual planet. It was so difficult to find that in children. There are so many kids’ imaginations was just completely consumed by whatever they were experiencing through technology. It felt like a real change and a real loss of young children feeling connected to real world that they live in and not just the digital world that we’re creating
Wendy takes you back to theatres this Friday March 6th from Searchlight Pictures