Making of Peter Pan: Return to Neverland Part Two

by Jim Korkis, contributing writer

Last week, I talked about the development of Return to Neverland and this week, I want to give a glimpse at some of the behind-the-scenes stories.

In Peter Pan: Return to Neverland, there were some changes made to some classic characters. For instance, the mermaids were given more substantial brassieres to cover their natural virtues. Nana, the canine guardian, had obviously died given the average age that most dogs live so Nana II now roams the house.

Jane was more complex in this new movie than her mother, Wendy, was in the original film.

As previously mentioned last week, an eye-sight challenged massive octopus replaces the crocodile.

Executive in charge of production Sharon Morrill shared,

"There's a lot of comedy between Hook and the octopus as there was between Hook and the crocodile in the first film. Hook's a very funny, over-the-top character and is great for physical comedy.

"Inventing the octopus gave us a fresh, new way to torture Captain Hook with another sea creature foe. In terms of animation, an octopus offers a lot of fun, with his lengthy arms, awesome reach and comical mannerisms.

"Wendy was a very 'proper' little girl. We tried to make her daughter a little more of her time – wartime London – so she's a bit more independent, a bit less polished. For example, her haircut is different, more practical to reflect her character. The adult Wendy is a perfect mother, warm and nurturing. Unlike Jane, she feels strongly that children should keep their imagination alive. One of my favorite scenes is when the adult Wendy sees Peter again.

"Peter encapsulates the eternal child, all the things we need to keep in our own hearts. So Peter is very much the heart of the movie. We didn't want Jane to be without her father but he needed to be absent to increase the pressure on her. We talked about it a lot. It took some finessing to incorporate him into the movie. It was a struggle through all the different versions of the film but it really adds an emotional charge to the story.

"Jane has an adorable little brother, Danny. When she goes to Neverland, one of the Lost Boys, Tootles, strongly reminds her of Danny. For example, he hangs upside down and sticks his tongue out at her!"

Producer Chris Chase stated: "Jane is an emotionally complex role, conveying this girl's difficulties and struggles and I think children will connect to her. Jane goes through this tremendous adventure. She learns something about herself and then goes home. When her dad also comes home at the same time, you have a sense that her life is going to be better. It's a nice, optimistic look toward the future."

Kevin Lima, who had directed A Goofy Movie and Tarzan, was an un-credited consultant on the film and would later direct Enchanted.

Voice work was supplied by Harriet Owen (Jane and Young Wendy), Blayne Weaver (Peter Pan), Corey Burton (Captain Hook), Jeff Bennett (Mr. Smee), Kath Soucie (Adult Wendy), Andrew McDonough (Danny), Roger Rees (Edward), Spencer Breslin (Cubby), Bradley Pierce (Nibs), Quinn Beswick (Slightly), Aaron Spann (the Twins), Tootles is the Lost Boy in the skunk costume who was mute. Frank Welker supplied sounds for the octopus. Additional voices like for the pirates were supplied by Jim Cummings, Rob Paulsen, Dan Castellaneta, Clive Revill and Wally Wingert.

Supervising animators included Lianne Hughes (Jane), Pieter Lommerse and Andrew Collins (Peter Pan), Bob Baxter (Captain Hook), and Ryan O' Loughlin (Adult Wendy).

The DVD shares deleted scenes from the film in pencil test form. "Where Jane and Hook Meet for the First Time" is an extended two-minute four-second version of the scene in the film that was edited for time. Another scene "Gift for Tink" running almost two minutes was part of an abandoned storyline.

It is agreed by all that the true treasure of Return was the voice work of Corey Burton, who has been performing the voice of Captain Hook professionally since he was 17 years old. He was working at Radio Shack when his voice teacher, the legendary Daws Butler, suggested he audition at Disney.

Burton commented that recreating a classic voice is a technical challenge, "to maintain the essence, the timbre, and the soul of the original recording; the trick is not to do it mechanically, so that you're conscious of every aspect of pitch and placement and pace, and it sometimes takes a while to establish it fully, and make it your own in a way, and yet make it faithful to the original."

