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'Return to Never Land'

Disney stays faithful to Peter Pan in 'Never Land'

Friday, February 15, 2002

By Barbara Vancheri, Post-Gazette Staff Writer

Children's movies generally fall into one of two categories: The ones, such as "Monsters, Inc." or "Shrek" that delight all comers, no matter what their age or whether they have tots in tow. And the others, such as "Return to Never Land," that seem designed to entertain preschoolers, kindergartners and youngsters too little to truly appreciate "Big Fat Liar."

'Return To Never Land'


STARRING: Voices of Harriet Owen, Blayne Weaver, Corey Burton

DIRECTORS: Robin Budd, Donovan Cook

WEB SITE: disney.go.com



"Never Land" is a sequel to Disney's 1953 cartoon classic, itself adapted from the play by Sir James M. Barrie. Clocking in at about an hour (it's preceded by a 1948 Pluto cartoon), it's more of a homage or recycling of the first than a true sequel.

Substitute one octopus for the crocodile who relieved Captain Hook of his left hand and you're getting warm. Take advantage of bright new colors, songs old and new, and a vote for sibling love and family togetherness, and you're closing in. Change Wendy, a girl who doesn't want to grow up, into Jane -- a girl carrying the weight of the adult world -- and you're in Never Land.

The animated movie is set in World War II-era Britain, as men are being called away from their families. Wendy is now grown up, married and the mother of a daughter, Jane, and a son, Danny. Before the father joins the military, he asks Jane to take care of her mother and brother. It's a promise she takes very seriously.

As bombs fall and children are evacuated to the countryside, London becomes an increasingly dangerous place. Wendy entertains her offspring with stories of Peter Pan and a reminder that Hook will never win as long as there's "faith, trust and pixie dust," but Jane scoffs at the yarns. The night before Jane and Danny are to be sent away, Hook kidnaps the girl -- mistaking her for Wendy -- and takes her to his pirate ship, so he can lure Peter Pan to his doom.

Peter rescues Jane and transports her to Never Land, where she discovers that maybe her mother was right about faith, trust, fairy dust and the ability to appreciate the joys and magic of childhood.

"Never Land" is rated G, and it's scariest at the beginning when Jane and her dog are caught outside as sirens wail and trucks and soldiers whiz by. The blitzkrieg is far more frightening than Captain Hook, who wears boxers decorated with hearts and has a first mate, Mr. Smee, who is more klutz than killer. The usual heart-tugging ensues when it appears that Tinker Bell's light might go out.

Although Disney animators took advantage of computer-generated wizardry to build the Jolly Roger ship and make it fly, they studied original drawings from the early '50s and kept faithful to that style. Peter Pan looks much as he did way back then, with pug nose, pointed ears and green tights, and Hook and Smee haven't changed, either.

Roger Rees supplies the voice of Jane's father, and Dan Castelleneta from "The Simpsons" talks for Mullins, one of the pirates. I didn't recognize any of the others: Blayne Weaver, as Peter Pan; Harriet Owen as Jane; and Corey Burton as Hook.

On the plus side, it's good to see a girl as hero (even an initially reluctant one) of a cartoon adventure. On the down side, "Never Land" doesn't break any new ground and would have made an ideal direct-to-video release, with or without the 50-year-old Pluto cartoon.

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