Nearly 50 years after their classic Peter Pan, DisneyToon Studios finally got around to making a sequel. Of course tons of sequels have been produced in order to continue the stories of even revered Disney classics, including Bambi, Cinderella, and Lady and the Tramp. But the Peter Pan sequel Return to Never Land is the rare example of such a production receiving a full theatrical release.
Whereas many Disney animated Blu-ray releases have been double features, with the direct-to-video sequel serving more or less as a bonus feature, Never Land’s theatrical status has earned it a standalone release. The 1953 original was a Diamond Edition Blu-ray earlier this year, a beautifully restored transfer complemented by a DTS-HD MA 7.1 surround mix. Though the first film’s weaknesses have come into focus more than ever (chief among them the offensive portrayal of Native Americans), the rather limp sequel clearly didn’t deserve the big roll-out it received in 2002.
Certainly part of one’s enjoyment of Never Land will be tied directly to his or her age. Less discerning children will almost certainly find it to be a worthwhile distraction. Though far lower-budgeted than the standard Disney theatrical feature, it is well produced (even if the traditional animation never reaches dazzling heights). The story centers on Jane (voiced by Harriet Owen), daughter of the now-grown Wendy Darling. We open in London in the midst of World War II. Jane is non-plussed by her mom’s fanciful, nostalgic stories of Peter Pan. That is, until she’s whisked away by none other than Captain Hook (Corey Burton).
Back to the issue of viewers’ age, older Disney fans are more likely to be put to sleep by Never Land’s predictable plotting and dull song score. Once kidnapped and transported to Never Land, Jane is rescued by Peter (Blayne Weaver) in short order. Just as he did with Wendy years earlier, Peter expects Jane to be his and the Lost Boys’ “mother.” Seems he truly hasn’t grown up. Jane eventually warms to the clan, though her disbelief in fairies nearly snuffs out Tinker Bell. Hook re-enters to try and lure Jane into helping him capture Peter in exchange for her return home.
As with the original film, liking Never Land is largely dependent upon liking Peter Pan as a character. I have trouble with the concept of “refusing to grow up.” In fact, I think it’s a horrible message to impart upon impressionable youth. The fact that Peter remains as petulant as ever ensures his off-putting unlikeability. At least this one doesn’t have any offensive Native American stereotypes.
The Blu-ray image is simply stellar. Source materials used for the transfer were obviously clean and free of any damage. The colors are vibrant. It’s a sharp presentation with considerable fine detail. The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 doesn’t disappoint, though the film’s original sound design was not spectacular to begin with. Plenty of LFE emerges from the subwoofer when appropriate. Rear channels are used sparingly (but effectively, note the realistically-placed air raid sirens early on). Dialogue and music are flawless.
The real disappointment is that the features are exceedingly weak. Eight minutes of deleted scenes are the main attraction; they range from sketches to primitive and full animation. The so-called “Pixie Previews,” five approximately one-minute-long digitally-animated shorts, are apparently related to the direct-to-video Tinker Bell spin-off features. Without any context, these are a waste of time. There’s also a music video for Return to Never Land’s best song, “I’ll Try,” performed by the Sarah McLachlan-esque Jonatha Brooke. The Blu-ray combo pack also includes a standard DVD and digital copy.
Considering it should’ve probably been demoted to direct-to-video status in the first place, Return to Never Land (despite first-rate audio/visual presentation) is primarily for Disney animation completists.