Return To Never Land

on February 15, 2002 by Michael Tunison
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   Considering that nearly half a century of changing animation techniques and audience tastes separates it from its predecessor, “Return to Never Land” is a respectable if formulaic shot at reinvoking the spirit of Disney's 1953 “Peter Pan”--itself more of a classic by default than an all-out masterpiece in the “Snow White” league.

   Opening during the Blitz of London in World War II, a generation after the events of James Matthew Barrie's 1904 original book and its countless adaptations, “Return” focuses on Jane (voiced by Harriet Owen), the young daughter of “Peter Pan” heroine Wendy Darling (Kath Soucie). While Jane and her kid brother have been raised on Mom's tales of Never Land, the stubbornly sensible-minded Jane dismisses such stuff as nonsense--until (in a development uncomfortably reminiscent of Steven Spielberg's misfiring live-action sequel “Hook”) the indefatigable Captain Hook (Corey Burton) kidnaps her and whisks her back to the magical island as part of his latest scheme to defeat Peter Pan. The eternally adolescent Peter, Tinkerbell and the Lost Boys come to the rescue, of course, but Jane's inability to get into the youthful mindset of her fairytale surroundings places the heroes in unexpected danger, raising the possibility that Hook may finally accomplish his fiendish goals.

   Conceived as a humble straight-to-video project, “Return” doesn't get anything close to the all-star treatment audiences are used to seeing from Disney's A-list theatrical 'toons, and the lack of resources is evident in moments such as some cheap-looking CGI work of Hook's flying ship. For the most part, however, the back-to-basics focus on character animation and lack of movie star vocal stylings suit the project well, especially when it comes to the lovingly faithful recreations of Peter, Tinkerbell, Hook and other favorites from the original film. The result is just enough pixie dust to get this franchise filler off the ground, provided viewers have enough faith and trust in one of the studio's most fondly remembered titles. Voiced by Blayne Weaver, Harriet Owen, Corey Burton, Jeff Bennett and Kath Soucie. Directed by Robin Budd. Written by Temple Matthews. Produced by Christopher Chase and Dan Rounds. A Buena Vista release. Animated/Adventure. Rated G. Running time: 72 min

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