Return to Neverland (February 13/02)
After a long stretch of family-oriented movies consisting of gross-out humor and juvenile antics (Snow Dogs and Big Fat Liar, to name the two most recent), Return to Neverland is refreshingly old school. There's nary a fart joke or jive-talking animal to be found; just engaging characters and a disarmingly compelling storyline.
The movie opens several years after the original, with Wendy now a married adult (and with two kids, no less). It's a time of war and Wendy's husband is sent away to fight, leaving her to care for the kids and a lovable St. Bernard (well, this is a Disney film - there's got to be at least one lovable animal). But Wendy's past catches up with her, in the form of the nefarious Captain Hook - who's still looking to retrieve his long lost treasure. He kidnaps her daughter, Jane, in an effort to lure out Peter Pan, who's kept Hook's booty hidden all these years. Not surprisingly, Peter Pan and the lost boys quickly come to Jane's rescue - leading to some wacky escapades and a showdown between Peter and Hook.
Return to Neverland was originally slated for a straight-to-video premiere, but some Disney executives apparently saw some potential in the film and upgraded it to theatrical release. Unlike other Disney sequels, this isn't merely a retread of the original. Obviously, there are plenty of familiar elements to keep the kids happy (including a deadly octopus that makes clicking noises with its tentacles - ring any bells?), but this is otherwise a sequel in the best sense - the continuing adventures of beloved characters from the first film.
And while Disney's insistence to "enhance" their traditionally animated films with computer graphics is once again present and quite distracting (most notably in the form of Hook's ship), this is a great looking film. The animation is crisp and colorful, and will surely enthrall anyone that grew up on films like Snow White or Cinderella. Running at a brisk 72 minutes, it's near impossible to become bored with the film - which should make parents of small children very happy.
Return to Neverland doesn't offer any great shakes in terms of plot or characterization, but for those hungry for old-fashioned family entertainment, this should fit the bill.