Toon Talk: Return to Neverland
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Disney Film & Video Reviews by Kirby C. Holt
Return to Neverland
James M. Barrie's Peter Pan, the boy who never grew up, seems to never go away. Various stage, screen and television adaptations continue to flourish (including a live action version starring The Patriot's Jason Isaacs as Captain Hook, currently being co-produced by Disney), that it's no wonder that Disney animation would hazard this Return to Neverland.
And why not? The original 1953 classic Peter Pan omitted the final scene from the original play, where Peter returns to the Darling house only to find Wendy all grown-up, with a family of her own; he promptly takes her daughter Jane back to Neverland instead. Unlike other unnecessary sequels (such as the horrible The Little Mermaid II: Return to the Sea) that attempt to recount the "after" of "happily ever after", Peter Pan had built-in follow up potential, not the least of which being the ability to bring back, with no gimmicks, his nemesis Captain Hook, one of the most popular Disney villains to not meet an untimely end in the final reel.
Produced by Disney's Australian animation studio (The Lion King II: Simba's Pride and Lady & the Tramp II: Scamp's Adventure) and originally intended for video, this theatrical release surprisingly delivers the right amounts of Pixie Dust to make for an entertaining diversion while mostly avoiding tramping on the original's charm and timelessness.
After an inspired opening sequence that cleverly recounts the events of the first film through shapes in the clouds and musical snippets, we find ourselves in London at the dawn of World War II. Wendy (voice of Kath Soucie) must bid farewell to her husband Edward (Cheers' Robert Rees) as he is called off for military service, and her two children Jane (Harriet Owen) and Danny (Andrew McDonough) will soon be sent to the countryside for protection (a la Bedknobs and Broomsticks). Edward has charged Jane to stay and "protect" her mother and little brother in her father's absence, a calling that forces the little girl to grow up fast and thus abandon the fanciful tales of Peter Pan her mother has been recounting to her all her life.
In a harrowing scene reminiscent of Hope and Glory, Jane (along with another descendent from the first film's cast, Nana II) is trapped in an air raid on the shattered streets of London. Upon returning home safely, she angrily discounts her mother's attempts to distract the children from the horrors of war with her "frivolous" tales of Neverland.