Robin Budd, Donovan Cook
Harriet Owen, Blayne Weaver, Corey Burton, Jeff Bennett, Kath Soucie, Andrew McDonough, Roger Rees, Spencer Breslin, Bradley Pierce, Quinn Beswick, Aaron Spann
J.M. Barrie, Carter Crocker, Temple Mathews
The Classic Continues.
Budget $20 million.
Opening weekend $15.623 million on 2605 screens.
Domestic gross $48.423 million.
English Dolby Digital 5.1
Spanish Dolby Digital 5.1
French Dolby Digital 5.1
Runtime: 74 min.
Release Date: 8/20/2002
• Disney Storytime: Never Land’s New Hero
• Rescue the Lost Boys Adventure Game
• Lost Treasures: Deleted Scenes
• “I’ll Try” Featuring Jonatha Brooke
• DVD-ROM Sampler of “You Can Fly”
• THX Optimizer
• Sneak Peeks
Sony 36" WEGA KV-36FS12 Monitor; Sony DA333ES Processor/Receiver; Panasonic CV-50 DVD Player using component outputs; Michael Green Revolution Cinema 6i Speakers (all five); Sony SA-WM40 Subwoofer.
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Return to Never Land (2002)
Reviewed by Colin Jacobson
When is a Disney direct-to-video (DTV) film not a DTV film? When it comes out in theaters - duh! Indeed, the fact that it played on movie screens in February 2002 means that one cannot regard Return to Never Land as a DTV offering, but otherwise, I find little to differentiate it from the studio’s other non-theatrical releases.
Actually, I suppose that’s not totally true, as Return displays moderately higher production values than we see in Disney’s DTV work. Unfortunately, the improved animation doesn’t translate into other areas. Return provides a generally bland and forgettable flick.
Set in London during the Nazi air raids, Return follows Peter Pan’s Wendy (Kath Soucie). All grown up, she now has a family of her own. Along with husband Edward (Roger Rees), Wendy lives with daughter Jane (Harriet Owen) and son Danny (Andrew McDonough). Initially, Jane delights to her mother’s stories of Peter, Captain Hook, and the rest, but as war encroaches and her responsibilities increase, she feels her childhood cut short and she actively attempts to make herself more of an adult.
As the authorities plan to evacuate all the kids from London, Jane’s life takes a turn for the weird as Captain Hook (Corey Burton) comes a-calling. He mistakes Jane for Wendy, kidnaps her, and heads back to Never Land. There he quickly discovers his mistake and Peter (Blayne Weaver) rescues her. He also finds out that she’s not his old pal Wendy, and the pair quickly separate when Jane totally rejects the entire Never Land culture. She feels she must return to her responsibilities as soon as possible, so she contrives to sail back to London.
Of course, one can’t actually get from Never Land to England by boat, so the conniving Hook strikes a deal to help Jane. He pretends that he also wants to flee Never Land, and he agrees to fly Jane home if she’ll find the treasure Peter took from him. He convinces her that Peter doesn’t need it anyway, so Jane doesn’t see anything wrong with her assistance, especially since Hook promises not to harm a hair on Pan’s head.
Jane’s not too bright, is she? Nonetheless, Peter needs her. When they last argued, she declared that she doesn’t believe in fairies, and that starts Tinkerbell on a slow path to death. Peter must get Jane to aver a belief in Tink’s kind or the little sparkler will expire. Eventually, he gets Jane to embrace his principles and she enjoys her earlier dream as she becomes the first “Lost Girl”.
Of course, matters take a turn for the worse when Peter discovers Jane’s deal with Hook. From there, she has to redeem herself, save Tink, and make sure everything works out well in the end.
Since this is a Disney movie, it shouldn’t come as any surprise that things do work out well in the end. With Disney’s flicks, the fun comes from the journey, not the final destination itself. Unfortunately, as with so many of their DTV films, Return provides a pretty dull and predictable trip.
On the positive side, the animation does seem stronger than with Disney’s DTV flicks. As I understand it, Return began life destined for the DTV shelves, but as also occurred with Toy Story 2, the project eventually received an upgrade to full to theatrical status. How much that affected the quality of the visuals I don’t know, but Return definitely improves upon the usually stiff and crude animation seen in most DTV pieces. The art looks somewhat bland and generic, but it comes across as reasonably lush and lively, at least compared to the average DTV flick.
While decent, however, the animation doesn’t match up to the average Disney theatrical release, and not much about the rest of the film compares favorably with most of the studio’s big screen offerings. As a rule, Disney’s DTV sequels take the original plot and invert it slightly. For example, in Pocahontas, the English come to America and confront Indian culture. In Pocahontas II, on the other hand, some Indians head to Britain and encounter their civilization. The basic plot and much of the action remains similar, but the story provides a minor twist.
Make that a very minor twist, really. In the first flick, the adults - mainly represented by Wendy’s dad - tried to force the kids to grow up too soon, whereas in Return, Jane puts all the pressure on herself. The same basic theme remains, but the powers at work vary.
In a nod to 21st century sensibilities, Return makes Jane more active than Wendy ever was. The latter did little more than act as a surrogate mother to the others, but Jane presents a more forceful presence. Indeed, the story requires her to rescue Peter, which seems like a nice little “girl power” touch.
Otherwise, unfortunately, Return to Never Land feels like very familiar territory. As with most Disney sequels, it doesn’t provide an unpleasant experience. It offers decent production values, and the voice talent provide reasonable facsimiles of the original actors. Unfortunately, the project remains incessantly bland and lacks much reason to exist other than as product.
