Return to Never Land (Peter Pan 2) (2002)
Return to Never Land (Peter Pan 2) (2002)

Genre: Fairy Tale Running Time: 1 hr. 12 min.

Release Date: February 15th, 2002 MPAA Rating: G

Director: Robin Budd, Donovan Cook Actors: Harriet Owen, Blayne Weaver, Corey Burton, Jeff Bennett, Kath Soucie, Roger Rees

 


 

A

s good as the original if not better, “Return to Never Land” is a surprisingly befitting sequel to one of the most popular of Disney’s animated pictures. Boasting familiar faces and slightly darker themes – along with a setting of war-torn London – this more thrilling adventure finds the daughter of Wendy being kidnapped by the ruthless pirate Captain James Hook (so that’s his first name!). Astounding animation and excellent voice acting provides for a highly entertaining follow-up, which is certainly a rarity when it comes to animated endeavors.

Wendy Darling (Kath Soucie) is all grown up and now has a family of her own. Her husband is away at war, and her young daughter Jane (Harriet Owen) is supposed to look after the family, which also consists of little brother Daniel and the dog, Nana 2 (interestingly, the film acknowledges the dour yet realistic life expectancy of canines). When a government decree is ordered to ship all the children off to the countryside for safekeeping, Jane is distraught at having to leave the family and annoyed at continually hearing about the adventures of Peter Pan. The stories from Wendy sooth little Daniel, but Jane is far too mature for such nonsense. When Captain Hook (Corey Burton) appears in London, he kidnaps Jane, mistaking her for Wendy, and brings her to Never Land to lure Pan (Blayne Weaver) into a trap. The high-flying adventurer quickly rescues her, only to realize that she’s a bit too adult to have much fun in his magical realm. Hook doesn’t give up easily, however, returning to trick Jane into helping him capture Peter Pan and the Lost Boys once and for all.

It’s an odd and perhaps risky decision for the creators to choose a setting of (presumably) World War II in London, with bombs rattling homes and streets and panicky officials calling for evacuations. But it’s a choice that actually works quite well to complement Jane’s decidedly grown-up outlook on life and her disapproval for the fictitious fantasies of her mother’s bedtime inventions. Jane promptly discards things as childish as Peter Pan, though she secretly seems to wish she could be as carefree and fun-loving as both Daniel and Wendy, to fit in or appreciate the stories on which they dwell. And until Hook actually shows up, they are indeed just tall tales, which she believes to be completely fabricated for Daniel’s benefit. The first portion of the film would make a fine beginning for a live-action movie, as would much of the swashbuckling ventures later on.

Once again, the artistry on display is of the highest quality. Although shadows are typically done with less detail on animated productions that don’t go to theaters (this film was created by Disney’s TV animation team), the character designs, movements, and especially squash-and-stretch secondary movements are nearly unequaled. Some CG animation makes an appearance at the start, primarily with Captain Hook’s ship, the Jolly Roger, but as with most of Disney’s 21st-century projects, the filmmakers do a satisfactory job of blending it into the traditional work.

The chirpy songs of the original are curiously absent, save for a single tune from the Lost Boys, and are instead replaced with somber melodies and music played in the background. This actually creates a refreshingly serious tone; perhaps “Return to Never Land’s” strongest feature is its unexpected graveness. In the previous picture, everyone took Peter Pan and his existence for granted; here, it is more emotional and realistic to see Jane struggling to believe in the fairytale world (and fairies at all, which causes Tinkerbell’s light to dim) even as she interacts with its many wonderments. While the plot is better crafted than the original, it’s all but impossible to win over audiences who have grown to love Disney’s timeless take on the J.M. Barrie writings, especially since the 1953 film has had 49 years to ingratiate itself into nostalgia, pop culture, and the public conscience. But “Return to Never Land” measures up to its predecessor in almost every way, marking this as one of the best sequels to come from Disney’s regular overabundance of continuations for nearly every franchise they invent.

– Mike Massie

  • 8/10