Directed by Robin Budd
Aspect Ratio: 1.66:1 anamorphic
Running Time: 73 minutes
Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1 English, French, Spanish
Release Date: November 27, 2007
Review Date: November 24, 2007
Peter Pan and some of the other famous denizens of James M. Barrie’s classic tale reappear in Return to Never Land, a 2002 feature which is on its second go-round on DVD, this time subtitled the “Pixie-Powered Edition.”
The time is now World War II, and London is in the midst of the blitz that caused such destruction and loss of life that children were routinely being shipped to the countryside to get them away from the horrors of the bombing of the city. Wendy (Kath Soucie), now grown up, is on the eve of sending her two children Jane and Danny away from London. Jane (Harriet Owen), though still a young girl, has left childhood far behind in an effort to do her part for the war effort now that her father has been sent away to fight. But she’s captured by Captain Hook (Corey Burton) and his pirate band in an effort to use her to learn the whereabouts of Peter Pan’s new hideout. He whisks her back to Never Land where she’s rescued by Peter (Blayne Weaver) and, just like her mother years before, charmed by the boy who won’t grow up. Hook’s continual attempts to kill Peter using any means necessary carry right over from the first film’s adventures, only this time there are no mermaids, no Indians, and no crocodile. (We do have an octopus who isn’t nearly as much fun.)
Originally this movie was planned as a made-for-home video feature, but Disney decided to give it a theatrical release in 2002 in America and Europe before bringing it out on DVD. The problems with resurrecting the characters and situations from Disney’s memorable 1953 effort are multiple. The gap of 49 years between the first effort and this one is telling in so many ways. All of the original animators are no longer around, and the kind of detailed and character-rich animation they did then just isn‘t done any more, for cost reasons if nothing else. The voice cast is entirely different, and try as they might to mimic the voices of icons like Bobby Driscoll, Bill Thompson, and Hans Conreid, it just can‘t be done with the degree of panache those performers imbued their characterizations. And the score of the 1953 film is so much more flavorful and intoxicating compared to the mediocre drivel on display in this sequel. Add to that a rather piddling rescue plot and some embarrassingly lame modern attempts to be hip (belching, spitting on their hands and shaking as a sign of bonding, playing the anachronistic "Do You Believe in Magic?" over the end credits) and you’ve got a movie sequel that is in no way in the same league as its predecessor.
The animation is very bright and colorful if much less detailed than the earlier picture, and modern advances in sound design give the movie a punch in the London blitz scenes and later pirate attacks that weren’t possible back then. The movie does get off to a most imaginative start as cloud designs and shadows echo memorable moments from the original Peter Pan. Jane is every bit her mother’s daughter, as quick-tempered and stubborn as Wendy was on her excursion to Never Land. But the plot is really quite limp and underdeveloped, and the slapstick antics aren’t inspired or inventive enough to be more than fitfully amusing.
In the world of sequels to Disney classics, Return to Never Land is neither the best nor the worst of them. That’s not much of a recommendation, but it’s the best I can offer.
The film’s 1.66:1 theatrical aspect ratio is presented in anamorphic video. The transfer is immaculate and vibrantly colorful with bright, bold hues that are deeply saturated but never bleed. This appears to be the same transfer as the 2002 edition of the film. I could see no differences between the two in terms of picture quality. There is no banding either, an occasional problem with The Jungle Book transfer a few months ago. The film has been divided into 26 chapters.
The Dolby Digital 5.1 sound is quite impressive for a medium budget animated feature. The musical score is constantly filtered through all of the available channels, and there is some definite effects activity in the rears as well (though there could have been more). The LFE channel gets a good workout and is most impressive.
Carried over from the 2002 DVD release of the movie are two deleted scenes introduced and commented on by producer Chris Chase and studio executive Sharon Morrill. The two scenes are a mixture of storyboards, rough animation, in-betweens, and finished animation. Both seem to have been abandoned fairly early in the production and certainly would have added nothing to the finished picture.
“Tinker Bell’s Quest for Light Game” is a new addition to the release. It’s a game combining searches, trivia, and song lyric patchworks in an effort to restore the strength to Tink’s light. It should be fun for the younger folk in the family.
“Magical Fairies Moments” are actually three excerpts from the upcoming made-for-video release Tinker Bell. In nonanamorphic widescreen, these CGI fragments from the movie feature two new fairies, Rosetta who has a run-in with a stubborn flower that refuses to open and Iridessa who gives fireflies their glow. Tinker Bell herself struggles with a jingle bell in her segment, all of which run a combined 4½ minutes.
The usual collection of Disney trailers include Cinderella II, The Aristocats, Snow Builders, Tinker Bell, Wall-E, High School Musical 2, and 101 Dalmatians, among others. The trailer for Return to Never Land is not included here but can be found on numerous Buena Vista releases over the past few months.
Return to Never Land doesn’t reach any new heights nor sink to any new lows in the field of sequels to animated classics. For those who missed it the first time around, it’s back now to be added to your collections. For those who are curious, a rental might be a better idea.