Tinker Bell is an iconic character in the Disney family. Although she received her initial fame supporting everyone’s favorite immature brat in Peter Pan, she was more prominently seen throughout most of our childhoods before any sort of theatrical or televised Disney product. She really is second to only Mickey Mouse in representing the Disney brand. So, naturally, Disney is going to crap all over our pleasant memories in the name of a few bucks.
Rebooting and telling origin stories are all the rage these days in movies. From James Bond to Batman, iconic characters get a new lease on life when old movie history is put aside and their stories are retold from the beginning. It was only a matter of time before Disney, which lately is all about following the latest fad, latched onto this idea. Tinker Bell, Peter Pan’s silent, mischievous, pixie sidekick, gets the reboot treatment in the direct-to-DVD mediocrity, Tinker Bell.
Every good reboot should start with how the character came to be and Tinker Bell does just that. Peter Pan, Captain Hook, and the Lost Boys are nowhere to be found. Tinker Bell (voiced by Ann/Egg herself, Mae Whitman) is born of baby’s laugh, with a little help from some pixie dust from the big pixie dust tree on Neverland, and springs fully formed from a flower. Actually, she lives not in any part of Neverland that you remember from Peter Pan, but a place called Pixie Hollow where all the fairies live. Through a magical Talent Discovery Ceremony, overseen by Queen Clairion (voiced by Anjelica Huston), Tinker Bell is identified as a tinker fairy and given the name Tinker Bell. Get it?
Ahhhh, so all of the fairies are given names based on what they do, right? No. Tinker Bell’s cohorts in the tinker fairy group are not named Tinker Donny, Tinker Jose, or Tinker Leslie, instead they have names like Fairy Mary, Clank, and Bobble. This is just the beginning of situations where things either don’t hold true to the original Disney Peter Pan version of Tinker Bell or don’t hold together in the internal story. Bell, in addition, has undergone a personality transplant from the character we know from Peter Pan. She isn’t the mischievous, jealous, spiteful, and at times loyal and helpful creature we know. She’s been recast with her rough edges smoothed down to make her more of a traditional plucky heroine. The idea that this character we see in Tinker Bell would flash forward a few years and be the sprite that got locked in Wendy’s sewing cupboard isn’t convincing.
The changes in character and whole idea of a reboot wouldn’t be that big a deal if they’d been put at the service of a decent story. Unfortunately, first time screenwriter Jeffrey Howard developed a pretty standard “be true to yourself and everyone’s important” storyline. Tinker Bell doesn’t think being a tinker fairy is important and wants to be able to go to the “mainland” (London) to help bring about Spring along with her required-to-represent-all-the-main-ethnic-groups fairy friends, Fawn (America Ferrera), Silvermist (Lucy Liu), Rosetta (Kristin Chenoweth), and Iridessa (Raven-Symone.) Of course, she learns by the end that tinkers are important too and everyone needs to be who they are. It’s a great message, which is probably why it’s used in almost every children’s video and television program produced. I liked this idea when Bobby Brady climbed through Sam the Butcher’s meat locker window to show that little guys can be valuable, too. This is just another example and not a particularly clever one, so most adults will be bored.
They will also be bored by the computer animation. It’s bright and colorful and it looks like the reported $50 million budget was put to use, it’s but not particularly interesting and on some levels reminds me of those Barbie DVD’s that they churn out. Nothing here even approaches the level of Pixar’s animation magic, even though John Lasseter is listed as executive producer.. It’s more akin to Mickey’s House of Mouse and other television fare. If this were shown on the Disney Channel for free, it would probably be acceptable but when you are putting down cold, hard cash with a multiple choices it just comes across as a lesser effort.
We don’t rate DVDs based age groups but this is a perfectly acceptable and mediocre animated film for anyone under 9. For adults, or more accurately, for the whole family, it falls well below most theatrical animated releases, even lesser films like Space Chimps. It will likely only appeal to the very young in your household.
Tinker Bell had a lengthy and contentious trip to the screen. Intended as the centerpiece of the Disney Fairies product line of books and consumer merchandise, it’s also the kick-off of additional films that will take place in Pixie Hollow. John Lasseter reportedly hated the movie he was originally shown and forced changes that delayed release by more than a year and eventually led to the ouster of the Disney executive responsible. Although the history of the making of the movie sounds much more fascinating than the movie itself, it isn’t referred to at all in any of the extras included on the Tinker Bell DVD.
The collection of extras is geared directly at those younger children that are also the target market (and really the only market) for the film. The only things that might be of interest to an adult is the “Creating Pixie Hollow” featurette. It’s a ten minute making-of extra that includes Lasseter talking about how much he loves and was excited about this whole idea, which isn’t the story that most people have about his feelings with the project. I’m not expecting that they will air their dirty laundry in public, but it just goes to show that most of these making-of extras are more marketing fluff than anything else.
The disc also includes 12 minutes of deleted scenes. Since the movie was reportedly heavily re-worked after Lasseter came on board at Disney, the deleted scenes are unique among animated DVDs in that they are, well, animated. Most are left at the storyboard or animatic stage and make it to DVD in a rough format, but these are complete scenes that were simply tossed out when the plot of the movie changed. It’s weird, since you can’t reconcile what is happening with anything in the movie and the introductions by director Bradley Raymond and producer Jeannine Roussel are very short and not particularly helpful. Still, the fact that they are complete is nice.
The rest of the extras are fairly dull and will likely be skipped by parents altogether. The animated tour “Magical Guide to Pixie Hollow” shows the different areas of the fairies homeland. It is hosted by the Tinker Bell and Queen Clarion and doesn’t have much repeat value, even for the very young. There is also an odd segment called “Ever Wonder.” It isn’t set-up very well, but it shows animated fairies drawn into a real world doing all those things that fairies supposedly do (fix toys, put dew on spiderwebs, cause things to grow, etc.) There is no dialogue and while there is an obvious connection to the movie, it seems more like filler. The final extra is a game that can be played on your PC. Called “Tinker Trainer” it teaches kids how to become a tinker fairy.
Disney did spend a lot of money on this movie and it comes through crisp and sharp. The colors are fun and bold, but the animation is uninspired and the story is weak. It’s just not a very good movie for any but the youngest and families won’t want to sit around watching this together like they will when Wall-E is released in about a month.