Earlier in the fall of 1974, Burton got invited by the director to attend a broadcast of the last radio drama being performed in Hollywood, Salvation Army's Heartbeat Theater because actor Hans Conried was performing the lead character in that week's broadcast.

After the show, director Don Hill introduced Burton to Conried saying, "You know, the kid does a pretty good impersonation of you."

Burton recalled:

"And then Conried looks me up and down and says: 'The kid does my voice, eh? Well, he can have it. A fat lot of good it's done me in over 40 years of show business'. I got my first job at Disney because the educational department at the Studio was producing this film strip that Conried was supposed to narrate and needed some additional dialogue. But Hans was out of town with a theater company at that time .

"So I filled in for him. And I must have done an okay job. It was through that recording session that I met Les Perkins who introduced me to the people who were producing Disney's Storyteller Albums. And since then, I've been doing voices for Disney for decades now."

Ever since Conried died January of 1982, Burton has been doing Captain Hook's voice.

Burton stated:

"That's me you hear as Hook in Fantasmic! Likewise in that Robin Williams' Back to Neverland movie they used to show at Disney's Hollywood Studios. But each time that I do Hook, I try and follow the template that Conried originally laid down for this character. So that there's then some real consistency to the way this 'Peter Pan' character sounds and is portrayed in every new project at Disney.

"It's such a privilege to carry on the work of a great character actor. To me, the immortal voice is the original actor, Hans Conried. I'm just standing in for him.

"With Hook, it's great fun to really ham it up. There are not many characters, especially in the modern world, where you can just chew the scenery. With the dear Captain, I can open up and explore every wild, ridiculous, melodramatic, theatrical delivery that I've ever wanted. There aren't many limits on this character and that's fun.

"He the nastiest of Disney's comical villains. He's conceited and bombastic and takes great relish in his evil and that makes him really fun to play. Captain Hook is so theatrical, like an old ham actor of the vaudeville and music hall days. It's not that he really scares anyone because you can see right through all of his bluster. He's really just scrambling for the recognition afforded Blackbeard and the other great pirates.

"I'll listen to the original movie soundtrack and then listen to myself mimicking it. It's like a pitch pipe. I want to make sure that I'm in the same basic range of energy and expression, hitting the same, familiar notes."

He has played the role for various cartoons like Jake and the Neverland Pirates, audiobooks, videogames (notably the Kingdom Hearts series) and theme park attractions. In 2003, Burton was nominated for two Annie Awards for voicing Captain Hook in Return to Never Land and Ludwig Von Drake in House of Mouse, since he had also taken over all the vocal work done by the late Paul Frees. He won for doing Ludwig.

Composer Joel McNeely was hired to compose the score for the film thanks to the recommendation of Matt Walker, senior vice president of music at Walt Disney Television Animation. At the time McNeely had composed scores for more than 35 films and television series.

Walker said, "The movie needed a timeless, emotional score that could also contain fun and exhilaration for the comedy and action. It's really a composer's dream come true. I'd worked with Joel a long time ago on the Disney movie Iron Will (1994) and he blew me away with his mastery of orchestral styles. I felt he'd be the right choice for this project."

McNeely watched a rough cut of the film with the directors, producers and some executives, then engaged in a discussion about the style of the music, the emotions they wanted conveyed and the thematic necessities. McNeely put in 12-hour days, seven days a week for eight weeks to come up with the final score. It was recorded by a 90-piece orchestra at Abbey Road Studios in London.

"Joel so absolutely understood the essence of the movie," Morrill said. "What we call his 'home theme' and 'flying theme' are right on target. The home theme really says heart with quiet, reflective moments and the flying theme is the main theme filled with the magic of imagination. He made the film feel big in scope, but also allowed the intimate moments to stay intimate. It's just the right amount of magic and sparkle."

He composed the overture before the animation was started to feature thematic musical signatures from the original film like Following the Leader and Never Smile at a Crocodile.

