Monday, May 11, 2015

Tink Week: Day One

I remember when cartoons for girls were atrocious.  I had a younger sister (still do, in fact), and so while I'd get to watch some of the shows I thought were cool like G.I. Joe, He-Man, and James Bond, Jr. (I never said I had good taste), I also had to sit through programs like Jem, She-Ra, Pound Puppies, and others that, looking back on now, were much, much worse than I remembered them being at the time.

Then again, I didn't mind Orko way back in the day, and that opinion's sure changed.

But here's what I remembered, even then: the stories in cartoons "for girls" just weren't as good as the stories for boys.  Sure, the Care Bears might fight something evil at the end, but instead of stepping up, being brave, and defeating evil, the story would end after the bad guy hurt someone and got sad.  The characters were more interesting in cartoons for boys, and heaven knows cartoons for boys had better animation more often than not.  Don't get me started on the absolutely ridiculous songs that were in every girl cartoon.

The exception to the rule was Disney, which kept putting out movies that had all-star talent working on voices, animation, and stories.  I may not have been a big fan of The Little Mermaid when it first came out (I was completely offended that the prince's name had to be "Eric" because ew, fish women) but even I had to admit it was pretty amazing to watch.

In 2005, Disney announced an intent to publish books based on Tinker Bell, aka "that selfish fairy that tried to murder Wendy Darling" aka "that one Disney character that shows up on t-shirts typically worn by women way too old to be wearing Disney character t-shirts all the time."  The shirts also always have a quote involving some variation of "I have attitude."  I've come to hate those shirts.  They're wearable memes.

Having kept an eye on how Disney progressed through the years, I found myself becoming depressed.  Disney was on a spiral downwards with regular "direct-to-DVD" sequels to movies that didn't need them, and now they were taking this one character from Peter Pan and trying to milk it for even more money.  It was even extremely politically correct, with her friends covering the entire spectrum of skin colors.

In 2008, they put out a Tinker Bell movie, with an even more "politically correct" blend of characters, and I honestly couldn't have cared less.  It was film-making by committee, and I was sure it was going to be the most bland, vapid, insulting to everybody's intelligence thing to come out since...well, since that first link I shared before talking about animation quality.

Years went by, and I remained vaguely aware that more movies came out, but I didn't care.  Fairies were for little girls and were dumb.  There were no good stories there.  There was nothing there to try to teach real lessons beyond "friendship is the bestest!" and "let's avoid all conflicts!"  It's entirely possible I was projecting how much I hated certain cartoons from my childhood onto this show.

Then, some time ago, someone who saw me review the first season of My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic tried to convince me to give the movies a look as another example of how animation for girls has improved.

"You can't be serious," was my response.

"Well," he replied, "answer me this.  What would you think of a movie that had the following actors and actresses doing character voices: Mae Whitman (Scott Pilgrim vs. The World, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles), Kristin Chenoweth (mentioned previously here), Lucy Liu (you know who she is), Raven Simone (yes, that kid from the Cosby Show), America Ferrera (Ugly Betty), Anjelica Huston, Pamela Adlon (Bobby's World, Californication, King of the Hill), Jeff Bennett (so many voices) and Rob Paulsen (one of my acting heroes)."

"I have to admit, that's a really impressive cast," I replied.

"Now imagine stories about seasons being thrown into chaos, adventures to recover lost treasure to save a kingdom, sword fights against pirates, and the day regularly being saved with science."

"Wait, science?  Not magic?  Aren't pixies magical?"

"Well, sometimes magic saves the day, other times it's straight up science."

"...go on."

And thus, I found myself muttering about how I keep putting off reviewing the Blade movie franchise and sitting down to watch some movies about fairies.

So here's the thing.  From a purely neutral perspective, looking at the stories being told, the quality of the voice acting, the humor, the character growth and development, and the animation...

These movies are pretty darn good.

So I started digging deeper.  It turns out the original books done in 2005 were started by Gail Carson Levine, a huge fan of J. M. Barrie fan (who created Tinker Bell and Peter Pan way back in the day) and originally wrote the novel Ella Enchanted.   Gail created an entire society for fairies where every fairy has its role that's selected for them at "birth," they stick to that role for their entire lives, there's no real worries about money or trade, and they're ruled over by one all-powerful queen who (almost) nobody questions.

That's right, they're Communists.  But adorable.

The books, from my understanding (I can't bring myself to flip through one at any bookstores without feeling way too out of place) don't even really feature Tinker Bell, instead focusing on other fairies, keeping Tinker Bell as a supporting character.  They have a few similar story lines to the movies, but many are their own stories that flesh out characters even further.  Certain characters in the books barely show up in the movies at all, as the movies tend to be more Tinker Bell-focused with her select group of friends.

Apparently there was already a more standard animation (the "2D" style) film in the works when John Lasseter and Ed Catmull arrived from Pixar to take over the studio in 2007.  However, reports state that, even though the movie was close to completion, John Lasseter thought it was "borderline unwatchable" and demanded they start over.  The age of churning out endless sequels was over, they were going to do "fewer, higher quality movies."  Strange fact, apparently Brittany Murphy was originally voicing Tinker Bell before the remake happened.

What's really interesting is the fact that while the movies go straight to DVD in the United States, they're actually aired in theaters globally.  As of 2014, when The Pirate Fairy was set to come out, the Tinker Bell franchise had earned Disney $330 million dollars.

To put that in perspective, the Disney Buddies franchise (you know, those dog movies) had earned $220 million for their first twelve titles.  DC Comics and Warner Brothers have earned a bit more than $100 million for their first 19 films.

Tinker Bell and her fairy friends, as of 2014, had only four movies, and was worth as much as those two franchises put together.

Later films have brought on other extremely impressive voice acting talent.  Timothy Dalton appeared in The Secret Of The Wings, and Christina Hendricks and Tom Hiddleston (Loki, anyone?) show up in The Pirate Fairy.

Executives at Disney state that a majority of the feedback that the studio gets is since each fairy has a unique still and talent they're good at, a lot of girls look at them the same way boys do superheroes.  Each one is unique and special and able to do amazing things with their gift.  Having watched the films, I can understand that (especially in The Pirate Fairy when talents actually become equivalent of full-on powers).

All in all, I'm going to say I'm incredibly impressed by these films.  One of the first things I said about My Little Pony was that it was "better than it needed to be," but these films are actually just extremely well made.  I'm going to spend the rest of this week (and, depending on how long each article gets, possibly part of next week) breaking the movies down into simple reviews (no scene-by-scene stuff here) to see what works, what doesn't, and what I, a non-professional who just really likes cartoons and movies, might have suggested to make things better.

Also, if anybody can think of a better name of this week than "Tink Week" I'll happily change the title.

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