Published Oct 25, 2013Within the lexicon of perpetual arrested development sustaining fantastical wonder in Never Land, Captain Hook maintains a persisting fixation on capturing the irreverent and emotionally stunted Peter Pan several years after the end of the first film. Now, in the real world outside of this faux-paradise of lost boys, magical fairies and rampant piracy, Wendy is all grown up with two kids of her own, traversing the troublesome landscape of WWII Europe, trying to placate them with stories of Never Land and everlasting childhood.
Her daughter Jane thinks it's all crap, something she delightedly advises her younger brother of before Hook shows up and kidnaps her in yet another ill-advised attempt to defeat Peter Pan. This setup guides Return to Never Land through its overly formulaic and uninspired motions, playing as an ersatz metaphor for the importance of youthful hope by forcing the pragmatic and war-weathered Jane into a situation that demands youthful whimsy for survival.
The majority of the narrative concerns itself with the juxtaposition of the uptight Jane with the irresponsible Peter Pan and his lost boys, presenting the plight of Tinkerbell—losing her Magic when Jen verbalizes a lack of belief in fairies—as an instigator of conflict and climax. Minor diversions, such as Jane reluctantly playing with the boys and suffering various degradations, rarely inspire any sort of comic or magical reaction, distinguished only by how immediately forgettable they are.
What's less banal and uninspired than the broad tropes and lethargic character arcs are the many peculiar, presumably unintentional, nods to Freudian development.
Beneath the fun-loving template of convincing Jane to regain her childhood wonder, there's a partial romantic angle lingering that has a discomforting feeling, seeing as Peter had previously romanced Jane's mother Wendy in the original film. There's also a comic trajectory between Captain Hook and an excitable Sea Urchin that involves some suggestive (think of Predator's mouth) imagery and the routine stripping of the villains pants. That Hook is desperate to acquire an effete young boy with the ability to fly, yet flees a monster that has some rather shocking, toothed, feminine attributes, suggests something altogether unseemly about the nature of Never Land and its bigger psychological realities, being a land that boys escape to in order to avoid the responsibilities of manhood.
In a way, the unspoken presentation of sexuality has more continuous focus than the lazily handled assertion that believing in magic is paramount to successful socialization. And since the visual signifiers within Return to Never Land vilify the feminine form and derive conflict from their sheer presence and intervention, threatening the sanctity of a male fantasy free from responsibility, there's a sense that misogyny, or at least critique of adolescent male psychology, is the chief thematic concern, effectively flipping the bird to the sort of fantasy ideation the original Peter Pan represented.
Obviously, none of this is discussed in the supplemental materials, but there are an assortment of exceptionally shallow "Pixie Previous," wherein Tinkerbell gets the computer animation treatment and socializes with a bunch of vapid fairies. It's vile. (Buena Vista)