Return to Neverland

Some time within the past decade, somebody at Disney discovered that people (especially children) are hungry for sequels. This began a quick succession of direct-to-video sequels for many of their recent films like Beauty and the Beast, Aladdin, and The Lion King. These sequels were relatively inexpensive to produce (they are made by the television unit and generated millions in both revenue and profit for the studio. The trade-off was that the animation quality was poorer (not bad, just not as good), the songs frequently less memorable, and the stories usually sucked. Still, children are easy to please, and the sequels keep coming. Return to Neverland is the sequel to the classic Peter Pan by J. M. Barrie, and is good only in that it manages to retain the spirit of the original.

Return to Neverland takes place years after the original. Wendy is now an adult, and tells her children stories about her time with Peter Pan and the Lost Boys. Her daughter Jane (Harriet Owen, Relative Strangers, Animal Ark) does not believe Peter Pan is real anymore, which presents an interesting dilemma when Captain Hook (Corey Burton, Atlantis, The House of Mouse) kidnaps her. He takes her to Neverland, not realizing she is not Wendy, to lure Peter Pan (Blayne Weaver, Manic, The House of Mouse) out. Pan rescues Jane and wants her to be a mother to the Lost Boys, but all Jane wants to do is return home. However, the only way to do so is to fly home, and Jane doesn't believe in magic or pixie dust. This is bad news for Tinkerbell, who needs people to believe in her.

The script by Temple Matthews (Little Mermaid II, Mickey's Once Upon a Christmas) and Carter Crocker (Mickey's Once Upon a Christmas, Winnie the Pooh: Seasons of Giving) has nothing going for it until the last third, when Jane's demeanor begins to change for the better. By the end of the movie, it has the same sort of spirit that make the classic Disney animated films so good, but it's a little too late to make any great amount of difference. And it's Barrie's influence, not the work of Matthews or Crocker or director Robin Budd or co-director Donovan Cook (Nightmare Ned, Duckman) that makes the film watchable. It just has nothing to hold the attention of adults and children. The songs are serviceable but there isn't one that people will still be humming or even remember as they leave the theater.

And although the animation looks decent, it is missing the detail and crispness of Disney's studio fare. It's important to note that although this is second-tier Disney animation, it still looks much better than some of the efforts by other studios. The most impressive shot comes near the beginning (with generous help from computers), with Hook's ship flying through London using an air raid as cover. The only voice that needs pointing out is Owen, who uses a voice that sounds much too old for a little girl. Return to Neverland fails to do more than coast off the original Peter Pan.

Haro Rates It: Okay.
1 hour, 12 minutes, Rated G.

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