The Great Disney Blogathon: Peter Pan 2: Return to Neverland (2002)
|June 30, 2014||Posted by Jess under Cartoons, Disney, Movies, Musicals, The Great Disney Blogathon|
Return to Neverland is one of just 10 DisneyToon films to be released in theaters, joining fairly elite sequel ranks with Bambi II and The Jungle Book 2.1 Considering it was originally slated for a simple straight-to-DVD release, it must have been considered surprisingly good by the company to merit being shown in theaters. And I’ve got to say, I agree. Though it’s not the masterpiece the original Disney Peter Pan is, Return to Neverland is a solid effort, with very visible care put into it and a delightful new heroine.
It begins in World War II-torn London, where Wendy still lives in her childhood home with her husband, daughter Jane, and son Danny (plus a loyal dog named Nana Two). She still believes in Peter Pan and regales her children with stories about him, but after Mr. Wendy’s Husband leaves to fight in the war, Jane develops a cynical, practical streak and wants no more to do with fairy tales. So it’s a surprise to her when she’s kidnapped by Hook, who has regained control of his flying ship, thinks she’s Wendy, and plans to use her as bait to lure Peter Pan to his doom.
Peter rescues Jane, of course, is delighted to meet his old friend’s daughter, and cheerfully introduces her to the wonders of Neverland. But Jane just wants to get home, because her baby brother needs her (they’re meant to leave for the country to escape the Blitz the next day,2 and both of her parents have told her to look after him). When Peter and the Lost Boys playfully destroy her notebook, full of her lists of responsibilities, she angrily tells them off, announces that she doesn’t believe in fairies, and stalks away.
Hook, witnessing this, spots an opportunity to get his revenge on Peter – and regain a treasure chest Peter stole from him. He gets Jane alone and tells her he also wants to return to England, and will fly her home in his ship – because she can’t fly, the requirements being “faith, trust, and pixie dust” – if she finds his treasure for him. After getting his word that he won’t hurt Peter, Jane agrees.
Meanwhile, Tink is dying thanks to Jane’s disbelief, and so Peter somewhat randomly decides they need to make Jane a Lost Boy – well, Lost Girl – in order to make her believe in fairies, even though there’s an actual fairy right there but whatever. After a playful musical montage Jane comes around to liking Peter and the others, and decides not to cooperate with Hook – but he sabotages them anyway and carries off the boys and the treasure. Furious, Peter calls Jane a traitor and a fairy-killer.
Dismayed, Jane runs back to the hideout and finds Tink faded and motionless. She begins to cry, and her tears – and presumably the accompanying belief – bring Tink back to life. They set off to save Peter and the boys and do so in grand style, with TEAMWORK and FEMALE FRIENDSHIP and Jane making a glorious swan dive off the mast to defeat Hook because faith! And trust! And pixie dust! AND NOW SHE CAN FLY AND IT’S THE BEST.
The pirate are left fleeing a giant octopus that has replaced Tick Tock as Hook’s predator, and Peter returns Jane to London. She joyfully greets Wendy and Danny, who didn’t even realize she was gone. There’s an absolutely heart-wrenching meeting between Wendy and Peter, and then Mr. Wendy’s Husband returns home and Peter smiles as the family reunites, then flies off. Cue a weird BBMak “Do You Believe in Magic?” cover over adorable Mary Blair-esque credits!
As I said, Return to Neverland is not a masterpiece. Though it’s clear that some real effort went into the animation, and there are some striking shots, the anatomy is often off, and the CGI Jolly Roger doesn’t mesh with the traditionally animated everything else, like, at all. The story doesn’t 100% make sense, mostly the elements having to do with Tink’s death. (How does Jane not believe in fairies? There’s one right there. And why is Peter’s solution to Tink’s impending doom, “Let’s go make mudpies with Jane?” That…no. I appreciate the effort to bring the “Clap your hands if you believe!” thing into this universe, and the actual moment where Jane saves Tink is lovely, but it’s a bumpy road getting there.) And the octopus is a useless and anatomically highly-questionable addition that reeks of lack of imagination.But Jane…Jane is a triumph.
It was an unusual choice for Disney to not just set a movie during a specific event like the World War II, but have those historical events influence the plot. Only Pocahontas comes close to such a historical inspiration, and, uh, Disney basically changed everything about the history of that event anyway. Setting RtN against the Blitz forms a powerful contrast between gray, bombed-out London and bright, beautiful Neverland; it’s no longer just a fairyland that exists for the children who want to access it, but a very necessary escape, literally for Jane and figuratively for Danny (and, I suspect, for grown-up Wendy).
But the war also deeply informs Jane’s character. Unlike Wendy, who chafed against the pressure to grow up, Jane already very much considers herself an adult, having been charged by her father to look after her mother and brother. (Which, by the by, I love, because usually it’s a son who’s told to look after his mother.) She has decided that the best way to survive this war is with lists and stubborn practicality, and spends her time running around the dangerous city in army gear getting the very boring, practical things her family needs, like socks. This seriousness carries over to Neverland, which she attempts to escape by quickly building a raft and stocking it with crates of fruit, then hoisting the Union Jack and setting sail. “Keep Calm and Carry On” indeed!
Of course, Jane is only like ten years old and as charming as this “I am an adult” attitude is, it’s not entirely healthy. The film (and a strong vocal performance from Harriet Owen) does a great job of showing how torn and twisted up inside she is with grief and worry and fear, and when she lashes out – which she does frequently – it’s from an understandable place. It makes a clear case that Jane needs get back in touch with the joy and imaginativeness of childhood, both for her own sake and as an example for her little brother, without ever making it seem like her early-onset adulthood is her fault. And when she changes, later in the film, and is able to access that childish joy again, she’s still very much herself. It’s a really great balance.
