Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Tink Week: Day Two

So yesterday I quoted Peggy Holmes, the director of Secret of the Wings and The Pirate Fairy when she talked about why audiences love Tinker Bell and the other fairies.  The full quote from the Hollywood Reporter article is, "What we've heard from our audiences is that they love the fairies because they have power and talents.  The fairies are superheroes to them."

Looking back at the films, I see it.  Whether it's something "mundane" like being able to grow flowers or something a bit more "action-y" like controlling water like you fell out of Avatar: The Last Airbender, controlling light, talking to animals, or, well, Tinker Bell's gift, it's still something that makes you special and unique.

And, like all superhero stories, you always start with the origin even if it has already been told several hundred times across all media so that people can get to know your character.

Hence, our first movie.

Now, I could say that the animation doesn't really hold up compared to later films in the series, but that's like complaining that Snow White doesn't match up, animation-wise, with Beauty and the Beast.  Even in the space of a single year, animation talents and technology increase by magnitudes.  But let's look at the story itself.

The story of Tinker Bell is rather basic: a new fairy arrives, finds out what her talent is, and learns that every talent is special in its own way.  But that's really dumbing it down.  I'll go into a bit more detail.

A baby's first laugh gets carried to Pixie Hollow on a seed from a dandelion.  Upon arrival, it gives birth to Tinker Bell (voiced by Mae Whitman) as a fully grown adult-ish figure (there are characters presented as being older, so she's not a "child" but she's still young).  At the same ceremony where she's born, she also gets to learn what her "talent" is (a series of objects, one of which reacts when she touches it) after which she's named "Tinker Bell" once she gets assigned to be a tinker fairy along with Clank and Bobble (voiced by Jeff Bennett and Rob Paulsen).

She also gets to meet and make friends with a bunch of fairies with significantly different powers.  Silvermist (played by Lucy Liu) has water control powers, Iridessa (voiced by Raven-Symone) can touch and control light, Rosetta (voiced by Kristin Chenoweth) can help flowers grow with magic, and Fawn (voiced by "huge now but soon to never be seen again actress" America Ferrera) helps and communicates with animals.  Tinker Bell is upset, thinking that her power is considerably worse than all of theirs, particularly since Tinker Bell takes a huge interest in "lost things" that wash up on the shores of the island they live on, and eventually learns that while other types of fairies get to visit the mainland to help with seasons changing, tinkers don't.

Clockwise from the top: Tinker Bell, Iridessa, Fawn, Rosetta, Silvermist

She also meets up with a Vidia, a "fast flying fairy" (read: wind abilities) who is tall, dark, and snarky and fully believes she's superior to someone who makes "pots and pans."  I'm just going to put this out there now, Vidia, through all the films, shorts, and stuff I've read about what happens in the books, is my favorite character from this series.  But we'll get into that more later.

Pictured: Cordelia Chase with wings.
Tinker Bell attempts to swap out her talent for another one with the help of her friends, leading to some rather wacky hijinks and misadventures.  Vidia becomes an antagonist for Tinker Bell, never liking the new fairy and feeling humiliated after Tinker Bell embarrasses her after accidentally luring a hawk to where Vidia was hiding.  Vidia winds up leading Tinker Bell to take on a challenge too big for her to handle, and the chaos caused by this sets up a huge problem where all of the plans for the changing of the seasons from winter to spring are ruined ("Certainly this has happened before?" "It has, did you ever hear of the ice age?").  However, by accepting who she is, Tinker Bell is able to turn into the Tony Stark of fairies, building gadgets and saving the day.

The Good:

It's a cute movie, and it does something that a lot of the best children's movies have learned: have an imperfect lead character.  While Tinker Bell isn't anywhere near as murderous in this as she was in Peter Pan, she is extremely quick to anger and lets that control her actions often.  She's impulsive, often acts before she thinks, and gets jealous pretty quickly when she thinks someone has it better than her.

The supporting cast is also pretty great, and while we really only get their personalities fleshed out later (again, it's coming), there are some hints here.  Rosetta is a southern belle to the end, Iridessa is a worrier, Fawn is a bit of a goofy tomboy, and Silvermist is sweet to a fault (when Tinker Bell learns she's a tinker, Silvermist gives this adorable little sad smile from disappointment that they won't be working together).  There are a few hints that Silvermist might not be as bright as the other fairies (after a mouse-drawn cart Tinker Bell is riding crashes, Fawn calms down the mouse with a stroke on the nose and some soothing words, Silvermist repeats the action and words with Tinker Bell), there isn't really enough time to build it up more here.  Clank and Bobble are also both great personalities, enhanced a lot by the fact they have two well-established professional voice actors handling the roles.

I also really loved the way they incorporated "human-sized" ideas to the fairies.  Not just in how "lost things" were utilized to create entirely new devices, but also just simple things, like Bobble's glasses containing large droplets of water to magnify what he sees.

Pictured: clever design.
One thing that I know drives some people nuts is when the "ethnic minority" characters are absolutely perfect without flaws (see: Captain Planet), so when I initially saw this "diverse" cast of characters when the Disney Fairy franchise was announced, I figured it would be more of the same.  However, it's really not the case, and I think it adds so many more layers to the characters that they wouldn't have if Disney was afraid of portraying someone as "not perfect."

I also want to commend the series for taking possibly the most magical of Disney female characters (they're flying magic dust generators that let other people fly) and turning her into a HUGE science nerd.  Tinker Bell essentially rebuilds a rather complex device from scratch, manually repairing pieces that she's only ever seen for the first time that day.  Everybody knows that Tinker Bell is popular, so to turn her into a character that might help encourage girls that it's also okay to be interested in science, engineering, and math is great.

The Bad:

While I have no complaints with a majority of the fairy designs (Silvermist is adorable beyond words, Rosetta's the living embodiment of Hartman Hips, Fawn is the ultimate tomboy fairy, and Tinker Bell is Tinker Bell), I do feel underwhelmed by Iridessa.  There's a classic test in character design where you try to figure out if you can tell who or what a character is (or keep it interesting) based solely on the silhouette, and I think Iridessa fails that.  The others have long hair, or a braid, or a ponytail, or something distinctive about their clothes, while Iridessa is just...this girl.  In a yellow dress.  That's it.

I just think a bit more thought could have been put into it.

However, they also made her a worrier, and if they had given her a more assertive personality trait than "official team coward/worrywart" I might have been more forgiving.  Something to make us like her, not just go "oh, look, she's nervous again."

Again, the animation doesn't really hold up as well as the later films, but that's a minor issue.  There are a lot of questions that never get answered (Why are plants walking around? How does this class system work?), but I suspect most children would never think about them.


When I sat down to watch these, I really wasn't expecting much beyond perhaps a chance to rant at how terrible it was that Disney was perpetuating the "we're girls, so let's act like girls and only do things we know girls do" stereotype at the same time they were bringing out films like Brave, Tangled, and Frozen.  Imagine my surprise when I wind up not only thinking "hey, this is pretty good" but also laughing at genuinely funny scenes, feeling sad when things are sad, and being impressed at the overall craftsmanship of a short Disney movie designed for kids.

The movies do get stronger, overall, but as an introduction to a world full of interesting characters, great locations, and lots of story idea potential, this serves its purpose quite well.

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