RETURN TO NEVER LAND
Rated G - Running Time: 1:12 - Released 2/15/02
Now that Walt Disney Pictures has begun in earnest to produce full-length sequels to its previous cartoon features (e.g., The Rescuers Down Under, Toy Story 2, and now Return To Neverland), one wonders how many future projects of this type are on the drawing board. Are we soon going to see Beauty And The Beast 2: These Kids Are Monsters, or Snow White And The Irreconcilable Differences? How about Sleeping Beauty: The Sominex Addiction? The possibilities are staggering.
Directed by Robin Budd and Donovan Cook, Return To Neverland
is not only a continuation of Disney's 1953 cartoon Peter Pan,
but it seems to emulate its innocence, simplicity, and production
values in every way. Starting with a vintage cartoon short called
Pluto's Fledgling, which was produced 5 years before
the original Pan, the film plays out in a slim 72 minutes,
resurrecting nearly all the characters from the original interpretation
of J.M. Barrie's classic (minus the Indians), with little digital
animation, no clever 21st-century references, and no major Hollywood
star voices. There is a subtle little twist, though. Written by
Temple Mathews and Carter Crocker, this version does not simply
recount adventurous tales of snot-nosed pranksters and swashbuckling
pirates, it centers around faith. Including the story of Tinkerbell's
near-fatal episode caused by a lack of belief in fairies (a portion
of the original story left out of the '53 film), this movie serves
as a thinly veiled allegory on the importance of belief in something
that cannot be seen. Personally, I think it's just Disney execs
trying to smooth things over with the Christian Coalition.
The story begins with Peter's old pal Wendy (voiced by rugrat
Kath Soucie), who has returned to London, grown up, and had children
of her own. England is in the middle of World War II, and when
her husband is sent off to battle, she counts on her daughter
Jane (Harriet Owen) to take care of her and little brother Danny
(Andrew McDonough). Although Wendy has kept alive the tradition
of Pan-related storytelling, pre-teen Jane is a stubborn skeptic,
discarding her mother's tales as "childish nonsense."
Soon, however, she falls asleep and is awakened by the huge clipper
ship of Captain Hook (Corey Burton), hovering over her house.
Thinking Jane is Wendy, he kidnaps her in a final attempt to eradicate
Peter Pan. Soon Jane finds herself in Never Land, on the very
island of her mother's stories, which is still populated by the
same old lost boys in their animal-themed PJ's (they must really
smell by now) and still run in spirited adolescent fashion by
Peter Pan (Blayne Weaver), who doesn't look a day over 12. Desiring
only to go home, Jane learns from Peter that the only thing that
will allow her to fly back to her family in London is a well-measured
combination of "faith, trust, and pixie dust."
This film looks like it was produced in 1954, shelved for 48
years, and repackaged for a 2002 audience. Apart from a modern-sounding
ballad called "I'll Try" by Jonatha Brooke, it retains
the look and feel of a film produced while The Big Cheese was
still running the show. This may be a good or a bad thing: against
today's production standards it suffers, but the old familiar
characters are all remarkably the same, both in rendering and
the present cast's vocal impersonations of the original actors.
In terms of characterization, things in Never Land haven't changed
much, either. Hook (now pursued by a giant octopus instead of
a crocodile) is still accompanied by his bumbling first mate,
Smee (Jeff Bennett), and Pan is still flying around slicing holes
through his expensive sails. Oh, yeah, and while Tinkerbell has
kept her knockout figure, she's still having trouble with PMS.
Copyright 2002 by John R. McEwen and The Republican