This post has major spacing issues. I’m trying to fix them as we speak. Wordpress is buggy. You’ve been warned.
I wasn’t interested in Disney‘s Tinker Bell when it came out in 2008. I thought it would be another lame “re-tell the movie from the perspective of the side kick” thing like The Lion King 1 1/2. I have never been crazy about Tinkerbell either. So I passed on the movie and completely missed the fact that there were sequels. When I saw the series on Netflix earlier this year I wrote the whole thing off as a shallow marketing ploy aimed at little girls who preferred fairies over princesses. (They also changed the spelling of the character’s name, which is a pet peeve of mine.)
Finally, a couple of weeks ago, I was writing a post about how marketing is relevant to the success of any product or service — including entertainment — and I realized I was being a pissy little hypocrite when it came to the Disney Fairies. So, since my Netflix is active for this month, I decided to put my big girl pants on and just sit down and watch Tinker Bell.
The opening scene gave me a lot of Peter Pan nostalgia. I realized that the story was going to start with Tink’s birth, so it wasn’t what I was expecting at all. The animation was excellent, and I almost didn’t notice that it was CGI, even though I typically have a lot of trouble processing computer-animated stuff I have to work at it really hard.
When Tink first appeared, she seemed too innocent and her sweet disposition didn’t do much for me. Even though I’m not really a fan of the old Tink, I was more than a little skeptical about this doe-eyed newborn fairy. I thought, “Well it makes sense. They’re marketing this heavily at little girls. Tinkerbell was kind of mean-spirited and spiteful toward Wendy in Peter Pan.
They can’t introduce a character that way and expect little kids to cheer for her. I’m still not going to like her.”
After a few minutes, I put my reservations aside and just went with the story. As it turned out, I love her the way she is because she doesn’t need to be mean or use violence in order to get what she wants. She’s smart, creative, and still has plenty of spirit. She reminds me of Cinderella and Jasmine in one person. (And we all know how I feel about Cinderella.)
The gist of the movie is that the fairies are responsible for helping nature function properly. They paint flowers and butterflies, put spots on ladybugs, give light to the fireflies every night, etc.
Their biggest tasks center around the changing of the seasons, and every fairy has a certain talent that helps him/her do a useful job. Most of the fairies’ talents seem to be nature or healing related, but the rarest talent is “tinkering.” Tinker fairies build things and make repairs to help the others and keep Pixie Hollow running smoothly. It’s really a vital job, but Tinker Bell is disappointed because it doesn’t seem as glamorous or exciting as what the other groups do. Her disappointment gets worse when she finds out that Tinker fairies aren’t allowed to go to the mainland (England) to help the seasons change.
Tink gets some of the other fairies to teach her how to do their jobs so that she can “switch” her talent. There’s a subplot with a jealous fairy named Vidia, who plays a role a lot closer to the original Tinker Bell’s part in Peter Pan. Vidia pretends to help Tink, but is really trying to embarass her/get her into trouble.
The story seems predictable at first, and it does follow the pattern that most audiences would expect. The brilliance of the movie though is in the dozens of little ways it takes a formulaic idea and uses it as a framework for developing strong characters and giving the audience a sense that there is history and depth to everything that happens in Pixie Hollow.
Vidia and Tinker Bell aren’t one-dimensional props. Tink makes a lot of mistakes, but she’s never presented as naive or stupid. She’s just inexperienced and is learning about the world. Vidia might seem shallow, but the movie hints that she has more going on than what we see on the surface. The supporting characters are interesting, but there are a lot of them, and their development time is mostly connected to how they try to help Tinker Bell, so I didn’t get a good sense of who they were. I liked the way that their jobs relied on standard fantasy tropes but managed to make them seem interesting and funny.
Even if the story is predictable, I don’t think that’s necessarily a bad thing. Predictable patterns in storytelling are something that a lot of children like, and this is a movie for children. I think having an idea of where a story is going because they’ve seen similar ones helps kids put things into context and develop reasoning skills. Adults get bored with seeing the same story over and over because adult brains have already developed the ability to fill in the blanks.
You can argue that having “predictable” stories sends kids the wrong message about how life really works, but stories exist and have value well beyond their capacity to teach kids social messages or prepare them for the future. Kids can certainly internalize unintended messages from the media, but I think it’s our job to talk to them about real versus pretend and help them figure these things out rather than relying on the media to explain the world. All stories have implied lessons, regardless of the age of the intended audience. A good story is more than just a teaching tool.
Children do absorb a lot from what they see in the movies, but I think they care a lot more about what their real-life role models are doing and saying. They aren’t just blank slates waiting to be filled up with “messages” about the world around them and told how to think. They have their own interests, preferences, and things they enjoy — one of which is often being able to tell (or figure out) how a story will go.
The fairies’ connection to their environment makes it a given that the movies deal with the concept of natural balance, and that’s handled well. It feels organic and logical, with events flowing in a reasonable way from the characters’ actions, and there aren’t any heavy-handed lectures. Surprisingly enough, I think the Tinker Bell movies pull this off better than the Lion King, and they remind me of Bambi on occassion.
I wasn’t too sure about the concept of “Tinker fairies,” because it seemed weirdly at odds with Peter Pan, but as I got into the movie, I appreciated what the Tinker fairies brought to the group. I don’t see anything that necessarily has to conflict with Peter Pan, either. It all depends on where the franchise goes and how Tink ends up meeting Peter (which seems to be something the newest movie, The Pirate Fairy, might be setting the stage for.)
