Tuesday, November 18, 2003

Return to Never Land
Review by Sombrero Grande

A friend of mine recently told me of the horrible time he had watching Disney’s latest big-screen animated sequel, The Jungle Book 2. I have no desire to ever see it--and based on what he said, neither should you--but it did remind me of the free screening I went to last year of Return to Never Land, the sequel to Disney’s classic Peter Pan.

Unlike most of Disney’s crappy new sequels that go the direct-to-video route, both Return to Never Land and The Jungle Book 2 were released first on the big screen, for reasons that I can’t comprehend. Normally, when a movie really sucks ass, the studio forgoes the costly process of distributing it into movie theaters and unleashes it onto an unwitting public through the home video market--but you already knew that, didn’t you? Originally Toy Story 2 was planned to be sent direct to video before anything was even done on it, but the geniuses at Pixar came up with such an awesome and fun sequel that it was given a green light for theatrical distribution. Now, Toy Story 2 sits very high on Sombrero Grande’s Top 10 All-Time Favorite Movies List, so when I heard that Return to Never Land, which had also originally been slated for direct-to-video release, was also getting promoted to the big screen, I thought that it meant it was going to kick ass and rank right up there with the original Peter Pan. I thought that maybe a little Pixar had rubbed off on Disney and Return to Never Land had turned out like Toy Story 2: better than anyone had originally expected.

Unfortunately, such was not the case. The only reason I can see for Disney’s decision to give this turkey it’s moment in theaters is that Disney’s executives were busy looking at the over $245 million that Toy Story 2 made domestically during its theatrical run instead of watching Return to Never Land.

There is one moment in Return to Never Land that is great. Just one. It’s thrilling, exciting, full of imaginative glee and, since it comes very near the beginning of the movie, initially misled me to thinking the rest of the movie would be the same way. The story is set in London during World War II and Wendy has grown up and now has a daughter who is just about as old as she was when the events in the first movie took place. Captain Hook’s ship shows up hovering over the house one night and the pirates kidnap Wendy’s daughter, thinking that she’s really Wendy. Now, the really cool part comes when an air raid siren goes off and the pirates panic and fly their ship the heck out of there, narrowly missing collisions with a dozen World War II fighter planes. That moment is awesome; in fact I just got goosebumps remembering that scene while typing this. The problem is, however, that once that’s over, the ship sails into Never Land (through a really hokey kaleidoscope special effect that was totally unnecessary and is the reason why the intelligent filmmakers who made the original Peter Pan didn’t attempt anything even remotely similar) and the movie goes downhill FAST. Nothing that happens in Never Land is anywhere near as interesting as that “air raid” moment. It’s really, really sad when the most exciting and imaginative part of a Peter Pan movie takes place outside of Never Land in the “real world.”

I will say that the animation was better than I was expecting; the rich colors and character animation match pretty closely the original, which shows that a lot of time and effort was spent in that respect. I was expecting the “shipped overseas” look of the animation in Disney’s direct-to-video fare, but this was definitely better. The voices of the actors sounded pretty close to the originals too.

Noticeably absent from this sequel are any of the “injuns” from the original, and for good reason. Go ahead and watch Peter Pan again and pay particular attention to the scene with the song “What Made the Red Man Red.” In this day and age of changing attitudes and “political correctness,” even an ol’ cowboy like Sombrero Grande feels uncomfortable watching that.

To sum up Return to Never Land in one word, I would call it “forgettable.” I really don’t remember much else about the movie. I honestly cannot remember if there were songs in it; I assume there were but I just can’t remember any. I do remember, however, there were some highly unnecessary fart jokes. Apparently, someone was looking at the box office money Shrek pulled in and decided (using “Hollywood logic”) that if Shrek had fart jokes in it and made a lot of money, then if Return to Never Land wanted to make a lot of money it needed fart jokes too. The difference is that the fart jokes in Shrek were there as part of Shrek’s character at the beginning of his arc, whereas the fart jokes in Return to Never Land were just there for no logical reason at all. I mean, come on! This is Disney’s classic Peter Pan we’re talking about here! Do these people have any idea what Walt would have thought about inserting fart jokes into the timeless fantasy realm of Never Land?

I can tolerate the fact that Disney is making poor sequels to each of its animated masterpieces. After all, they’ve got every right to and they make a ton of money for the company. The Little Mermaid II: Return to the Sea made Disney over $100 million in profits, if memory serves, while newer fare like Treasure Planet came nowhere near even matching its cost to produce. I tolerate these sequels because I have a great hope that they will all follow in my one-word description of Return to Never Land and be “forgettable” while the originals live on as well-made cinema classics for the ages. I look forward to some day when people will watch The Lion King and not even remember that The Lion King II: Simba’s Pride was ever made. Of course, that feeling of tolerance will go away and Sombrero Grande may have to unholster his weapons if Disney’s sequel-makers ever set their sights on Pinocchio.


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