The DVD Grades: Picture A / Audio B+ / Bonus D
Return to Never Land appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 1.66:1 on this single-sided, dual-layered DVD; the image has been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. Disney rarely botch the transfers of their animated films, and in Return, we find another winner.
Sharpness seemed excellent. The movie always appeared wonderfully crisp and distinct, with virtually no signs of softness on display. The picture looked well defined and accurate at all times. Jagged edges and moiré effects never caused any problems, and I detected no signs of edge enhancement. As for print flaws, I witnessed none. The image appeared fresh and clean at all times.
As with many Disney animated films, Return offered a vivid and lively palette, which the DVD replicated nicely. The colors consistently looked bright and vibrant, and they often seemed to pop off the screen. The hues appeared lush and tight, and they displayed no problems related to bleeding, noise, or other concerns. Black levels seemed deep and dense, while shadow detail appeared appropriately opaque but never came across as overly thick. Ultimately, Return to Never Land provided a smashing image.
I also felt quite impressed with the Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack of Return to Never Land. The film enjoyed a number of action sequences, and those allowed the mix to come to life. Music demonstrated clean and distinct stereo imaging, and effects presented a nicely vivid and lively affair. The movie offered a lot of scenes that took advantage of all five channels and these came across as effective and realistic. Hook’s aerial getaway presented a fairly vibrant sequence, and various elements moved cleanly among the speakers and also blended together well. Cannon fire flew cleanly from rear to front, and the surrounds gave us a lot of useful information.
Audio quality also seemed solid. Dialogue appeared distinct and natural, with no issues related to edginess or intelligibility. Music sounded bright and clear, with crisp highs and rich low-end response. Effects also came across as accurate and detailed. When appropriate, the mix presented fine bass information; for example, the bombing sequences early in the film used the LFE channel to good effect but never became inappropriately overwhelming. Overall, I really liked the simple but compelling soundtrack of Return.
Return to Never Land includes a light and bland roster of extras. Disney StoryTime: Never Land’s New Hero provides the standard read-along tale. It’s about one of the Lost Boys, and it offers the usual option to read it yourself or to check it out along with a narrator.
Another Disney DVD standby, we find a contest called the Rescue the Lost Boys Adventure Game. As with many of these pieces, “Rescue” offers a tremendously tedious guessing game. The first part - in which you have to find the lost boys and some treasure on Hook’s ship - is brainless but easy. However, the second - during which you need to guess the correct four-symbol combination to Hook’s locker - is a serious pain. We get no clues, so you’ll just have to use trial and error for however long it takes to finish the problem. I gave up and didn’t bother to finish this annoying game. When will the DVD folks at Disney learn that random guessing contests really aren’t any fun?
Next we move to Lost Treasures: Deleted Scenes. After a 53-second introduction from producer Chris Chase and executive in charge of production Sharon Morrill, we get two snippets: “Where Jane and Hook Meet for the First Time” (41 seconds) and “Gift for Tink” (47 seconds). Both start and end with remarks from Morrill and Chase to give us additional info about the clips. The scenes appear in rough form, whether from storyboards to sketchy pencil animation to a little finished work. Neither segment seems very interesting, but it’s still cool to get these pieces.
Next we get a rudimentary music video for “I’ll Try” featuring Jonatha Brooke. The clip starts with a few comments from Brooke and then shows a combination of movie shots and recording studio images as we hear the song. Brooke helps give the song a little more character than usual for this sort of project; it feels reminiscent of Sarah McLachlan’s work in Toy Story 2, though it’s not nearly as memorable.
When you start the DVD, you’ll find the usual complement of advertisements. Here we get a preview of the upcoming theatrical release Treasure Planet as well as commercials for the video issues of Mickey’s House of Villains, The Rookie, Monsters Inc., and Beauty and the Beast. From the main menu, you’ll discover a Sneak Peeks area that includes trailers for all of the above plus Winnie the Pooh: A Very Merry Pooh Year , Toon Disney and Schoolhouse Rock.
Never Land includes the THX Optimizer program. This purports to help you set up your home theater to best present the movie on the disc in question. Apparently the Optimizer is unique for each DVD on which it’s included; unlike programs such as Video Essentials, the Optimizer should tweak your set-up differently every time. Frankly, I’ve been very happy with my already-established calibration and I’m afraid to muck with it, so I’ve never tried the Optimizer. If you lack calibration from Video Essentials or a similar program, or if you’re just more adventurous than I, the Optimizer could be a helpful addition.
Finally, Never Land provides a few DVD-ROM extras. In addition to a weblink for the film’s original site, we get a sample version of the “You Can Fly” computer game. I played with it for a few minutes and thought it seemed dull. However, I’m obviously not part of the target audience, so perhaps kids will think it offers a more enjoyable experience.
As one of Disney’s many sequels, Return to Never Land fares better than most of its siblings. However, that definitely falls into the category of “faint praise”, as the movie seems flat and generic for the most part. It improves on the studio’s direct-to-video enterprises but doesn’t provide anything to make it substantially entertaining. The DVD features excellent picture and sound quality, but it skimps on extras and includes little more than the standard pieces.
Fans of Return to Never Land will definitely want to grab this disc, if just because it presents the film so well. However, if you don’t already know that you like the flick, I can’t recommend it. I like the original Peter Pan quite a lot and I don’t think this very-belated sequel even remotely compares to it.
Viewer Film Ratings: 3.6 Stars|| Number of Votes: 20|