I think the Tinker fairies bring something really cool to the franchise, because even though all the fairies are magical beings, Tinker Bell always has to use her brain to solve problems. She thinks creatively, uses logic and finds a way to use the resources she has at her disposal. Most of the materials Tinker Bell uses for her inventions are “lost things,” which are objects that get lost in the mainland and wash up on the shores of Neverland. (Another tie in to Peter Pan, and if you’re willing to see it, there’s an object lesson about not being wasteful and recycling.)
I know I’m late to this party, and most people have probably seen Tinker Bell already, but I don’t want to give the ending away. I will just say that there’s a nice bit of irony for anyone who is familiar with Peter Pan.
I watched the second installment of the series on Friday night, and I was even more surprised by it. My expectations were lower, but the second movie, Tinker Bell and the Lost Treasure, is better than the first. There’s a lot more character development, the story quietly builds several layers into the world of Neverland and the culture of Pixie Hollow without drawing attention to what it’s doing.
For anybody that thinks Tinker Bell is too good-natured in the first movie, her emotional development in the second adds a lot. She’s still very young, and she makes some big interpersonal mistakes. That actually makes it more believable to me that she might react badly to Wendy later in the series. The internal conflict of the second movie is about friendship and respect. There’s a nice bit about personal boundaries too, which make Tink’s actions more understandable, and it’s all tied up very well in the external plot. which is an epic adventure that doesn’t turn out at all like Tink hopes it will. In the end, once again she has to use creative engineering to solve her problem instead of a magical quick fix — and I really like that there is a tiny bit of a science lesson involved, but Tinker fairies aren’t the only ones who know how the science stuff works. It makes my nerd heart happy.
I’ve read some reviewers criticize the Tinker fairy concept for the very same things I like, and while I would normally say “to each their own,” my reaction in this case is:
“What the hell? Why does having magic mean you can’t also have math and engineering skills? Why does knowing how to do things with “normal” skills negate the inherent magical nature of fairies? Also. FOR GODSAKE, so many girls struggle with math and science, or they’re afraid to show interest in those subjects because they don’t want to look “too smart.” Tinker Bell is a girl whose special magic talents is being an inventor. She’s smart, and she’s praised for it. That is not a bad thing.”
So. When I got to watch the third movie on Saturday night, I was holding my breath. I thought, “Okay, this could be really good, but it’s probably going to be a letdown. That’s what always happens.” I was worried about nothing though. The third movie, Tinker Bell And the Great Fairy Rescue is EVEN MORE AWESOME.
Movie #3 takes place mostly in the English countryside, and the plot revolves around Tink getting “captured” by a human girl, so I was pretty sure I wouldn’t like it. I figured that it would be too divergent from the first two, and I wouldn’t get to see any more of the fairy culture that I had become so invested in. It does spend more time focusing on Tink’s friendship with the human girl, but there were so many twisty little nods to Peter Pan (and possible set-ups for Peter in the series future?) that I didn’t care. I also learned some neat things about fairy culture that I wasn’t expecting, and the supporting characters get to play the heroes in a convincing and cool way. I was surprised and impressed by how the movie handled Vidia, who had been the villain in the first movie. I think she’s my second favorite fairy now.
Anybody who didn’t like how the fairies seem to be speaking english in the first and second movies just needs to watch this. And I LOVE the scene where Tink confronts the little girl’s father. This is classic Tinker Bell all the way.
Movie #4, The Secret of Wings, Tink returns to Pixie Hollow to help the other fairies get ready for the coming of winter. There are so many huge reveals in this movie that I don’t know how to discuss the details without spoilers. So I’ll just say that it could have been awful, clichéd, and trite, but it was compelling, emotionally engaging, and full of layers. I have a theory that the winter animation in this movie and the inclusion of a sibling relationship were both kind of a dry-run for Frozen, but the story doesn’t feel in any way like a Frozen knock-off or “cheap promo.” (It also has a powerful, awesome fairy with a disability who has a romantic involvement with one of the recurring characters. I hope to see more of that one.) The Secret of Wings is my favorite of the series, and’s now one of my favorite movies period.
I feel like I just watched a four-part miniseries made for six-year-olds. All four of these movies work as individual stories, but when viewed together, they form a strong, cohesive whole. It’s a kind of story I’ve never seen Disney pull off before, and it could have failed miserably, but the production teams deserve a standing ovation for the job they did. I’m not sure I’ve ever seen a series of children’s movies where all the installments fit together this way and had solid, well-developed plots (not to mention quality animation throughout. Most sequel films have crappy animation and don’t get near the same level of attention as the original.)
Of course, the movies aren’t perfect. I’ve already mentioned that there’s a character with a disability, but I feel like there could have been more diversity overall. I would love to see a main female character who wasn’t the exact same body type as Tink. There is a little bit of ethnic/ racial diversity, but there could be more, and I wish Tink’s main male friend had been a person of color. Those are small problems in my mind. They don’t detract from my enjoyment of the movies, and if you haven’t figured this out by now, Tinker Bell is my new favorite character.
I haven’t seen The Pirate Fairy yet, and I’m a little nervous because the reviews haven’t been stellar. It’s not avaialbe to stream anywhere, but when I do get to see it, I’ll report back with an update.
If you’ve seen these movies, what are your thoughts?
Do you enjoy blending science and magic or would you rather that they stayed in their own worlds?
- Disney’s THE PIRATE FAIRY: One Step Closer to STEM Fairies? (nerdist.com)
- “Tinker Bell and the Great Fairy Rescue Review & Giveaway!” and related posts (ahappyhippymom.com)
- Tinker Bell & Secret of the Wings Movie Review + a Flitterific #Giveaway (ahensnest.com)
- 12 Things You Didn’t Know About Tinker Bell and Captain Hook (news.moviefone.com)
- Tinkerbell and the Pirate Fairy (Press Release) (socialreviewer.wordpress.com)