Like a magic brew thinned into bouillon, “Come Away” folds spellbinding storybook tales into a mundane melodrama. The movie proposes that Peter Pan and Alice, of Wonderland, are brother and sister. As children, they share an idyllic life, until a family tragedy prompts them to retreat into their respective fantasy lands.
The story takes place in the English countryside, where the craftsman Jack (David Oyelowo) and his wife Rose (Angelina Jolie) live in a quaint cottage with three children. The kids exercise their active imaginations in the woods, where they pretend to shoot arrows and cross swords in combat. The director Brenda Chapman (“Brave”) aligns us with the siblings by bringing their jovial make-believe to life. An overturned rowboat is shown to be a ship full of pirates; sticks, when brandished, become sharp blades.
Then, in a miserable twist, an accident leaves the family overcome by grief. As Jack’s gambling problem re-emerges and Rose develops a taste for liquor, the plot dulls and the frame seems awash with gray. The younger kids Peter (Jordan A. Nash) and Alice (Keira Chansa) try to escape the pain through fanciful trips to Neverland and Wonderland. Even those brief interludes cannot lift the oppressive gloom.
The pleasures of “Peter Pan” and “Alice in Wonderland” lie in how the stories spin sparkling fantasy out of coming-of-age aches. By drawing an explicit line between Peter and Alice’s terrestrial trauma and their whimsical worlds, “Come Away” spoils the metaphor — like a version of “The Wizard of Oz” in which Dorothy spends the whole time in Kansas. Too dreary for youngsters and too rote for grown-ups, “Come Away” empties itself of magic.
Rated PG. Running time: 1 hour 34 minutes. In theaters and available to rent or buy on iTunes, Google Play and other streaming platforms and pay TV operators. Please consult the guidelines outlined by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention before watching movies inside theaters.