ReturntoNeverLandcoverGrade:  B-
Entire family:  Yes (but mostly for young ones)
2002, 72 min., Color
Rated G
Aspect ratio:  16×9
Featured audio:  DTS-HD MA 5.1
Bonus features:  D
Includes:  Blu-ray, DVD, Digital Copy

Return to Never Land played in theaters in 2002 rather than going direct-to-video—an indication that Disney thought more highly of this sequel than some of their others. But it’s so similar in structure that if you’ve recently seen the original 1953 animated Peter Pan, you may wonder why this film was even made.

Instead of Wendy being the skeptic, it’s her teenage daughter, Jane, who finds Mother’s stories of Never Land juvenile and utterly inappropriate, given historical events. It’s around 1940, the men have gone off to war, and the young children are being shipped to the country to protect England’s investment in the future. Jane’s siblings are already out of the picture when she is swept away to Never Land, where she discovers it’s all real and learns a lesson about belief.

But there’s one important difference:  Return to Never Land is a much lighter, brighter film.  Instead of a ticking crocodile in pursuit of Captain Hook, it’s an octopus that’s rendered more comically. Hook is up to his hostage-taking ways again, trying to lure Pan to his demise, and once again he’s foiled. But there’s not the same dramatic intensity here. There’s also less emphasis on the Lost Boys being orphans and needing a mother, so there’s correspondingly less potential trauma for young viewers susceptible to separation anxiety. Pan’s resistance to growing up is hardly an issue. Likewise, Tinker Bell is less jealous and malevolent this time around, a much softer character—as if the studio was laying the groundwork for the Tinker Bell Pixie Hollow series that would be launched six years later. And thankfully missing from Never Land this time around are the less-than-politically-correct (“Uggh”?) Indians. 

ReturntoNeverLandscreenOne curiosity worth mentioning is the look and style of animation, which tends to vary throughout the film. Some scenes seem more meticulously rendered than others, with more detailed backgrounds and scenery—like one in which the anchor of Hook’s pirate ship rips up shingles and bricks as the pirates beat a hasty exit out of London. Others—like many of the scenes featuring Hook and his crew back in Never Land—seem quite close to the art design of the original film. Still others have a hazier, faux-watercolor look to them. I can’t tell you why this is, but it’s something that my ‘tween daughter noticed as well. But at least it doesn’t have that low-budget Saturday morning cartoon look that too many sequels sport.

Maybe this was a film that didn’t need to be made, but parents with small children will be glad that Disney did, because it’s a kinder, gentler trip to Never Land than the original, and a much safer bet for young children. Older children and adults, however, will find this way too structurally similar to the 1953 animated classic and lacking the substance of the original, with its darker elements and themes.