(Neverland is also interesting to me as an escape for children living in a war zone. For Wendy and her brothers, it was a way to flee the stodgy responsibilities of adulthood, and the danger is part of the thrill. For Jane, she goes from being shot at to…being shot at. Which is probably a large part of why it doesn’t particularly appeal to her. There’s a fascinating and slightly bizarre moment where Wendy hides with Danny in their home’s bomb shelter and comforts him by pretending the shells falling outside are actually cannons from the Jolly Roger. It seems odd to me to be like “Pretend we’re in a different war zone!” but I guess danger where you know Peter Pan will save you is better than danger where you know no one can? I also wonder how much those stories are for Wendy and not Danny; certainly if I were trapped in a bomb shelter worrying about my missing child and soldier husband I’d rather think about the childhood adventures that worked out fine. Keep Calm and Think Happy Thoughts.)
Jane’s also feisty as heck. The first thing she does upon meeting Peter is punch him right in the face, which is delightful. Even better, at the climax, when Hook is about to make Peter walk the plank with an anchor chained to him to ensure that he drowns, Jane bursts onto the scene by declaring “Not so fast, you old codfish, or you’ll have to answer to me.” Here is a direct quote from my notes during that scene: “JANE JANE JANE I LOVE YOU YOU ARE GREAT JAAAAAAAAAANE.” Hook and Smee promptly mock her, unafraid of “a little girl” or her fairy ally…at which point Jane and Tink proceed to kick everyone’s asses, rescue the boys, and sink the ship. GIRLS KICKING BUTT FOR THE WIN. I also love that though Tink is still her spiteful, jealous self, they become friends once Jane saves her. Though I adore Mean Tink I think the character’s flexible enough for allow for some grudging respect. She’s even pleasant to Wendy in the final scene!
And speaking of that final scene…I think it’s safe to say that after confessing to crying during Bambi II, I can make no pretense of not being a gigantic sap, so I’ll tell you right now that I sobbed. It wasn’t even a sad scene! It’s just Peter seeing Wendy as an adult and trying to figure out how to process it, and his fear and confusion is deeply moving – almost as moving as his eventual reassurance that she’s still the girl he knew, deep down. And playing “The Second Star to the Right” is just cheating, okay?
Since you’re watching that scene, let’s talk about the voicework. As mentioned, Harriet Owen does a fine job as Jane. Blayne Weaver, who is apparently the official voice of Peter Pan these days, is also reasonably good (no one can be Bobby Driscoll, of course, but maybe that’s for the best). Corey Burton and Jeff Bennett are likewise fairly good mimics as Hook and Smee respectively; I’d be able to tell the difference blindfolded, but I’m obsessive like that. And Quinn Beswick is a remarkable match for Slightly, though the other Lost Boys sound nothing like they used to (but really, who cares?). Voice acting perennial Kath Soucie is somewhat disappointing as Wendy, I’m afraid; I love Kath3 but she doesn’t sound a thing like Kathryn Beaumont and her accent’s sliding all over the place. Andrew McDonough as Danny also can’t quite seem to hold onto his accent. But the familiar characters – the major ones who haven’t aged, at least – are all close to what they should be, and that’s the most important thing.
And speaking of sound…sigh. Aside from one truly terrible number sung by the Lost Boys, this movie follows the early 00s Disney tradition, particularly rampant in sequels, of forgettable country music – in this case, a cover of “The Second Star to the Right” and the original song “I’ll Try,” both sung by Jonatha Brooke. Which would be fine, I guess, except that this movie takes place during World War II and the framing sequences are set in England, so looking at Jane in her period clothes and period haircut gazing sadly over bombed-out London and suddenly hearing some twangy wailing is…jarring, to say the least. I fully admit that I’m deeply biased here, but 1930s/40s music is some of the best music of all time. They couldn’t have thrown a Gershwin pastiche in there? Maybe some mournful jazz? The country music just always strikes me as so…pandering. Make a real 1940s musical or go home, I say!
Finally, I should note that unsurprisingly, the Native Americans are entirely absent from the film. Peter and Jane do zip through their camp, which seems to have been rendered with slightly more of an attempt to make them look like an actual specific nation and not just nondescript brown teepees, but that’s it. That’s…probably for the best. (Though it would’ve been rad to just throw in a new set of Lost Boys, and make them not all white? Just saying. I don’t think anyone would’ve been like “Oh no, where’s Nibs? He’s my favorite!”)
Anyway, that’s Return to Neverland. It’s certainly not perfect, but it’s a charming sequel with a lot of heart and a fantastic heroine. If we could have more protagonists like Jane, well, you certainly wouldn’t hear me complaining.
- The other seven are DuckTales: The Treasure of the Lost Lamp and A Goofy Movie, both of which predate the direct-to-video sequel madness, and a handful of Winnie-the-Pooh and Cars sequels and spinoffs. Technically some of the Tinker Bell movies had limited releases but Wikipedia’s not counting those so neither will I. And yes, I realize I’m the only one who wants to split these hairs. ↩
- Presumably to go stay with Professor Kirke and find Narnia. ↩
- My kingdom for Kath to consistently be the official voice of Daisy Duck! She tag teams with Tress MacNeille and I prefer Kath in the role, despite also super duper loving Tress 4eva. ↩