Movie - Return to Never Land not only screams "direct-to-video" sequel, it feels like one of the more mediocre video efforts. Even compared to the relatively mediocre sequel efforts like Simba's Pride and Little Mermaid II: Return to the Sea, Return to Never Land pales. That is nothing to say of the original Peter Pan, a dazzling feature which remains rather fresh nearly fifty years after being released. The reason that Return to Never Land seems so much like a direct-to-video feature is because that's exactly what it is. Originally intended to come straight to video and DVD, Disney decided instead to release it in theaters, during the mid-February slot that has become the studio's yearly attempt to cash in on a second-rate animation feature, made by the television department. So in addition to the surefire video sales Never Land will make, add the theatrical gross of around $60 million, and you'll see the logic for Disney to put a film of this caliber in cinemas last winter.
Video - Not surprisingly, Return to Never Land's video transfer looks terrific. The animation looks far more sterile and far less visually interesting than its predecessor. Although the animators try to maintain the look of the original, particularly using shadows as a callback to the stylistic design of the original. But it seems in vein, as nothing in this sequel can capture the feel of the original film, whether in look, tone, or quality. There is nothing to complain about regarding the transfer, though. The animation seems enhanced by computers in the coloring and design processes, which contributes to the somewhat boring artificial look of this piece. But the film, presented in its original 1.66:1 widescreen aspect ratio, which Disney has labelled "family-friendly widescreen" benefits on the DVD format from its computer techniques. Also, clocking in at a very lightweight 72 minutes, the film comfortably fits on a layer all to itself, with the handful of extras taking their place on the second layer.
Audio - The Dolby Digital 5.1 track is just fine, and presents a moderately active audio experience for the viewer. Since the film was completed less than a year ago, it's not much of a surprise that the sound quality is without complaints. The recorded dialogue all sounds natural, and there is some surround usage for the film's music (which generally feels quite contemporary...and features BBMak doing "Do You Believe In Magic?" for the film's closing credits...groan).
Extras - In terms of extra content, Return to Never Land is pretty skimpy, even for a second-rate animated feature. There are two unfinished deleted scenes (if you can even call them "scenes") in 16:9 widescreen, which run even shorter than the brief discussion on them from the Producer Chris Chase and Executive in Charge of Production Sharon Morrow. There is a Music Video for the song "I'll Try" performed by Jonatha Brooke (3 minutes, 55 seconds). For children, there is the "Never Land's New Hero" StoryTime, which is the usual "Have It Read to You" or "Read It To Yourself" activity. The "Rescue the Lost Boys Adventure Game" is well-designed, but pretty straightforward and none-too-exciting. Lastly, there is a DVD-ROM extra, a sampler of the activity game "You Can Fly with Tinker Bell." The enhanced menus are mostly static with the film's score playing, with animated transitions. This disc also includes the THX Optimode audio and video tests, designed to calibrate your television/monitor for the best quality presentation. Oh, and yes, there are 8 Sneak Peeks (some of which play before the menu load, but as usual, can be skipped) , including a look at Disney's next animated feature Treasure Planet.
Thoughts - Return to Never Land is a
schlocky sequel that lacks every winning quality of Peter
Pan. If you liked this film, the DVD seems adequate,
as the audio/video are, as one would assume, without
problems. There isn't much in the way of extras, but this
doesn't seem like a title prime for full-blown Special
Edition treatment. That being said, Return to Never
Land is scheduled to go out of print January 31,
2003. While you're still likely to be able to find a copy
well into next year, if you plan on picking up this DVD,
keep this in mind.