"Beasts of the Southern Wild" director stumbles in attempt to reimagine J.M. Barrie’s classic tale

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The story of "Peter Pan" gets a clumsy retouch in "Wendy," a fractured fairy tale that aims for whimsical but lands well-short of its goal. 

Writer-director Benh Zeitlin, whose "Beasts of the Southern Wild" enchanted viewers in 2012 (and earned several Oscar nominations, including Best Picture, along the way), takes a big step backward with this story that never finds its grounding or its truth.

Devin France stars as the title character, who is raised around a small Southern diner where waitresses call their regulars "darlin'" and stacks of bacon are piled high on the grill.  

Even at her young age, Wendy is fearful of growing old; "the more you grow up," she laments, "the less things you get to do that you wanna." 

A train zips by just steps from the front door, representing freedom, a way out. One day she jumps on board and is whisked away to an island where the laws of age and time are disrupted, as are those of bathing. 

Yashua Mack plays Peter, and though his last name is never uttered, you can see where things are headed. It's just a matter of Zeitlin getting us there, but his one-foot-in, one-foot-out approach comes off as unsure of itself — we get a sort-of-but-not-really Captain Hook in Wendy's brother, James (Gavin Naquin) — and the child actors, Mack especially, are too amateurish to pull off the story convincingly.

Cinematographer Sturla Brandth Grøvlen captures some arresting images and France, who resembles a young Miley Cyrus, has a powerful screen presence. But "Wendy's" ambition far outreaches its grasp. Rather than Neverland, Zeitlin has created a land you never want to visit.

'Wendy'

GRADE: D+

Rated PG-13: for brief violent/bloody images

Running time: 112 minutes

agraham@detroitnews.com

@grahamorama

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