Tuesday, July 17, 2012

My Summer of Sequels - "Return to Neverland" (2002)

"Return to Neverland" got a theatrical release in America in February of 2002.  The opening sequence quickly drops us smack into the London Blitz.  Our young heroine, Jane, is constantly aware that her country has been plunged into a violent war, her city is under attack, and her family is in constant danger as death is suddenly a moment-to-moment possibility.

Once again, it probably looks like I am making this plot point up, but I promise you I am not.  It was probably unintentional, given the length of time given in making an animated film even one as half-assed as this, but intentional or not, we have here a post-9/11 Disney movie.

And it is a God-damned direct-to-video "Peter Pan" sequel that was clearly put into theaters at the last minute as a shameless cash grab.

I'll admit the setup, the very idea of setting a sequel to "Peter Pan" in the middle of World War Two (by the way, hell of a context for kids to learn about these events for the first time) is fascinating, and it might have actually worked out had they spent more effort on it.  Unfortunately, as I mentioned, this film is half-assed.  Every single thing about it is half-assed.  The animation is far worse in quality than "Pooh's Grand Adventure" (for the record, the two films were done in different Disney studios.  Moment of silence for the international branches of Disney Animation.)  The songs are terrible and feel even more like an obligation.  And there is some use of fully-rendered computer animation that... Conspicuous CGI doesn't even cover it.

And then, there's the main conflict of the movie.  It's not the fact that Captain Hook is back and has traveled to our world to kidnap a descendent of one of the characters in the original story and now Peter has to save them and blah.  (There's a lot of originality in these "Peter Pan" sequels isn't there?)  Nope, it's a conflict that's alarmingly common in children's fiction and that drives me up the God damned wall.

In this film there are two opponents: faith and skepticism.  Jane, who -just as a reminder- is living during a time period when her home was likely to be bombed into oblivion at any second, is skeptical and realistic about her situation.  And according to arguable insane troll logic of this film, if you are a person who is skeptical and realistic about anything, you are ALSO a person who believes in nothing.  So Jane doesn't believe in Peter Pan or magic or wonder or childhood whimsy or fun or getting any sort of enjoyment out of life.  But her mother and little brother Believe!  Oh, wouldn't it be better for Jane if she just Believed!  If she could stop worrying so much about her family dying horribly at any moment and live in a wonderful world of make-believe and denial and... yeah, if you can't tell by now, this whole subplot is f***ing ridiculous.  It's handled as badly and clumsy as that one episode of "Friendship is Magic" that p**sed everyone off and that I am probably going to quickly and strongly regret ever bringing up.  It's that ridiculous.

As an aside, it should be noted that at least neither "Return to Neverland" nor "Feeling Pinkie Keen" handle this theme in a way that is as nauseatingly bad, deeply insulting, and even downright dangerously as "Tinkerbell and the Great Fairy Rescue" does.  I'm not covering the Tinkerbell movies here, even though up until the third one they were much better than I expected.  But in case you are blissfully unaware, in "Great Fairy Rescue", the hero is a little girl who believes in Fairies (who are absolutely real in the world of the film) and her main antagonist is her own father, who is -pause for drama- a skeptical biologist.  You cannot imagine how much I would love to be making all of this up.  Like all the mean old adults in this movie, he's under the assumption that that Fairies aren't real, so he flat-out tells his daughter to stop "studying" the Fairies and even throws her Sketchbook away when he sees that she's filled it with Fairies.  Because if there is anything scientists are known for, it's that they will completely discourage their own children from using their imagination or engaging in creative play of any kind because scientists themselves suffer from a complete and utter lack of imagination.  And as we all know, all scientists operate under the assumption that they already know everything there is to know about the world and that there is absolutely nothing new at all to learn anywhere ever.  That's totally how science works.  And when confronted with firsthand evidence or one living specimen of a creature that for centuries was assumed to be extinct or mythical, they will treat it as cruelly as humanly possible.  Lastly, in this day and age, we very very definitely need a movie for very young girls where science is bad and wrong.  Yeah, f*** you very much, writers of "Tinkerbell and the Great Fairy Rescue." 

I should also note that I have a lot of problems with the opposite version of this "skepticism is bad and so you should believe in everything" theme, as it so often and easily warps into "using your imagination is bad and so you should be uncreative and boring".

There's also a weird spit motif going on in "Return to Neverland", but that's neither here nor there.  The -sigh- Indian Camp makes an appearance in this film, but it is unpopulated, which is actually more uncomfortable than not addressing it at all.  And after a while, since they are onscreen more prominently here, the slow realization that the Lost Boys are essentially running around in fursuits gets... awkward.

But not as awkward as this thing that shows up in the end credits, which is as good a note to end on as any:

I'm sure they're so happy to have inspired this.


Sketch of the Day:

Random older dog sketches.

Lexie 2


Albertonykus said...

Gah, agreed so much on the whole "faith vs. skepticism in children's media" thing.

Said Friendship is Magic episode has to be the only episode of that show I actually dislike so far. I realize it's been said that its controversial aspects were unintentional, but the wording of the friendship letter in that episode still makes me cringe every single time.

Trish said...

The moment has long passed, but after "Feeling Pinkie Keen", I almost drew a comic where Pinkie and Twilight's dialogue is replaced by Locke and Jack's "Why do you find it so hard to Believe?"/"Why do you find it so easy?"/"It's never BEEN easy!?!?!" exchange. :p

Hadiaz said...

At least in the case of FPK, Lauren Faust explained her intention & apologized for the misunderstanding. Can't expect the same integrity from Disney. In any case, the following things annoyed me even more about RTN: Its plot was almost exactly the same as the original's; The croc was inexplicably replaced by an octopus (which made popping sounds w/its suckers for no apparent reason); PP & the Lost Boys weren't really sorry for what they did to Jane & only apologized to help Tinkerbell (which PP revealed when captured by Hook; Yeah, great lesson).

BTW, excluding the lesson, I actually liked FPK: If nothing else, it brought back 1 of my favorite cartoon cliches (People getting hit on the head by 1 unlikely object after another, 1 of them being an anvil). There was even a fun cartoony moment in RTN that I hadn't seen in a while (Jane falls; The Lost Boys get ready to catch her & miss completely; Jane hits the ground face-1st & leaves a perfect silhouette).


Albertonykus said...

As an Animaniacs fan, I certainly appreciated the anvil humor in FPK and found Celestia dropping in personally at the end amusing, but those weren't enough to make up for the episode's flaws for me.