Peter Pan gets star billing in “Return to Never Land,” much like Bugs Bunny received star billing for “Space Jam,” above Michæl Jordan, no less. These guys have made a lot of money for their studios, and in a way, they’re like a part of the family.
“Return to Never Land” takes place years after the original story ended, where Wendy is now grown up and married, with an adventurous but disbelieving daughter named Jane who refuses to accept that her mother could ever fly. Peter Pan, Captain Hook, and the whole gang are still back in Never Land, unchanged by time. Hook continues his mad search for his lost treasure, and when he kidnaps Jane, he sees his opportunity for revenge.
“Return to Never Land” is set against the backdrop of the Second World War, with all of the blitzes and people being hidden in shelters. It’s surprising then that “Return to Never Land” isn’t half as scary as we remember “Peter Pan” being. There’s no menacing crocodiles in this film; instead we get a friendly octopus shaped monster, and twenty five years later, we can almost feel sorry for poor Captain Hook: if only Peter Pan would just reveal where the treasure is, it would save everyone a lot of trouble. Captain Hook is nothing if not inhumanly patient.
The film is fun, energetic, and brightly colored and I think kids will love it a lot. It is not, however, on the level of the top drawer Disney cartoons; technically, it just can’t compete with a film like Monster’s Inc., and we get the feeling that maybe “Return to Never Land” was pulled out of a direct to video release, possibly at the last minute, maybe out of a feeling of nostalgia. This is a sweet, good natured entertainment, and Disney, ever respectful of their characters, has been appropriately low-key in its marketing.
The film also teaches us the tried and true Disney lessons about courage and trust. Tinker Bell is unable to fly until young Jane believes in her existence and has faith in her. Maybe Captain Hook learns too, that after twenty five years searching for his lost treasure, it’s time to stop holding a grudge. Sometimes you just have to move on. That goes for the Lost Boys too.
“Return to Never Land” for its lack of technical mastery, is still much more entertaining, and even skillful than Steven Spielberg’s dreadful “Hook” which was so boring and cynical. The sets weren’t very good either. That film had the nerve to suggest that we actually wanted to see Peter Pan all grown up. That’s ridiculous. I’m sure studio executives feel that way. Sure, maybe that’s the healthy thing for him to do, to grow up, get on with his life, but it doesn’t make for good entertainment. It’s a sad fact of life that characters like Peter Pan are destined to remain unchanged forever, because that’s the way we need them to be.