"They were in storyboard at that point but they knew what they wanted to do, so they described the images and elements and asked if I could write the music to it," said McNeely. "I didn't see it until it was finished and it just took my breath away."

The band They Might Be Giants composed the music and lyrics for the song So To Be One of Us/Now That You're One of Us for Peter Pan, Jane and the Lost Boys.

"The idea was to illustrate all the things that the Lost Boys are about, and have Jane kind of scamper along trying to keep up with them, going through the bonding process with the boys," said John Flansburg, a member of the band. "We really took the materials and tried to come up with all the things that really had the energy of boys like marauding around, being in a gang thing. That was really the energy of the song. I spent a lot of my childhood swinging from rope swings and jumping around frog ponds and that type of stuff. You develop a 'Lost Boys' kind of friendship in that situation, the kind where you're going to be loyal for life to your friends. It's a real bond."

In keeping with the original film's theme, it was decided to use the 1965 song hit Do You Believe in Magic over the end credits. Walker went to Woodstock to get permission of the songwriter, John Sebastian.

It turned out that, at age 5, Sebastian had been taken to see the Broadway production of Peter Pan starring Jean Arthur as Peter and Boris Karloff as Hook and fell in love with the entire experience.

"I've dreamed of flying endlessly from the time I saw that original Peter Pan production to well past adolescence," Sebastian recalled. I still do. In my mind, even though it was written about the subject of music, the song is heavily tied up with Peter Pan. The whole metaphor of believing in something and making it true was definitely a Barrie device rather than a Sebastian device. It was pretty easy rewriting the song relating it to flying instead of to music. All that was really necessary was to realign it with its original inspiration. The subject matter was really about making the leap of faith that has to be made in the story in order to fly.

When the song with Sebastian's new lyrics was recorded, Sebastian was phone-patched into the session so he could play his own autoharp on the track.

"I told the producer that these guys sing great but when you've finished, you will compare it to the original and something will be missing. I'm going to save you lots of time and tell you what it is; it's the autoharp. On the original, it's combined with a piano and kind of buried in the track but it was the combination of the electric autoharp and the piano that made that track have that unique, sonic feel to it."

The song is performed by the musical group BBMak (Christian Anthony Burns, Mark Barry and Stephen McNally). At the time they were signed with Disney's Hollywood Records to produce albums.

The co-directors were Robin Budd and Donovan Cook.

Budd was the Emmy Award winning director of the animated television series Beetlejuice and had worked in television and feature film animation including being animation director on the feature Little Nemo and co-directing the animated feature The Thief of Always.

"I agreed to the project because I always loved Peter Pan," Budd said. "It's a really wonderful story about fantasy and a world you can't see unless you believe in it. Plus, it's about a kid who never grows up. Not only do I love that concept but I can relate to it. We took full advantage of the Disney Animation Research Library, studying the original film's resource materials. It was like going into a candy store. We found a set of Milt Kahl's drawings of Peter Pan rummaging through the nursery toy chest.

"That was a real find because it perfectly captured Peter as a kid who is not handsome in classic terms," he said. "He's actually kind of homely but is still quite appealing because he exudes fun. Peter is very ordinary looking with a bit of a pug nose, and that makes him kind of hard to draw. But Kahl's drawings made him very real and got you to focus on his boyish spirit. Finding that drawing was a breakthrough for us."

Cook stated, "Robin was a good choice for this material because he loved it. He got so deep under the skin of Captain Hook that often times he was just acting him out for us."

Cook had served as animation director on three animated television series and was a production assistant on The Little Mermaid (1989) among other credits. He later directed Mickey, Donald, and Goofy: The Three Musketeers (2004) and the CGI Mickey Mouse Clubhouse (2006).

Cook said, "The set up to the sequel is very clever in its vice-versa take on the original. The first film is about a little girl who is afraid to grow up, but learns that you needn't give up your youth simply because of your age. In our sequel, Jane learns that you don't have to turn your back on your youth in order to grow up and be responsible. It's essentially the same lesson from two different directions. She could change, and now believe, but still feel the responsibility to get back to protect her little brother."

