The Disney Fairies movie franchise seems designed to do little beyond sell merchandise to little girls, so I figured the movies were probably terrible. When Seanie and I noticed that several of them were now available on Netflix streaming, we couldn't resist the urge to watch Tinker Bell, if only to see to what depths of depravity it fell. Seanie is, after all, quite fond of Peter Pan, and he's read most of the sequels and prequels and Pan-related books out there. It only seemed right that he should investigate this latest Neverland spinoff.
So when a baby first laughs, a fairy is born. In this case, the new fairy is a blonde, blue-eyed cutie named Tinker Bell. When she arrives at Pixie Hollow, home of the fairies, she is assigned into the tinker division of fairy labor in a ceremony not unlike Hogwarts sorting. The other...guilds? Tribes? Cohorts?...of fairies range from water to light to garden fairies, and together they all work to bring about the changing of the seasons. Tinker Bell arrives just as preparations for spring is wrapping up, and everyone's excited about their upcoming trip to the “mainland” - London, apparently – to bring new flowers and awaken hibernating animals. Tinker Bell's excited, too, until she learns that tinker fairies must stay behind in Neverland. Since she wants to go to the mainland, Tinker Bell decides that she'll have to learn a new talent, but her attempts to control other elements fail catastrophically. Her misadventures prove so destructive that spring may have to be canceled if the fairies can't recover months of hard work in only a few days.
This is a weird movie. I've tried to reconcile this with the Tinker Bell we meet in Peter Pan and I just...can't. Pan's Tinker Bell is jealous, spiteful, hates other girls, and doesn't talk. This version of the character is curious, bubbly, and honest. They're completely different fairies, these two Tinker Bells. But I suppose that doesn't matter, given that Peter Pan doesn't make an appearance in this film. Indeed, other than the occasional human artifact, like a broken music box or a lost glove, humans don't appear in Neverland. No Captain Hook, no Indian tribes, no Lost Boys – nothing. So is this an alternate universe? A prequel? I really just don't know. It's best not to think about it too much.
Four fairies quickly become Tinker Bell's besties: Silvermist (water), Iridessa (light), Rosetta (garden), and Fawn (animal). You can see the marketing department's fingers all over these characters. Each fairy obviously aligns with a racial group. Sometimes it doesn't seem so bad – Silvermist's Asian so she has almond eyes, whatever – but I question if giving Latina fairy Fawn chunky thighs and a bigger butt than her counterparts was a step in the right direction. But it doesn't really matter. Each character only has about three minutes of screen time, anyway. They just have to be in the story long enough to justify making dolls and costumes and playsets.
But for all this obvious desire to sell toys, Tinker Bell is not a bad movie. It's fairly entertaining, and it moves along pretty quickly. Tinker Bell arrives in Pixie Hollow, screws up, fixes the problem, and learns a valuable lesson or two along the way. The moral is actually a pretty good one: Sometimes there are things you just can't do, but that doesn't mean you're untalented, because everyone has something they can do well. I'm not embarrassed to admit that I liked it.
I do wish the animation was better. Tinker Bell's previous animation has always been 2D, but this new series of movies (five projected in all) are all in 3D. It looks a bit jarring. The fairies all have a horrible plasticity to their skin and their movements can be pretty jerky at times. But on the other hand, Pixie Hollow looks amazing. Disney's fields of flowers and tree blossoms have never looked so beautiful. This contrast makes the fairies all the more incongruous, but it's serviceable for storytelling.