New Reviews for 'Return to Neverland'
Here we go:
remember way back, in the late 1980's, when Disney began releasing it's classic films for sale on video cassette. It was a magical time (and a marketing stroke of genius), when the videos were only going to be available for a 'limited time'. If you didn't get your hands on one of the tapes in their release window, you would be out of luck. Disney would stop selling the tapes, and would keep the videos shelved in their 'vault' until they could be re-released again to the next generation, preferably every 10 years or so. Disney's history as the leader in children's films was secured, and with this new marketing ploy, each generation could own their own collection of films.
As Disney films continued to break records with their release on video, Disney executives came up with the obvious cash cow: create a low-budget sequel to a highly profitable film, and only release it only on video cassette. Consumers would recognize the original films characters, and even if sales were only 50% of the original, there were still huge profits to be made. And thus, Aladdin II, Little Mermaid II, and even The Hunchback of Notre Dame II were trumped out straight-to-video, not on the basis of their art, story, or plot, but solely on the name-recognition of the original picture's characters.
Disney's latest animated effort, Return to Neverland (a.k.a. Peter Pan II), unfortunately, should have joined the ranks of it's sub-par sequel cousins, and gone straight to video.
Return begins with a reminiscent dance, as Tinkerbell zips through clouds, creating silhouettes of characters and objects easily recognizable from the original 1953 Disney film, Peter Pan; Wendy and the boys, Captain Hook, and of course, Peter himself. As the picture pans down, we see young Wendy gazing up at the starry sky from her bedroom window. She backs out of sight, and steps back into view as an adult Wendy, with her husband and two children. Wendy has been passing her stories of Peter Pan onto her children, but now that England is at war, Wendy's husband is called to service, leaving his family, and asking his daughter Jane to 'take care of the family while he is gone'.
Of course, Jane takes this charge to heart, and becomes the practical daughter. Wendy continues to tell Pan's stories to Jane's young brother, but as Jane has taken over the fatherly-role, she loses belief in such things as '...faith, trust, and pixie dust'. When a governmental decree comes through declaring all children must be shipped to the countryside where it is safer (to live with whom, we are not told, they are just sent by the train-fulls...away), Jane argues with her mother, disturbs her sleeping brother, and proceeds to angrily shout that Peter Pan is a fairy tale, he doesn't exist, there's no such place as Neverland, there's no such thing as fairies, yada yada yada.
Obviously, and I hope I don't ruin this for you, Jane gets whisked away to Neverland, hijinks ensue, and her trust and beliefs are rekindled. Along the way, Disney throws in the formulaic characters for laughs: the overweight, clumsy boy who constantly falls down, burps, and can't get anything right; Smee, Captain Hook's bumbling assistant, who seems to say the wrong things at the right times; and of course, Captain Hook needs his Tick-Tock, but this time the crocodile has been replaced by a giant octopus, who's tentacles, by the way, 'smuck-smuck'.
If you've seen the first film (and if you haven't, why not?), you've seen this retread. The animation I believe is attempting to style off of the original, with a bit of CGI thrown in, but it comes off as looking, again, sub-par, a cheap knock off of the original. While it is lighthearted fun for kids, and my five-year-old daughter thought it was 'kinda funny', I for one was not amused.
The original Peter Pan, released in 1953, was and remains to be one of the most popular films in Disney’s library. Its timeless story, engrossing characters, and a genuine sense of wonder and excitement have kept it a favorite of all ages of viewers for nearly fifty years (which is no surprise when one considers the output of the Disney studio at the time). It would only seem natural that fans would want to see more of the continuing adventures of the boy who would never grow up (a need partially fulfilled by the 1991 Nick Castle/Steven Spielberg film Hook), but it was generally felt that a sequel to any of the Disney classics, The Rescuers Down Under notwithstanding, would have an almost cheapening effect on its predecessor.
That mentality has obviously gone out the window in the last decade, though, as Disney has seen fit to revisit many of their films (including Aladdin, The Lion King, Pocahontas, and The Hunchback of Notre Dame) with direct-to-video sequels that seem to have very little of the forethought of their predecessors instilled in them. None of these sequels contained the magic that their forebearers did (save for Pocahontas, which was no good to begin with, even in its first incarnation) and proved that lightning could really only strike once for any Disney film. After being burned by so many of these titles, I have almost made it my mantra to avoid any Disney animated sequel that made its way to the direct-to-video market and I have been repeatedly assured that I am not missing anything.
Apparently, someone in the studio felt that they had mined all they could out of their recent films, so they set to task working out direct-to-video sequels to some of their classic releases and the results seem to be about on par with their other DTV outings. Films such as Dumbo and Cinderella have gotten the sequel treatment and were released straight to video, but one of these sequels somehow escaped and managed to get its own major theatrical release. This film, of course, was the sequel to Peter Pan, otherwise known as Return to Neverland.