One of the animation challenges was pixie dust. At first, the filmmakers discovered that computer-generated efforts offered a sense of sparkle and volume but with a distinctly hard edge. Two-dimensional drawings provided a more organic and random appearance but the process was time-consuming and expensive.

Budd stated, "We tried CG first, but the pixie dust didn't have a sense of gravity. Things built on the computer have a tendency to be very floaty and curved. So we turned to hand-drawn pixie dust which was great looking but exhaustive to do."

"It's like bubbles. You can't duplicate them," said producer Michelle Pappalardo-Robinson. "Australia really took the reins and found a happy medium. Ian Harrowell who was unit director was able to marry the worlds of CG and ink & paint so it worked."

Budd said:

"The goal for the film was always to maintain the original look so it was really more a matter of canceling out the bells and whistles that come with modern technology. On the other hand, it's wonderful to have CGI. We built the Jolly Roger in 3D because the story called for the ship to fly through midair. We couldn't really afford to do that any other way. The challenge was to ensure the CG ship didn't look plastic against a painterly background.

"Unlike the original film where they just go off into the clouds to Neverland, I though we could really elaborate that moment. Our Art Director Wendell Luebbe was ultimately responsible for the kaleidoscope effect. He felt that because that journey can't physically be possible, we should make it as though it's a journey through imagination. It was reminiscent to the opening of televisions' The Wonderful World of Disney.

"The effect depicts the Jolly Roger floating through a tribute to icons of the original film including symbols of pirate, Indians, mermaids, et. It's just visual fun. The images are very 1950s. We stayed very true to legendary Disney color stylist Mary Blair's style. We studied her images for inspiration and tried to pay tribute through the kaleidoscope."

A lot of merchandise was available during the film's original release.

A Peter Pan pin was sold to promote the film.

The Disney Store offered a limited edition lithograph of Jane, Peter Pan and Wendy to those customers who pre-purchased the video from the store. A CD soundtrack of music from the film was released as well as several pins (including promotional pins like one for Wal-Mart) and buttons.

Several books re-telling the story were released including a Disney Wonderful World of Reading volume, a song book by Deborah Upton with a sixteen button soundboard, a Parent & Child Read Together volume, a sheet music paperback with an eight page color section of artwork, and a twenty-four page hardback designed for pre-school children.

In February 2002, McDonalds released a six piece Happy Meals set of character toys from the film that would combine together to create the pirate ship, twelve inches long, ten inches high. The characters included Peter Pan (Tinker Bell was in the treasure chest at his feet), Jane, Captain Hook, Mr. Smee, Cubby the Lost Boy, and the Octopus.

Once put together, each section had a function, Captain Hook and Peter Pan could spin so it looked as if they were fighting, Mr. Smee could also spin but more because he was worried. The Octopus would spring out of the hold of the ship on to the deck. Cubby's section could also be used as a water squirt toy and Jane was on the mast that would wobble down from the top to the bottom.

In addition, McDonalds also offered a plastic Peter Pan pocket knife, a red Captain Hook eyeglass telescope and a Wendy/Michael green mirror.

Disney's Peter Pan: Return to Never Land is a video game released for Game Boy Advance that was based off the film but with some differences. The octopus is replaced by Tick-Tock in the game. Nana II and Mr. Smee do not appear in the game but Smee appears in a cut scene.

Players take control of Peter Pan. He can fly with Pixie Dust if he has Tinker Bell, but if he runs out of Pixie Dust, Peter cannot fly. Enemies are in this game, but can be defeated by any attack, such as ground pounding, throwing his sword or fighting. Enemies include everything from bulldogs and police officers in London to tigers and monkeys in the Neverland Jungle. Of course, Captain Hook also appears several times.

Peter Pan: Return to Neverland was met with weak critical response like most of the other made-for-video sequels saying the film lacked the story and animation to match the original. Even the vocal performances were criticized. However, for some Disney fans, it had a certain charm and provided an opportunity to revisit with some of their favorite characters.