This pleasant but forgettable sequel to Disney’s “Peter Pan” is not just not up to the original animated feature. It is not even up to the standard set by the vintage Pluto cartoon (“Pluto’s Fledgling,” from 1957) that precedes it.
The original has terrific songs (“You Can Fly,” “Never Smile at a Crocodile”) and one of my all-time favorite movie moments, as Peter, Wendy, Michael, and John soar around Big Ben and look down on Victorian London. This version manages a couple of magical moments, especially the opening credit sequence and Captain Hook’s pirate ship flying through London, but the music, performances, animation, and story are strictly at the straight-to-video level.
Wendy has grown up, and is married with two children, Jane and Daniel. She loves to tell them stories about Peter Pan and Captain Hook. But World War II is underway, and London is blasted by bombs. Wendy’s husband leaves for the war, telling Jane to take care of her mother and brother. Jane is strong and brave, leading Nana 2 through London in the midst of an attack. But she can’t let herself believe in Peter Pan or fairies, because that would make it even harder to bear the loss and destruction – and the fear. So she gives her little brother socks for his birthday (a size large, so he will have room to grow), and is given to crisp pronouncements like, “I’ve no time for fun and games” and “I don’t know why you fill his head with silly stories.”
Just before Jane and Daniel are going to be sent away to the countryside, where it is safer, Jane is kidnapped by Captain Hook. He thinks that if he captures Wendy, Peter Pan will come to save her. Because he lives in Never Land, he does not realize that Wendy has grown up. But then, neither does Peter, who does come to rescue her, and is just as happy when it turns out to be Jane. But she does not want to stay with the Lost Boys, even when they make her a Lost Girl. Before Jane can go home, though, she will have to learn to believe in “faith, trust, and pixie dust.”
For a story about the power of imagination, the movie is especially lackluster. The original story’s crocodile has been replaced by an octopus for no particular reason, and the action sequences are replays of the first version. The sexism and racism of the original are excised – Jane rescues Peter in this one. But that is not enough to make up for a script that even at under 90 minutes, is just too long. Of all the changes, though, I think the one that would most upset James M. Barrie, the very British man who created Peter Pan, is probably hearing Peter speak with an American accent and even use baseball slang.
Some of Disney’s recent follow-ups have been quite good, especially the sequels to “The Little Mermaid” and “The Hunchback of Notre Dame,” with theater-quality voice talent and animation and some bright new songs. It is hard to figure out the reasoning that had both of those movies go straight to video and give this one a theatrical release.
Parents should know that while the movie is rated G, there is some peril, much comic but some a little scary. Children may want to know more about the Blitz (the movie never tells us who it is that is dropping bombs on London, we briefly see children being sent away from their families by train, and we can’t tell from the end if the war is over or not).
Families who see this movie should talk about “faith, trust, and pixie dust,” and how even children have to be brave and helpful during difficult times. Some children may make a connection between the Blitz and the terrorist attacks.
Families who enjoy this movie should watch the original, one of Disney’s best. They will also enjoy another Disney classic, like “Peter Pan” written in Victorian times and filmed in the 1950’s, “Alice in Wonderland.”