As the film opens, we are in the midst of World War II and faith is about all that the young woman of London have to go on as their husbands are shipped off to fight against the Axis. One of these women is Wendy Darling, who, as viewers of the first film will remember, got to meet her storybook hero Peter Pan and help him fight off the evil pirate Captain Hook along with her two younger brothers. Now married, and with two children of her own, Wendy has kept the memory of her mythical friend alive by passing the stories of their adventures on to her little ones, stories which have gotten her children through many frightening nights of air raid sirens and bombing runs that have left many of the houses around them in ruin.
Sadly, war-time can jade even the most uplifted of spirits and Wendy’s oldest child, Jane, no longer takes stock in her mother’s fantastical stories like she once did. Somehow, this lack of faith allows the villainous Captain Hook to cross over into our dimension and steal the young girl away (mistakenly believing her to be her mother) as a trap for the eternally youthful Peter Pan. The trap doesn’t work and Pan manages to save Jane, but he is stunned to find that the girl is nowhere near as open-minded as her mother was. When her non-belief becomes a threat to Tinkerbell and allows Captain Hook to capture the elusive Pan, she discovers that she must regain her faith if she is ever going to right the wrongs she has caused.
This movie was originally slated to be a direct-to-video release as well, but, like Toy Story 2, someone within the company felt that the movie was too good for a “video only” release and decided to give it a little more exposure than previously intended. The only problem with that rationale was that Toy Story 2 actually was a really good movie and deserved a theatrical release, while Return to Neverland somehow manages to straddle the line between another potential classic for the company and just another run-of-the-mill Disney sequel intended for the home video market. Just when you think that the movie might head in a direction that will lend cause for celebration, it suddenly dips back into home video mode and provides moments worthy of such fare.
Return to Neverland is a massive contradiction to itself, sporting moments of brilliance that are nowhere near as brilliant as they should be. Although essentially an exact copy of the story of the first film, setting the story during World War II and having it told through the eyes of Wendy’s jaded daughter is a wonderful concept, but one that isn’t explored to its fullest potential. The fact that she remains jaded and still thinks that Peter Pan and Tinkerbell are not real, even after spending an extended amount of time with them, completely destroys any logic that the film may have been trying to build. Even more exasperating is the fact that she continues her disbelief even after agreeing to help Captain Hook retrieve a treasure stolen by Pan. By all rights, should she also not believe in Hook? They both come from the same storybook land and both characters figured prominently in her mother’s tales, so why is she less apt to believe in Pan than she is in Hook?
The moment I was most waiting for was the moment where Wendy and Pan reunite during the climax (a moment which really should be obvious for anyone watching the film). Even though this moment was given a thorough treatment in Hook, I was expecting the Disney crew to make this one of the most memorable scenes in the film. As first presented, the scene is perfect, with Pan not believing or understanding what has happened to his old friend. Instead of dealing with this matter in a little more detail, though, we get what amounts to a brush off when Tinkerbell flutters down and confirms that it is, indeed, Wendy and Pan says a simple good-bye to her before flying back to Neverland with his fairy friend. That’s it?! That’s all we get?!! The screenwriter could have mined that moment for at least a little more sentimentality than the cheap send off we (and Wendy) are given.
As a final example of the movie’s brilliant lack of brilliance, one need only look at the film’s soundtrack. Unlike the first Peter Pan, Return to Neverland is not a musical (which, in itself is pure brilliance). Only one moment in the film actually features any of the characters singing, and that is a mostly appropriate song entitled “One of Us” (written by They Might Be Giants, the soundtrack’s only saving grace) that the Lost Boys sing to Jane as they induct her into their previously exclusive club. Instead of characters breaking into song, though, we have some wretched Jonatha Brooke songs that are designed to “relay” the feelings of the characters to us as they silently stare out windows or contemplate their next actions. The only other time I can recall disliking background songs as badly as I do the ones here were when I forced myself to finish watching the horrible animated Return of the King TV movie. I don’t know how a movie can do everything so right while perfectly screwing it all up, but this one is a perfect example of such a strange feat.
Return to Neverland may not be worthy of a simple direct-to-video release, but it barely escapes that stigma. Between its irritating songs and a logic that never seems to stay constant, I was almost tempted to give this film an incredibly poor rating. Individual elements stood out for me, though, preventing me from skewering it far less than it actually seemed to deserve (and it is leaps and bounds better than Lion King II, which has to count for something). Still, fans of the original Peter Pan should be warned that they aren’t in for quite the magical treat that the first film provided, even though their children will most undoubtedly enjoy it (a fact that, I assume, was the studio’s intent to begin with).
Wow...worse than Lion King 2...
Well, there are a couple more reviews here already: http://www.rottentomatoes.com/movie-1112567/preview.php
You know, I think I figured out why they're giving this a theatrical release. Because a theatrical release is another selling point when this hits video.