Return to Never Land (2002)

Rated G.

Starring the voices of Harriet Owen, Blayne Weaver, Corey Burton, Jeff Bennett, Kath Soucie.
Directed by Robin Budd and Donovan Cook.
Written by Temple Matthews.
Based on the characters by J.M. Barrie.
Distributed by Walt Disney Pictures.
72 minutes.

LVJeff's Rating: 6/10

  
Photo ©Walt Disney Pictures. All rights reserved.

Good Effort Despite Poor Conception

One of the scariest ideas conceived became realized in February of 2002 when Return to Never Land hit the theaters. The thought of Disney ransacking its own classics for quick-buck sequel ideas was bad enough, but, until now, at least they were relegated to the home video format. Now they've decided it's ok to feature these half-baked movies at the multiplexes, thereby further spreading their scourge of mind-numbing unoriginality.

Yet, truth be told, Return to Never Land isn't that bad... not that bad at all. At least, with this project, I see much more effort being used to turn out a better product. It does have some of the usual Disney-sequel weaknesses -- the new adventure feels like a rehash of the original story (Wendy's daughter now goes to Never Land instead of Wendy), and the protagonist follows the recycled pattern of starting off wrong-headed, only to see the light and the error of her ways. But a higher quality of animation and an earnest attempt to invoke the spirit of its predecessor make the movie totally watchable.

The rendering of the characters is perhaps the movie's most impressive aspect. Peter Pan, Tinker Bell, Captain Hook and Smee look like they haven't changed at all -- it's as if they just stepped out of the original 1953 movie and straight into this one. The talented voice actors keep up their end by fooling us into believing we're listening to those familiar voices from long ago. The animators made sure they duplicated everything correctly, from the style of the drawings to the movements of the characters. I didn't think for a second I was looking at and listening to a work inferior in quality to Peter Pan.

Some of the characterizations were particularly touching. I've always liked the pouty, jealous Tinker Bell, and here she's the same as she had always been. It was like watching a classic actress coming back to play an old role in a new story -- like she was given a chance to act again, as strange as that may sound. I found it fascinating that Tinker Bell was able to get the same reactions out of me -- mentally scolding her for being mean, yet rooting for her when she's down -- as she did when I watched Peter Pan as a kid. And -- SPOILER for the rest of this paragraph -- it was actually heartwarming to see Peter Pan have a brief reunion with the now grown-up Wendy. I was actually glad they got to see each other one last time!

Return to Never Land is mostly good work, but still weighed down by many second-rate elements. I'm tired of the musical numbers sung by the latest female pre-teen Radio Disney rotation filler. The over-use of computer-generated graphics (particularly for Hook's ship) is distracting. And the writing is still typically lazy (keep a lookout for the hackneyed plot-device that leads to the villain saying, "and I owe it all to you!", just so one of the good guys can feel betrayed). Its biggest burden, however, comes from the deluge of Disney sequels that have come before it. Had they not existed, Return to Never Land could have been seen as a decent, honest attempt at continuing a beloved story, like The Rescuers Down Under was to The Rescuers. With the other cheap sequels around to reveal Disney's current easy-bake recipe for cashing in on an old name, 2002's Peter Pan tale is too effortlessly exposed as the get-rich-quick scheme that it is.

©Jeffrey Chen, Nov. 2, 2002

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