Do you believe in magic?
Of all the Disney movies ever produced, the original 1953 Peter Pan may be one of the top three most-loved animated films ever. By now almost every moviegoer is familiar with the story of Peter Pan, the boy who 'never grew up.' Peter lives in Never Land with The Lost Boys, a rag tag group of youths who wage a continuing battle against the plundering Captain Hook. Well, it's 2002 and Peter, Hook and the rest of the gang are back in the sequel Return to Never Land care of Disney DVD.
Facts of the Case
Peter Pan is back in an all-new adventure! It's been quite sometime since Wendy's seen Peter and the wonders of Never Land. In the passing years little Wendy has grown to become a mature woman with children of her own—the button cute Danny and her eldest child, the headstrong Jane. In London it's World War II, but Wendy attempts to keep the children's spirits high by telling them about her adventures in Never Land. While Danny is intrigued, Jane is hesitant to believe the stories about Pan and Tink. Lo and behold Jane is forced to believe when one dreary night Captain Hook sails his ship above London and snatches Jane away under the assumption that it's Wendy! His plan to is to lure Peter Pan out of hiding with the young Jane as bait, then do away with Peter once and for all! (Why Hook hadn't thought of this plan umpteen years ago is itself a mystery…) When Peter Pan rescues Jane and whisks her away to Never Land, the real adventure begins…
The good news: Return to Never Land isn't half as bad as all those other Disney direct-to-video sequels. The bad news: Return to Never Land isn't half as good as any Disney theatrical releases.
I am a fan of the original Peter Pan. While it's not my favorite Disney movie (so far that honor goes to The Emperor's New Groove), it is a whimsical fantasy steeped in childhood memory. Peter Pan made for a hero kids could relate to, and Captain Hook may very well be one of the best Disney villains ever created. The idea of never having to grow up is an appealing theory for both children and adults—let's face it, who wouldn't want to just hang around a tropical island all day playing in the sand and fighting against pirates? I even liked Steven Spielberg's underrated live-action Hook, a continuation of the Peter Pan story told in present day terms.
Sadly, Return to Never Land captures little of the original film's spirit. The story never tries to be anything but a dull sequel, leaving the audience with tired characters and formulaic plotlines. In a way Return to Never Land is a cross between the original film and Hook—the present day (London during WWII) clashes with the old world of Never Land. This time around Peter Pan is a little blander and Captain Hook a little broader. The most unavoidable problem with Return to Never Land is the fact that the voice talent has changed dramatically, most notably in Hook and his bumbling sidekick Smee. Bill Thompson and Hans Conried originally gave life to the dastardly pirates, and while Corey Burton (who does an admirable job as Captain Hook) and Jeff Bennett try their hardest with the roles, they just don't sound the same. Over and over again this is a brutal reminder that Return to Never Land isn't in the same league as Peter Pan. The story is excessively thin (Hook's back and Peter's got to save Jane!)—clocking in at a mere 73 minutes the story doesn't leave much in the way of characterization or motivation.
In the days of Walt Disney it was decided that the company would never stoop to making sequels to their beloved animated films (Disney felt that it might sap the creativity out of his team to rehash what they'd already accomplished). It's a shame that Mr. Disney's theory wasn't taken to heart when the Eisner era took force in the 1980s. None of the Disney produced sequels (with the exception of Toy Story 2) have come close to capturing the magic of the original films. And I have the feeling that even all the pixie dust in the world isn't going to help.
Return to Never Land is presented in 1.66:1 anamorphic widescreen. Now, isn't this a strange deal: the film was originally shot in a 1.85:1 aspect ratio, yet Disney has decided to fork over a "family friendly" widescreen version of the film. What this means is that the movie is technically cropped down half way between widescreen and full screen. This gives folks with widescreen TVs a wide picture while sort of satisfying those who like their movies in a full frame transfer. Aside of that complaint, this is a very crisp transfer that sports solid black levels and sharp, detailed colors. In fact, I couldn't find a single thing wrong with this print…no edge enhancement, no pixelization, nothin'! Kudos to Disney for the grand transfer (even if it's a less-than-grand sequel).
The soundtrack is presented in Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround in English, French, and Spanish. Much like the video transfer, this 5.1 mix is excellent. Surround sounds and directional effects are used to their fullest advantage without any hiss or distortion marring the mix. The bass comes in with a thick and low rumble, giving any home theater a full and vibrant workout. Overall fans of the film should be very happy with Disney's work on both the video and audio portions of this disc. Also included on the DVD are English subtitles.
Disney has thrown on a few extra supplements aimed mainly at kids, so don't be surprised that little insight is to be found among these bonus materials. Included on this disc are the following features:
• Disney Storytime: Never Land's New Hero: a read-along for children which can be read either aloud or by the child. Strictly for the kiddies.
• Rescue The Lost Boys Adventure Game: an interactive game that allows the viewer to search Captain Hook's pirate ship for different kidnapped Lost Boys. This was a fun little feature for a while, then got rather tiresome after a few minutes. Smaller children will find this more intriguing than older ones.
• Music Video "I'll Try" by Jonatha Brooke: a performance by singer/songwriter Brooke spliced with some interview footage. I personally liked this song a lot and have been a fan of Brooke for a while. Worth watching if you have the time (otherwise the song can be heard prominently featured in the film).
• Lost Treasures: Deleted Scenes: two deleted scenes are included here with commentary by the producer and executive producer. Each scene lasts only a few moments (under a minute) and they are both in very rough form (pencil drawings, rough sketches, et cetera). I guess these are interesting if you're a fan of the film, though otherwise they aren't much to shout about.
Aside of a few cute moments, Return to Never Land is a kid's only feature that doesn't come close to stacking up against the original. Whatever my feelings are about the film, it should be noted that Disney has done a very nice job on this disc.
Return to Never Land needs to return to the drawing board.
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