The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pixies: (l. to r.) Silvermist, Fawn, Iridessa, Tinker Bell and Rosetta
Tinker Bell (2008)
Starring the voices of Mae Whitman, America Ferrera, Raven-Symone, Kristin Chenoweth, Lucy Liu and Anjelica Huston
Directed by Bradley Raymond
Since you were wondering, Tinker Bell does talk. Really. And the first thing she says is:
It's rare that a direct-to-DVD Disney release comes with any real anticipation, but "Tinker Bell," hitting stores October 28th, comes with plenty. Production was delayed nearly two years so creative guru John Lasseter could overhaul a reportedly troubled film and Brittany Murphy, announced with much Disney fanfare as the first voice of Tinker Bell, was quietly replaced mid-production by Mae Whitman (the official reason given was a "scheduling conflict" with Murphy). Add to that an exclusive theatrical engagement at the El Capitan, sneak preview showings at Disneyland and an already highly-visible Disney Fairies franchise, and you significantly raise expectations for what would otherwise be just another Disney cash-cow kids' release.
Having now seen the DVD, I only have one question:
We waited two years for this?
Don't get me wrong, "Tinker Bell" isn't a bad film--Lasseter's influences for the good can be seen everywhere--but the overall result is, well, ordinary. It's kid-friendly (especially for young girls), and carries the positive be-true-to-yourself message that's bread-and-butter Disney, but it never really transcends the lower expectations we have for direct-to-DVD movies. It's a pixie-dusted Nana earthbound by her leash.
"Tinker Bell" takes us back to the title pixie's origins as she's born from a baby's laughter (a nod to J. M. Barrie's original "Peter Pan") and whisked away as a dandelion to Neverland. On the way are de rigueur visual references to Disney's "Pan" (Look! Aren't those the dormer windows of the Darling house? And isn't that Hook's ship floating on the Thames?) including an aerial approach to Neverland that's quite lovely in CG animation.
Tinker Bell is presented before the fairies of Pixie Hollow, the secret place in Neverland where all the magic of nature originates (and although there are some boys in Pixie Hollow, it's curious to note that most fairies appear to be born as fully-developed teenage girls). Every fairy is born with a special talent. Tink soon discovers hers is tinkering--she can build and fix things--but she quickly concludes that her calling isn't nearly as exciting as being a nature fairy and traveling to the mainland (read: Earth) to make the seasons change.
Frustrated with (to her) a boring, unimportant talent, Tink endeavors to learn the talents of her nature fairy friends Fawn (Ferrera), Iridessa (Symone), Rosetta (Chenoweth) and Silvermist (Liu) with disastrous results--results that could cancel the start of spring.
Will spring be saved? Will Tinker Bell learn to embrace her natural talent? Will John Lasseter ever wear anything other than a button-down print shirt for a bonus feature interview? I think you already know the answers.*
What ultimately keeps "Tinker Bell" grounded is its predictability and blatent product placement (even by Disney standards). There are (at least) three more Disney Fairies installments to come, but don't expect any surprises here, kids. Each installment is going to be about happy endings and lessons learned--and don't forget to visit DisneyFairies.com.
I'm a tad older than "Tinker Bell's" target audience, but, considering the talent involved, was it wrong for me to ask for a little bit more?
*Yes, yes and probably not.