While the Disney of its ’30s to ’60s animation heyday wanted to create fond cinema memories that children would cherish all through adulthood, the Disney of today appears intent on doing nothing less that shitting on those very memories. For proof, look no further than “Return to Never Land,” the travesty of a sequel to the studio’s beloved 1953 take on “Peter Pan.”
“Return to Never Land” was slated to be another of those direct-to-video desecrations of Disney perennials flooding store shelves until it was upgraded to the theatrical slate, presumably because studio higher-ups were pleased with its progress. Nothing that shows up on screen, however, distinguishes it in any way from the unnecessary likes of “Lady and the Tramp II: Scamp’s Adventure” or “The Little Mermaid II: Return to the Sea.” The animation is shoddy (with the exception of some weird, trippy “2001”-like CGI psychedelia that now marks entrance into the magical world of Never Land); the songs are forgettable at best; and the story is a slightly tweaked retread of the original’s. Here, grown-up Wendy’s 12-year-old daughter Jane is whisked away by Peter and Tinker Bell, and they have an adventure involving the ever-evil Captain Hook. The lame twists being passed off as innovation and inspiration are that Jane, unlike her mother, is a staunch non-believer in all things Pan (and given how incredibly obnoxious Peter comes off this time, it’s entirely understandable); and the now-strangely buffoonish Hook is stalked by an octopus who likes to (yes) make a tick-tock sound with the suction cups on his tentacles.
More criminal than the lack of inspiration in “Return to Never Land” is the absence of a sense of magic; Tinker Bell and Peter go through their pixie dust-powered motions throughout the film, but nothing ever soars. There’s never a moment of pure, transcendent joy like the flight through London scene in the original film–there’s only the manufactured machinations of a rehashed plot that will only hold the attention of those very easy to please young children who have never seen a “Peter Pan” production (Disney, stage, or otherwise–heck, even Steven Spielberg’s “Hook” is preferable to this).