Which is more surprising, that it took so long for Disney to make a Tinker Bell movie, or that one got made at all? The pixie, created by J.M. Barrie but repurposed as the Disney mascot soon after the release of their "Peter Pan" adaptation, has long been a top money maker for the studio, adorning all sorts of merchandise, most recently a new "Disney Fairies" line of products; in this sense, a Tinker Bell movie was inevitable. And yet anyone following the backstage rumors coming out of the Mouse House over the past two years will remember how new animation chief John Lasseter took one look at the work being put into such a film, deemed it "virtually unwatchable," and put a moratorium on the studio's entire line of direct-to-video sequels.
That moratorium has apparently since been lifted, and the drama surrounding the whole affair has been swept deep under the rug. At long last, Disney has released "Tinker Bell," the first in a string of CG-animated direct-to-video efforts following the adventures of Tink and her fairy pals.
It's difficult to look at the final product without wondering how much salvaging took place behind the scenes; would Disney have been better off just calling it a loss and scrapping the too-expensive project? Probably. "Tinker Bell" is a bland, soulless work, colorful and quaint enough to charm young viewers, but missing even the slightest bit of magic that would win over everyone else. Far from being worthy of "Peter Pan" (at least the underrated "Return to Never Land" was clever and enchanting), this one's barely worthy of other Disney DTV sequels. It feels like product, plain and simple, a cheap commercial tie-in with nice artwork.
The story acts as a sort of-prequel to "Peter Pan," with Tinker Bell being born in the opening scene. That is, she springs to life fully grown (and fully dressed), and is immediately assigned a profession-for-life: tinker. While she does love to fix things, she's not too thrilled with the job, since she'd rather be mingling with the higher-level fairies in preparing the world for Spring. Fairies, you see, are responsible for everything in nature, which is cute until you get to the part about how they have to paint the spots on every ladybug, which seems a vastly insufficient way to run an ecosystem. Yeah, but kids'll think it's cute, so there you go.
Tinker Bell (who now talks, a strange leap from those of us who grew up with a stubbornly silent Tink, but at least voice actress Mae Whitman does a fine job with the task) soon makes many friends, all of whom exist mainly so Disney can sell stuff with their faces on it. Even the most devoted of fans will be hard pressed to find much difference between these fairies beyond skin, hair, and dress color. They (and others) are voiced by several familiar names, including Raven-Symoné, Lucy Liu, Kristen Chenoweth, America Ferrera, Jane Horrocks, Angelica Huston, Kathy Najimy, and Jesse McCartney; that I didn't notice the identities of any of them until the credits rolled suggests the studio could've saved a couple million and hired someone else instead.
Anyway. Tinker Bell's clumsy curiosity eventually leads to a crisis where Spring itself may not come to be, but then Tinker Bell whips up some "Bug's Life"-esque gadgets that eventually save the day, and that's only a spoiler if you consider the flimsy string of episodes to be a story.
A few of the visual jokes are clever, but many more are not. Most of the script relies too heavily on the sheer cuteness of it all, as if the producers were expecting little girls to be too busy squeeing over the site of a fairy riding around on a field mouse to notice the absence of anything substantial.
The only saving grace is the animation, which includes some jaw-droppingly beautiful background work. This is a gorgeous film, what with all the lush forest greens filling nearly every frame. Even the main characters, which admittedly look as plastic as the dolls they're bound to become in time for the holiday shopping season, are sharply designed, elegantly bringing the old Tinker Bell look into the third dimension.
But fine animation alone cannot salvage an otherwise empty picture. The story is barely there, the scenes are rambling and pointless, the characters never deserve their franchise. Even the songs are generic filler, shallow bits of easy-listening fluff. "Tinker Bell" might not be "virtually unwatchable," but it sure is unmemorable.
Video & Audio
As mentioned, the look of "Tinker Bell" is brilliant, and there's not a flaw to be found in this 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer. Colors are vibrant, detail is sharp. The whole thing looks fantastic.
The soundtrack is presented in Dolby 5.1, with the surround speakers used surprisingly subtly, for a nice effect. Dialogue remains mostly up front, and is always spot-on clear. French and Spanish dubs, also in 5.1, are also included, as are optional English, French, and Spanish subtitles.
The "Magical Guide to Pixie Hollow" (1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen) is an interactive guide, featuring Whitman (as Tink) and Huston (as the fairy queen), that allows the viewer to click around the film's settings. Simple stuff, but kids might get a kick out of this sort of virtual tour.
"Ever Wonder" (3:59; 1.78:1 anamorphic) is an odd inclusion, feeling more like a promo for the film than a supplement. This live-action short film shows cartoon fairies bringing their pixie magic to our world, fixing broken wagons, making kites fly, that sort of thing. It's cute, for the most part.
A rather generic music video for "Fly to Your Heart" (3:15; 1.78:1 flat letterbox), performed by Selena Gomez, is your basic Disney DVD musical time waster.
The usual batch of Disney previews is also included; some of them play as the disc loads. The disc is also programmed with the "Disney FastPlay" option.
Finally, "Tinker Trainer" is a game accessible through your computer's DVD-Rom drive. The three-level game is surprisingly tough, relying on quick reflexes; it may put off younger players looking for a less complicated experience.
(The disc also includes a ten-minute making-of featurette and ten minutes of deleted scenes - but these are tucked away as Easter eggs, labeled on the packaging yet easily missed unless you know to hunt for them; not seeing them listed in the extras menu, I thought the DVD cover information was a misprint. They're ultimately decent pieces of making-of material. But really, why hide these and put blander bonus material right up front?)
"Tinker Bell" is disposable fluff - well-animated disposable fluff, but disposable fluff nonetheless. It's shallow and pointless, and mere hours after watching it, it's already mostly slipped from memory. The majority of you will do fine to ignore it all together, while parents looking for something innocuous to kill an hour or two should simply Rent It.