(Release date: August 20, 2013) - Having skipped "Return to Never Land" during its 2002 theatrical release due to the assumption that it was going to be an unnecessary, glorified direct-to-video sequel to Disney's perennial 1953 animated classic "Peter Pan," imagine my surprise to find eleven years later that it is a truly and utterly delightful follow-up to the original J.M. Barrie adaptation. Wendy Darling (voiced by Kath Soucy) might be all grown up, but she still remembers her childhood experiences in Never Land with the boy that wouldn't grow up and has relayed the magical stories to her own children accordingly. When war breaks out in London and her father leaves to serve his country, Wendy's strong-willed daughter, Jane (Harriet Owen), is dismayed to learn that orders have been made for all children to be sent to the country as a safety precaution. Weeping by her bedroom window, Jane is paid a visit by the nefarious Captain Hook (Corey Burton) and suddenly snatched up and spirited away to the land she always assumed was a fairy tale. She is saved by Peter Pan, but when her rash actions put him and Tinkerbell in danger, it is up to Jane to set things right. "Return to Neverland" is clearly not just a thrown-together trifle, its realistic war setting back in 1940s London and the strength of Jane as a character giving the film an appreciable dimension and emotional maturity. The original songs are, perhaps, a little too on the nose, but otherwise this is a wonderful little picture, lovingly animated and ending on just the right bittersweet note.
Resplendent. That is one of many superlatives that immediately come to mind when thinking back on the practically flawless 1080p, AVC-encoded video transfer of "Return to Never Land." Blending the hand-drawn with a form of computer animation able to simulate a multiplane effect that can place characters and backgrounds on different layers and move the camera around them to emulate additional depth, the look of the film is splendid. The opening scene, for example, set amongst the nighttime clouds, is more effectively three-dimensional than the bulk of actual 3D being used in most modern animated films. This high-definition image is consistently impressive, from the bold, accurate colors to the razor-sharp, defined lines and edges. It is an immersive visual experience all around that looks excitingly brand-new. The DTS-HD 5.1 Master Audio is virtually just as pleasing, the dialogue, score and sound effects all joining forces to create a vibrant lossless surround rendering.
Deleted Scenes (8 min., SD); "Pixie Previews," five animated shorts from the "Tinkerbell" direct-to-video series (6 min., HD); "I'll Try" Music Video, performed by Jonatha Brooke (4 min., SD)
It is never surprising when Disney puts out exemplary A/V quality on their Blu-ray titles, but this particular release is up there with the best of the studio in regards to its technical specs. More surprising: that "Return to Never Land" is as good as it is, a quality family feature that informs and brings extra meaning to the original themes in "Peter Pan" about the process of growing up. Less love and care has been brought to the special featuresthey are pretty middling, though there is an interesting deleted song included (set to storyboards) that Captain Hook would have performedbut the leading story here is that "Return to Never Land" is (1) a terrific motion picture, and (2) absolutely gorgeous to watch and listen to. The Blu-ray release of "Return to Never Land" is a no-brainer for Disney fans and comes highly recommended.