Why 'Peter Pan & Wendy' director David Lowery wants to make movies that scare your children

Plus, the director responds to internet trolls complaining about the film's "woke" casting choices.

Jude Law as Captain Hook in Peter Pan and Wendy. (Photo: Courtesy Everett Collection)
Jude Law as Captain Hook in Peter Pan & Wendy. (Photo: Courtesy Everett Collection)

Memo to internet trolls complaining that the version of Neverland seen in Peter Pan & Wendy features Lost Girls as well as Lost Boys: Take your toys and fly away home. And remember, those reverse directions are second star to the left and straight on 'til morning. "For me, being a Lost Boy is a state of mind — it's as simple as that," director David Lowery tells Yahoo Entertainment when asked how he'd respond to those critics crying "woke" on his casting choices for Disney's live action update of its 1953 animated favorite.

Similarly, Lowery stands by his decision to cast Yara Shahidi as Disney's first Black Tinkerbell in the film, which is streaming now on Disney+. The Black-ish star is making her Neverland debut ahead of Halle Bailey's star turn as Ariel in Rob Marshall's upcoming live-action Little Mermaid, and both actresses have received backlash from toxic online commentators. "That's an honorable charge to lead," Lowery says about aiding in the studio's commitment to diversifying its classic characters.

Watch our interview with Peter Pan & Wendy's Jude Law and David Lowery on YouTube:

For the record, Lowery hasn't seen Marshall's Little Mermaid yet, but he's ready to be part of Bailey's world. "When I was nine years old, I started a Little Mermaid fan club called the Under the Sea Fan Club," Lowery reveals with a laugh. "It was just me and one other friend. That's always been my favorite Disney animated movie, so I'm excited for the new one. I wish they'd shown it to me already!"

The Little Mermaid wasn't the only movie that Lowery cops to watching on repeat growing up. Born in 1980, the director's other childhood favorites include Terry Gilliam's Time Bandits and Steven Spielberg's Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, both of which made a big impression on his young mind. "Time Bandits terrified me as a kid," he admits. "Temple of Doom was another one. That sense of anarchy in that movie's action sequences was something I looked at a lot for this film. Those were both movies that I was obsessed with, but utterly terrified by."

That's an experience he hopes to recreate for young kids who sit down to stream Peter Pan & Wendy, which mixes some darker, more dramatic material into the familiar story of the boy who wouldn't grow up, now played by newcomer Alexander Molony. "It's something I always valued in those movies — 10 minutes in, I was really taken in by how scared they made me, and yet how much I wanted to rewatch it and rewatch it," muses Lowery, who previously oversaw a more serious take on Pete's Dragon for the Mouse House. "There's something nurturing and helpful about getting to face that darkness at a young age in the safe environment of an adventure film."

Yara Shahidi as Disney's first Black Tinkerbell in Peter Pan & Wendy. (Photo: Courtesy Disney+)
Yara Shahidi as Disney's first Black Tinkerbell in Peter Pan & Wendy. (Photo: Courtesy Disney+)

"All of the films that made the biggest impression scared me in some way and helped me face the darkness that I have to deal with as an adult," Lowery continues. "So I hope to continue that tradition: I hope to keep making movies that scare kids just enough — but not too much."

That's the kind of kid's movie that Jude Law is only too happy to star in. The British star and father of six plays Captain Hook in Peter Pan & Wendy — and this isn't the Hook you remember from the cartoon. Working with his regular collaborator, Toby Halbrooks, Lowery creates a new backstory for the pirate, one that adds a whole new layer of emotional weight to his grudge against Peter.

While Law didn't grow up as a Time Bandits mega-fan, he indicates that Disney's 1961 animated favorite, 101 Dalmatians, served the same purpose. "Cruella de Vil was the reason I loved that movie, because of how scared I was of her," he says. "I remember being both surprised and weirdly stimulated by the fact that I was scared. That kind of stimulation leads to curiosity that leads to questions that leads to conversation that leads to imagination. That's the path I live on and love and that I hope to lead my children down."

From left to right: Peter Pan (Alexander Molony), Wendy (Ever Anderson), John (Joshua Pickering) and Michael (Jacobi Jupe) in Peter Pan & Wendy. (Photo: ©Disney+/Courtesy Everett Collection)
From left, Peter Pan (Alexander Molony), Wendy (Ever Anderson), John (Joshua Pickering) and Michael (Jacobi Jupe) in Peter Pan & Wendy. (Photo: ©Disney+/Courtesy Everett Collection)

The intensity of Law's performance pays off in a dramatic monologue where Hook reveals his revised origin. The actor credits Lowery and Halbrooks's script for providing all the necessary emotional ammunition for that scene. "David and I would sit and pick it apart and really be on the same page. It was easy in many ways to make unfortunately parallels to real life: you think of child soldiers or you think of people who put children in awful scenarios seeing things they shouldn't see. What does that do to a child? What does that do to a person?

"What was exciting was being able to explore the past that gave his actions more gravitas," Law adds. "I hope the flamboyance is still there in that he's got a certain flare and he's also got a relish of power. But I also wanted him to look weather-beaten and exhausted, because he's the symbol of getting old. He's the symbol of deterioration."

Peter Pan & Wendy is currently streaming on Disney+.