As we've lately come to realize, it's harder to look up to the skies and dream beautiful dreams when those same skies are capable of delivering man-made destruction. So one can understand the no-nonsense skepticism chilling the fantasy life of Jane, a gritty young girl struggling to keep watch over her little brother, Danny, while making her way through London streets bruised by bombs during World War II.
Her father's away fighting the good fight while her mother ... well, as far as Jane is concerned, her mother, Wendy, is being just ... so ... ridiculous, filling little Danny's head with these stories of Never Land, that improbably glorious island past some silly star in the sky. And Mother just won't shut up about her adventures with brash, silly Peter Pan and his pixie pal Tinker Bell and his Lost Boys and pirate ships! The idea! Doesn't Mother know there's a war on? Who has time for such treacle?
The same question may well occur to grown-ups settling in with their kids to watch "Return to Never Land," the latest manifestation of Walt Disney Studios' curious impulse to update its classic animated features. What's left? "Raging Thumper"? "Toothpicks! The Cloning of Pinocchio"? The best such projects will ever be is nice. And some have barely reached even that. So it's no use expecting "Return to Never Land" to match, much less exceed, Disney's 1953 version of "Peter Pan," which by itself isn't quite in the uppermost tier of the studio's full-length cartoons. (Or maybe it is, depending on which one you first saw as a child.) Still, director Robin Budd's video-friendly approach, while falling short of magic, gets by on a chipper bumptiousness that may be just enough to pull the movie into the audience's good graces.
Anyway, you probably don't need to be told that Jane's spoilsport temperament has no chance against Captain Hook and his pirates, who, believing her to be Wendy, spirit her away to Never Land to blackmail Peter Pan into surrender. You also don't need to be told that Peter outwits Hook and uses his charm and the Lost Boys' roughhouse antics to lower Jane's stiff upper lip. And Tinker Bell, petulant and fetching as ever, still wants no other girls around but her.
The voices are all competent and frisky, especially Harriet Owen's Wendy and Corey Burton's Hook, who's so redolent of the late, irreplaceable Hans Conried that you'd swear he'd been thawed for the occasion.
MPAA rating: G.
'Return to Never Land'
Harriet Owen...Jane/Young Wendy
Blayne Weaver...Peter Pan
Corey Burton...Captain Hook
A Walt Disney Pictures presentation, released by Buena Vista Distribution. Director Robin Budd. Co-director Donovan Cook. Producers Christopher Chase, Michelle Robinson, Dan Rounds. Screenplay by Temple Mathews. Voice casting and dialogue director Jamie Thomason. Editor Anthony F. Rocco. Technical director Charlie Luce. Music Joel McNeely. Art director Wendell Luebbe. Running time: 1 hour, 12 minutes.
In general release.Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times