If imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, the story gurus as Disney must be tossing compliments right and left to their virtually patented trope of a heroine not at home in her own culture. As I watched the visually spectacular straight-to-video Tinkerbell, I half expected some of the fairies to be named Arielbell or Tinkermulan. What this first in what is proposed to be an ongoing "fairy series" from Disney may lack in the story department, however, it more than makes up for in a ravishing visual presentation that will delight kids and make some parents heave a sigh of relief that maybe that wad of cash they handed over for a PS3 or Blu-ray player was worth it.
Tinkerbell attempts to give the backstory of everyone's favorite little sprite. The film is interesting in that there's only the slightest passing reference to anyone in the original Peter Pan story. Instead we get Tink from her "birth" (such as it is for fairies), to her arrival at Pixie Hollow in Neverland, her discovery that her "special talent" is tinkering (which of course she isn't happy about), to several misadventures, to, of course, her realization that she's fine just as she is. This is most certainly not the impish mischief-maker of Peter Pan, and in fact there's only one brief moment where Tink really erupts into that angry demeanor that anyone who's seen Peter Pan will associate with the character. There are the equally patented goofy sidekicks (two male Tinkers, one of whom is voiced to sound like a certain large green DreamWorks ogre), a gaggle of female fairies who befriend Tink, and, of course, one sort of bad little sprite who does something she shouldn't and gets Tinkerbell in trouble for it. The basic plot surrounds the work of the fairies, who manage the seasonal changes in the "real world" (called the Mainland here), with Tinkerbell unhappy that her Tinker class doesn't get to visit the to her magical realm beyond that second star to the right. It's all pretty trite, tried and true, but younger kids especially will probably love Tinkerbell, if only for the resplendent visuals.
And, ah, what visuals! This CGI wonderland is full of some of the most gorgeous colors you've ever seen--beautiful shades of red, purple, green and gold that are magically combined to present an array of stunning vistas and beautifully detailed landscapes. If the character designs suffer more than a bit by comparison (all of the female fairies seem like some long forgotten line of Barbie dolls), there's so much to see here that younger eyes especially will be wide open with glee. I was a bit less impressed with the voice work, although Mae Whitman brings some native spunk to her Tinkerbell. Other, better known voice talent, like Kristin Chenoweth and Lucy Liu as Tink's fairy friends, or even the redoubtable Anjelica Huston as Queen Clarion, are either woefully underutilized (as in the case of the fairies) or strangely unemotive (as in the case of Huston, who perhaps was going for regal detachment).
Aurally the best thing Tinkerbell has going for it is the Celtic inspired score of Joel McNeely, full of glorious quasi-reels and jigs, with some evocative instrumentation. This subtle reminder that fairies were originally a Celtic cum Irish "tribe" is reinforced with the narration and song by Celtic superstar Loreena McKennitt.
Tinkerbell's creative crew will need to beef up the story aspect if this series is ever to seriously take wing (no pun intended). There's an obvious setup for a romance toward the end of the film, as well as the brief introduction of one character from Peter Pan (as mentioned above), but some of these stereotypical Disney plot points really should be rethought--this is, after all, a magical realm where anything can happen, and revisiting a basic storyline that's been recycled in one form or another through various Disney features is more than a little disappointing.