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Return to Neverland

Starring Peter Pan
Screenplay by Temple Matthews
Based on the work of James M. Barrie
Directed by Robin Budd and Donovan Cook
website: disney.go.com/disneypictures/neverland/

IN SHORT: Fine for the kidlets. Not an awful sit for the grownups. [Rated G. 72 minutes]

Any parental unit that's been haunting the local store or surfing the video sites is probably aware that the Disney folk have been busy putting together video sequels to many of their big screen projects. Cinderella 2. Hunchback of Notre Dame 2 and, the most famous of these, way back at the beginning of the project, Toy Story 2. That project was bumped up from the small screen to the big and we all know what happened next. So, here comes Peter Pan 2 or, more specifically, Return to Never Land, whose release is coincident with the DVD release of the 1953 original.

Honestly, there are only two ways to play the sequel game. Either you toss out everything that went before and take your chances with an entirely new and risky story based on some of the things that came before or you play it safe and stick to the basics, which is the case here. While Never Land requires that you see the original to understand the background of Pan and Neverland and the clan Darling -- we're sticking to the original name, even with the assumption that Wendy took on a new surname when she married, an important part of this story -- there's nothing so radically different that any single digit kidlet will be tugging on your sleeve for explanation. And if they do, said explanation won't take you more than a couple of seconds.

Simply, Pan 2 ain't all that different from Pan 1, though it does toss off enough lines for the adults that we cracked a giggle on more than three occasions during our sit. It's a film for kidlets and, given the utter lack of big screen movies for the wee ones, it's one you know you'll be lugging your heirs to. You won't be bored by the sit (as opposed to other kidlet targets) but Never Land isn't going to go down in the record books as superior to the original. The only question left unanswered by this one is "How did Captain Hook get out of the crocodile?" The answer, "Does it really matter?"

It's a perfect English family we first meet: dad Edward (Roger Reese) who ships off to a war which looks like W.W.I but has planes out of W.W.II; mom Wendy (Kath Soucie), Jane (Harriet Owen) and her li'l baby brother Danny (Andrew McDonough). Wendy puts her kidlets to bed with stories of Peter Pan and Neverland, and arms full of Pan merchandise. When dad ships off, he asks Jane to act like a grownup and look after her brother, a mission she takes far too seriously. Taking this responsibility means Growing Up. Growing up means putting aside childish nonsense like stories of Peter Pan, which is not a good thing when bad Captain Hook (Corey Burton) comes calling. Hook is, of course, the most brazen, bold and brilliant buccaneer to sail the briney blue. His second voyage to the House of Darling just reinforces the fact that "brilliant" doesn't necessarily mean "smart," since he isn't from a Land where people grow old and mate and have babies. Thinking he's getting a second grab at Wendy, Hook snatches Jane.

From here on out, it's time to believe in fairies or flying prepubescent boys like Peter Pan (Blayne Weaver). But Jane refuses to believe any of it and builds a boat to sail home. Problem is, you can't sail here from there. You must (everybody all together now) FLY -- but even a ton of pixie dust can't make a non-believer surf the skies. The only alternative is an alliance with . . . oh, that would be telling. It's a clever twist on the classic tale and about the only point where things change radically. Is it enough to mandate the upgrade from video release to the big screen? Not if you've got forty years of Pan under your belt but that's not what this is all about. We watched Return to Never Land at a screening where the rest of the critical community brought their kidlets along. The kids liked it, and we think our pre-teen family would too. The very surprising fact is that, while we weren't much moved (yet never bored) by the proceedings, in the last five minutes something happens which had us close to tears.

We are now, of course, up for membership in the Biggest Wimps in America Club.

If you've got single digit kidlets to bring, do so. If not, content yourself with the original. The animation art of Return to Neverland looks like that found in lower budget video only releases. For toonheads like us, even with the clever idea not fully developed in the story (that we wouldn't spill a couple of 'graphs up) it isn't "big" enough to mandate the full ticket price. Which is why we don't put dollar ratings on kidflicks. You'll get all the mileage you need out of the video, though watching the kids watch the big screen will be worth the ticket price.

But, gee whiz, nearly fifty years on, Peter looks as if he hasn't aged a day. Must be something in that Never Land water . . . <g>

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