Disney has been hugely successful over the years with their animated theatrical releases. While some of the more recent ones have not been nearly as good as most of the earlier classics, they still attract an audience. During the past several years, as home viewing has grown more popular (thanks lately to DVD), Disney has realized that direct-to-video sequels to some of their classics can attract an audience thanks to the familiarity to the characters. While some of these ("Hunchback of Notre Dame II") have been decent, others ("Cinderella II") have been mediocre, at best.
Realizing an opening in the schedule where there wasn't much compeition, "Peter Pan: Return to Neverland" was released into theaters earlier this year to mild interest. Originally thought to be another direct-to-video release, there's really little reason why it couldn't have simply gone that route in the first place. It's certainly not a terrible feature, but aside from a few stunning visuals and decent voice acting, there's really not much reason for it to be.
Opening years after the original feature, Wendy is all grown up and has kids of her own. The three live in England during World War II. Daughter Jane has lost interest in her imagination, sternly dismissing her mother's discussions of the fantastical Never Land. When Captain Hook (Corey Burton) arrives though, Jane is taken (mistaken for Wendy) and realizes that all those tall tales just might be true.
Although the sequel does go off in some unexpected directions, much of it (like many of the other Disney sequels to their classics) feels familiar. This time around, Jane finds herself seriously wanting to go back home after arriving in Never Land, only to finally be brought around by Pan's charms. At the same time, Jane's disbelief in fairies leads Tinkerbell to fall ill and only Jane's belief can bring her around again. Of course, Captain Hook does everything he can to seek out Pan and his lost treasure.
I certainly wasn't expecting a film on the level of the original, but "Return To Neverland" fell a little short of even lowered expectations. The film's tone is a little uneven, with a very serious opening that eventually gets a little lighter once the film reaches Never Land. The animation, a tiny bit above the usual direct-to-video fare, is moderately detailed and rather colorful, if not up to the level of the studio's theatrical releases. There was one particular shot of note early in the film, where Hook's ship parks itself over Wendy's house. The huge ship, looking like a dark storm cloud, was an image both beautiful and ominous at once.
Overall, "Return to Neverland" was merely average fare. It's not as bad as some of Disney's attempts to sequelize some of their classics, but it's fairly uneventful and familiar.
VIDEO: "Return To Neverland" is presented by Disney in 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen. While the animation varies - some of it looks beautiful, some of it looks strictly of the Saturday morning variety - the transfer as a whole is quite excellent. Sharpness and detail are very good, as the film maintained a consistently smooth and crisp appearance.
I saw little in the way of flaws throughout the film. Aside from a very slight trace or two of pixelation, the presentation showed no concerns. No edge enhancement was spotted, while the print looked excellent. The film's color palette - nicely vivid at times, rather subdued at others - was well-saturated and never appeared smeared or otherwise problematic. An excellent offering from the studio.
SOUND: "Return to Neverland" is presented by Disney in Dolby Digital 5.1. While not a terribly active soundtrack, the film did use the surrounds on a few occasions for either some minor sound effects or the music. The score remained crisp and rich, while dialogue came through clearly.
MENUS: Animated main menu with some slight background motion.
EXTRAS: Not a great deal - a basic new interactive game called "Tinkerbell's Challenge: Quest for the Light", three short animated fairy tales ("Rosetta and the Flower", "Iridessa and the Light Bugs", "Tink and the Bell") All three shorts are promos for the upcoming "Tinkerbell" direct-to-DVD animated movie. Finally, we get 2 deleted scenes.
Final Thoughts: "Return To Neverland" has decent animation, some moments of decent excitement and a fairly uninspired story. Kids should enjoy it, although adults will likely wish the film could have been a little closer to the spirit of the original. Disney's new DVD edition offers very good video quality and fine audio, along with a handful of minor supplements. Recommended for fans who didn't get a chance to buy the first DVD edition, which is now out-of-print.
The Film C+