Dirs: Robin Budd, Donovan Cook. US. 2001.
After turning out a string of video sequels to recent Disney hits like The Little Mermaid and The Lion King, Walt Disney Television Animation does a more than respectable job on this animated theatrical sequel to the studio's beloved 1953 classic Peter Pan. It still has something of a small-screen feel and certainly won't join the original in the pantheon of Disney's all-time greats. Even so, Return To Never Land, astutely designed to appeal to both young Disney fans and their parents, should be capable of a valuable run in cinemas before it makes a highly profitable entry into the home video market.
Choosing not to mess too much with a good thing, the sequel - directed by Robin Budd (The Thief of Always) and Donovan Cook (TV's Duckman) and written by Temple Mathews (The Little Mermaid II) - borrows most of its style, mythology and characters from the original film. Wendy (voiced by Rugrats regular Soucie) is now a wife and mother in World War II London. When her husband leaves home to serve in the army, she tries to console her kids with tales of Peter Pan and Never Land. Toddler Danny (McDonough) laps it up, but his older sister Jane (British teen actor Owen), cheated out of her true childhood by the war, scoffs. However, when Jane is mistakenly kidnapped by Captain Hook (Burton) and his pirates, she discovers that Peter Pan and Never Land are real and that to return to her family she must learn from Peter to believe in make-believe.
The story's focus on the pragmatic, prematurely grown-up Jane gives Return To Never Land a contemporary slant with which young - particularly young female - audiences will identify. Adult audiences, meanwhile, get to re-visit characters from the original film: Peter (voiced by adult film and TV actor Weaver), Tinkerbell, Captain Hook and Smee (Bennett) are all visually and vocally recreated for the sequel. Besides Jane, the film's major new 'character' is an amusingly animated giant octopus that has taken over from the ticking crocodile as Hook's other tormentor.
What adults, and older children, might miss in the sequel is the darker side that gave the original much of its emotional pull. Although there are sombre moments - Tinkerbell's near demise is repeated, for example - this is a lighter weight version of the Peter Pan legend, with a good deal of slapstick comedy and a cartoonish band of Lost Boys.
The animation - by Walt Disney Animation Australia, which has previously handled only the studio's TV and video sequel projects - is a colourful mix of computer and hand-drawn work and strives, for the most part successfully, to recreate the look of the original film. The backgrounds and major returning characters are impressive, even if some of the new and minor characters betray a small-screen influence. The classical score is supplemented by a few contemporary, but fairly nondescript songs. Cult pop band They Might Be Giants performs a specially-written (although not especially catchy) song for the film's one production number and British pop success BBMak provides the end credit rendition of the Lovin' Spoonful's Do You Believe in Magic.
Prod co: Walt Disney Television Animation
US dist: Buena Vista Pictures
Int'l dist: Buena Vista Int'l
Prods: Christopher Chase, Michelle Pappalardo-Robinson, Dan Rounds
Scr: Temple Mathews, based on the characters by JM Barrie
Music: Joel McNeely
Art dir: Wendell Luebbe
Ed: Anthony F Rocco
Main cast (voices): Harriet Owen, Blayne Weaver, Corey Burton, Jeff Bennett, Kath Soucie, andrew McDonagh