Return to Never Land

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The Walt Disney company has mined several of its classic films for direct-to-video sequels, including follow-ups to “Beauty and the Beast,” “Lady and the Tramp” and “The Little Mermaid.” “Toy Story 2,” famously, was also to be direct-to-video, until Disney realized how good it was and put it in cineplexes, where it belonged.

So one hopes “Return to Never Land” — the sequel to 1953’s animated “Peter Pan” — is being released in theaters for the same reason “Toy Story 2” was: It’s just SO GOOD, it would be a shame to waste it on video. Turns out if you believe that, you’re smoking pixie dust.

Money was the major factor here. “Return to Never Land” clearly cost a lot to make — the animation is much better than most video sequels — and if you put it in theaters first, you can charge people twice, once at the box office and again when it comes out on tape.

“Return to Never Land” is not egregiously bad; it’s more of a disappointment. “Peter Pan” was a witty, imaginative adventure, but little of that has leaked onto the sequel, which has no major laughs, no compelling characters and no memorable moments. It’s a non-classic if ever there was one, sure to be forgotten in five years’ time.

It takes place during World War II, with Wendy (voice of Kath Soucie) now grown up, married, and a mother to two children. Her husband has gone off to fight, and times are tough. Little Jane (Harriet Owen), though young, is hardened by the war and doesn’t believe in the ridiculous Peter Pan stories that Wendy regales toddler Danny (Andrew McDonough) with.

This changes when Capt. Hook (Corey Burton), thinking Jane is Wendy, kidnaps her to use as bait for Peter Pan (Blayne Weaver). Peter shows up and saves her, but Jane can’t return home unless she can work up enough faith and trust to fly there. What’s a precocious, unbelieving child to do?

Smee, the Lost Boys and Tinkerbell are all back, and instead of the ticking crocodile, now there’s an octopus who blinks his eyes rhythmically, imitating the sound of a clock. (This is done more for the audience’s benefit than for Hook’s, as he doesn’t seem to notice the parallel between this and his old foe.)

What the whole thing lacks is inspiration. It’s obvious the movie wasn’t made because someone said, “I’ve got a killer idea for a ‘Peter Pan’ sequel!” It was made because someone said, “We could probably make some money with a ‘Peter Pan’ sequel. Someone come up with a story, quick.” It doesn’t do the original any particular dishonor, but neither does it exude any charm or personality. It may entertain some of the tiny tots, though, which fact alone makes it marginally worthwhile as a film.

C+ (; G.)

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