*/**** Image A Sound A Extras C+
screenplay by Temple Mathews and Carter Crocker
directed by Robin Budd, Donovan Cook
by Bill Chambers I can only assume that Disney buried Peter Pan in Stephen King's pet sematary, for resurrected in the misbegotten Return to Never Land is one sour Fairy King. In the original Peter Pan, the title character lost his shadow; in the sequel, Peter is all shadow, a fascist dictator separated from the malicious Captain Hook by a single distinguishing feature: the hook. Return to Never Land pits the two in conflict once more, this time over the stolen treasure of Captain Hook, which Peter has stowed away for a rainy day. The movie gives no indication as to how Hook acquired the chest full of gold in the first place, thus our introduction to Peter is as a thief. And by the end of the picture, that's the kindest thing I could think to call him.
Jane, the grown-up Wendy's daughter, is a no-nonsense girl in war-torn London--for her little brother on his birthday, she buys him the sensible thing: a pair of socks. Mistaking her for her mother (the concept of aging being what it is in Never Land), Hook sails up to Jane's bedroom window on his flying Jolly Roger (an always-striking image, Hook's floating ship was likely inspired by the studio's concurrent work on the upcoming Treasure Planet) and abducts her. Hook baits Peter with Jane once they reach Never Land (following a kaleidoscopic journey that suspiciously resembles an old Fruitopia commercial); swash, buckle, and "You're not Wendy!" ensue.
Peter introduces Jane to his micro-community of underachieving disciples and bioluminescent pixie Tinkerbell, who of course resents Jane instantly for diverting Peter's gaze from Her Incandescence. It's not long before we start to sympathize with Tink, a kind of NBA wife, as Peter says of her to Jane, with a complete absence of tact, "She's just jealous." Once Jane has made it clear that she has no desire to fraternize with Pete, Tink, or the Lost Boys, Peter's green uniform brings Hitler's to mind: The very opposite of sympathetic to the non-playful mood that her father's jeopardy on the battlefields of Germany, air raids, and kidnapping by a man with a gutting tool for a hand have left her in, Peter starts a soccer match with her diary (because, you know, reading and writing is for yucky adults), leading to its destruction. She is subsequently ostracized from the Lost Boys' hideout for not believing in fairies with all her heart and soul, only for Peter and co. to disingenuously kiss her ass when Tinkerbell's light starts dying because the remedy belongs to Jane.
I dislike most children's movies made in the now because they preach invincibility above accountability. (Look no farther than Jimmy Neutron: Boy Genius, which is whimsical enough but massages the kid ego from head to toe.) Return to Never Land is a unique yet equally rank animal in today's juvie marketplace: It condemns a 'tween for living life with a sense of both responsibility and mortality, and then has the audacity to play "Do You Believe in Magic? (In a Young Girl's Heart)" over the closing credits--as if there's anything magical about this Peter's anti-intellectual cult of orphan thugs in vulpine costumes. (To show she's been properly Parallax'd, Jane dons a pair of fox ears.) The production is also hugely inappropriate in an era where the fun-lovin' US of A has learned--and doesn't understand why--the rest of the world doesn't want to be just like them; note that the only American accents in the cast belong to Peter and his lost boys.
Disney DVD presents Return to Never Land in "family-friendly widescreen." Translation? At an aspect ratio of 1.66:1. So, families with 16x9 TVs, get ready for vertical black bars as opposed to horizontal ones--how friendly! The anamorphically-enhanced image--representative of a "digital-to-digital transfer"--is up to Disney's lofty standards, though, even if the animation isn't always. (It's okay, but the cut corners are noticeable in the fact that we hear far more tumult than we see.) The Dolby Digital 5.1 mix has nothing to apologize for: it's terrific, especially while the bombs are going off pre-Never Land. Bass crawls down so deep that the little ones may be frightened by the various blasts. (The solution I offer is to keep them from ever seeing this film.) If I have one complaint, it is the lack of substantial discrete activity in the split-surrounds, although the rear channels are most definitely active. Audio and video are THX-approved.
Extras include: "Disney's Storytime: Never Land's New Hero," a virtual Return to Never Land storybook you can read-along with a narrator or quietly to yourself; two deleted scenes (pieced together from various stages of completion) bridged by comments from producer Chris Chase and production executive Sharon Morrill, who rightly exclaims of Jane's original encounter with Hook, "I can't believe we cut that!"; a simplistic but handsome point-and-click adventure game set inside the Jolly Roger, "Rescue the Lost Boys;" an interview with singer Jonatha Brooke intercut with footage of her in the recording studio performing the odious ballad "I'll Try;" the interactive promotional video "You Can Fly," accessible via DVD-ROM; and Sneak Peeks at Treasure Planet, The Rookie (2002), Mickey's House of Villains, Monsters, Inc., and Beauty and the Beast. Originally published: August 23, 2002.
73 minutes; G; 1.66:1 (16x9-enhanced); English DD 5.1, French DD 5.1, Spansih DD 5.1; CC; French, Spanish subtitles; DVD-9; Region One; Disney