Everything I needed to know, I learned from Peter Pan.
"I won't grow up,
I don't wanna wear a tie
And a serious expression
In the middle of July."
"Think of all the joy you'll find
When you leave the world behind
And bid your fears goodbye.
You can fly. You can fly. You can fly."
"This won't do.
What's the matter with you?
All it takes is faith and trust.
Oh, and something I forgot: Dust.
Just a little bit of pixie dust."
Peter Pan, in whatever form you choose - book, play, cartoon - is rife with
for whatever ails ya'
from staying young at heart, to finding
something to believe in, to taking leaps of faith. Heck, Steven Spielberg, the
guy with the world's most visible case of Peter Pan syndrome, felt the need
to return to Never Land in 1991's Hook. Whether or not you thought that
Hook was a good movie, at least you knew that Spielberg's intentions were true.
But when money-churning juggernaut Disney digs up a long-time icon and re-animates
it for a whole new generation of "mommy I want that cereal, daddy I want
that toy, Grandma I want to go to that movie, Grandpa buy me that video"
well, it is a little suspect,
don't you think?
Actually, it wouldn't be quite so suspect, if Disney hadn't made a habit of
pumping out half-assed direct-to-video sequels for the last decade. I believe
the first of them was a sequel to Aladdin, back in, what? '93, '94? I
watched that one, and it wasn't too bad. Robin Williams wasn't the Genie, but
Dan Castellaneta (Homer Simpson) did a pretty good job of pinch-hitting.
Unfortunately, Disney had hit on a quick and easy way to make money. There's
gold in them thar' videotape hills. I miss the good old days when Disney's get-rich-quick
scheme was to re-release the old movies. At least then you got a chance to see
the classics in the theater (Disney's still doing that, but bigger and better.
Beauty and the Beast got the IMAX treatment this year. Next year: The
Nothing says "We couldn't care less" like a direct-to-video sequel.
Are there any animated movies Disney hasn't done a sequel for yet? Cinderella
II is coming out soon. Cinderella II!!??!! How depressing is that?
If you could ignore Disney's awful sequel track record, the idea of returning
to Never Land might be downright thrilling. But
I don't know the history of Return to Never Land. I don't know if it
was always meant to be a theatrical release. My guess is that it started out
as another direct-to-video sequel, and somewhere along the line, someone changed
the plans. Maybe they said, "Hey, this might actually be good enough to
release in theaters." Or maybe they said, "Hey, we sure are losing
a hell of a lot of money on that stupid California Adventure Theme Park. We
need some cash, and we need it now."
Suffice it to say, I went into the theater expecting to witness a historic
new low in the history of Walt Disney.
It's not quite that bad. Return to Never Land may be Disney's most offhanded
animated movie release ever, but it's better than watching Pocahontas. The whole
movie, I vacillated between being a grumpy movie critic and being a wide-eyed
Let's go with grumpy movie critic first.
The plot of The Little Mermaid II centers around Ariel's daughter, and
uses her to tell essentially the same story as the first movie. Return to
Never Land centers around Wendy's daughter, Jane, and reuses many of the
same elements. Instead of a crocodile (with a ticking clock in its stomach)
who wants to eat Captain Hook, we've got an octopus that makes a rhythmic popping
sound with its tentacle suction cups. The few scraps of song throughout the
movie are uninspired. Given Jane's attitude and voice, the animators should
have made her just a little bit older, but instead, they made her a cutesy moppet.
To see her bravely trouncing about WWII London with a siege helmet and her fluffy
sidekick dog is to take a detour into DonBluthville.
The briskness of the movie is offputting. Its message is all about belief and
faith and the power of magic, but there's no time to actually get absorbed into
the fantasy. Things just happen because it's time for them to happen. And Jane's
problem - that she's become prematurely "grown up" - doesn't hold
as much import as it should, because it's simplistic and exaggerated, and because
the developmental arc her character will follow is as predictable and predetermined
as the two yellow arches at McDonalds.
And what's the message of this movie, really? That all the little tots should
sprinkle glitter on themselves and jump off of rooftops? Poppycock. Given what
an unpleasant stinkhole the world is, maybe we should be taking our kids to
movies with more realistic messages. Like maybe: "Get over it, kid. There
is no magic. There's no such thing as fairies (take that, Tinkerbell). And you
can't fly unless you're willing to stand in line at the ticket counter at Continental
That's one way to look at it. On the other hand, maybe fables that deal with
the loss of innocence and the attempt to recapture childlike wonder have something
important to say to both adults and children, even when the movie (Return
to Never Land, for example) is far from masterpiece status.
If the downside of Return to Never Land is that there's nothing new
and interesting in the movie, the upside is: the old stuff is still interesting.
Given that Peter Pan was made nearly a half century ago, this sequel
is surprisingly true to the original characters. Peter Pan, Tinkerbell, Captain
Hook and Hook's sidekick Smee have all been carefully recreated. The character
design and voices are ageless and still charming. Captain Hook still swings
wildly from villain to buffoon. Tinkerbell still has a serious crush on Peter
Pan. There's not one time that you'll think, "Smee would never do that."
Or "Peter Pan wouldn't say that." It's almost enough to make you believe
in the vision of animated life in Who Framed Roger Rabbit?
Disney called up these characters, who were hanging out in a retirement community
in Toontown, bored out of their gourds, and said, "Hey, let's make another
movie. For old time's sake."
When I wasn't being annoyed by the pandering and simplistic plot, I was enjoying
the idea that, somewhere, Captain Hook and Tinkerbell and Peter Pan and the
lost boys are still out there, untouched by time, having their adventures.
Occasionally, I found myself laughing out loud, like when one of the pirates
says of a captured, strung-up Peter Pan, "He's like a piñata",
or when Captain Hook tells a sob story about his mother, and shows us a lady
with hooks on both hands. The pirates have the same cartoony menace - all shadow
and silhouette, gleaming swords and gleaming teeth - as the guards in Aladdin.
The scenes with the floating pirate ship are mildly impressive, particularly
when it barrels its way passed WW II airplanes. There's the thrill of seeing
Peter Pan, gliding effortless through the air, arms stretched out like wings,
with Tink at his side. And there's a great scene between Peter and a grown-up
Wendy that manages to bring a tear to the old eye, and simultaneously remind
you how vaguely kinky the whole Peter Pan / Tinkerbell / Wendy / Jane love quadrangle
To sum up, I am annoyed at Disney's penchant for plundering its rich past in
hopes of scooping up quick box office booty. Nonetheless, it was quite nice
to visit with some old friends for a while.
Recommended for lost boys and girls only.