It has been 104 years since Sir J.M. Barrie wrote the play “Peter Pan, or The Boy Who Wouldn’t Grow Up,” and 55 years since the Disney film adaptation of Peter Pan. Who would have guessed that Peter’s plucky fairy pal Tinker Bell would have become such a beloved character in the intervening decades? In the 60s she became synonymous with Walt Disney, darting in with her magic wand to sprinkle fairy dust on the TV titles for The Wonderful World of Color every Sunday night. Given her popularity, it was inevitable that a whole Disney franchise would spring up around Tink, including two novels by “Ella Enchanted” author Gail Carson Levine, a Pixie Hollow meet-and-greet area in Disneyland, the new Tinker Bell magazine, the social networking website pixiehollow.com, tons of merchandise, and now a new direct-to-DVD animated movie entitled “Tinker Bell.”
While the movie cannot hope to reach the heights of Barrie’s original masterpiece, it’s definitely worth seeing, whether you are a rabid Tinker Bell fanatic or simply curious about fairies and how they get their work done. Yes, while “Peter Pan” was all about play — about escaping the humdrum responsibilities of family and work and getting lost with the lost boys and Indians and pirates and mermaids of Neverland — “Tinker Bell” is all about working: who ought to do what job, whether natural talent is a blessing or curse, and why a string of spectacular failures might be your best path to success.
From the moment Tinker Bell is called into life by the laugh of a newborn baby, she is expected to discover her talent and get right to work. This is not a refutation of Barrie’s original concept for the character — a “tink” is slang for a tinker or silversmith. Peter says that Tink was “a quite common fairy … She is called Tinker Bell because she mends the pots and kettles.”
Sir Barrie saw Tink as a bit of a drudge … but how do you make an interesting story about a magical drudge?
Perhaps it’s not that odd today, in a world where parents push their children to achieve, excel and succeed in every activity they try. Maybe a kid’s movie about work is more in step with the times, rather than Barrie’s old vision of a boy who wouldn’t grow up. Or perhaps it’s an old world/new world thing. Now that Tink is finally speaking, her voice is unquestionably American, without a trace of an English accent. Interestingly, the other tinker fairies have Irish, Scottish or working-class British accents — and are mostly content with their lot in life.
Pixie Hollow has a simple system of discovering a fairy’s talent, and once her talent is known, she’s expected to labor away in her speciality for the rest of her born days. This system works fine for most of the fairies, but for Tink it’s awful. She dreams of visiting the “Mainland,” the mysterious source of the shiny “lost things” she finds so fascinating. Tinker fairies, however, are not needed on the Mainland. Tinkers support the other kinds of fairies, who travel to the Mainland periodically to do the important work that comes with the changing of the seasons. As a tinker, Tink is expected to build everyday fairy items, like hundreds of identical acorn kettles. She tries to transcend her job description by inventing some clever labor saving devices, but her inventions backfire and she’s soon back on kettle duty again.
Undeterred by her failure, Tink turns to her new friends in the ethnically-diverse Disney Fairies franchise: Fawn the animal fairy, Iridessa the light fairy, Rosetta the garden fairy (voiced by Kristin Chenoweth), and Silvermist the water fairy (voiced by the omnipresent Lucy Liu). Each of these fairies takes her turn at teaching Tink her particular talent. I think the scene with Iridessa would have amused Sir Barrie greatly, since he dreamt up the business of Peter Pan losing his shadow, and Tink was originally portrayed onstage as a beam of light directed by a hand mirror.
Predictably, Tink makes a total mess of things as a nature fairy, and Rosetta backs out of trying to teach her to be a garden fairy. With no one else to turn to, she seeks out Vidia, the fast-flying bad-girl of Pixie Hollow, who convinces her to try and corral the sprinting thistles. A funny western-style roundup scene follows, where Tink chases the thistles on the back of a mouse. But she is undermined by Vidia and the resulting thistle stampede destroys all the fairies’ preparations for Spring. Will Spring be cancelled?
In the face of a crisis, the limitations of the whole fairy system of specialization becomes obvious … how can a bunch of specialists work together as a team? What’s needed is someone who’s familiar with everyone’s job, and is smart enough to figure out a way to do that job more quickly in order to meet the deadline. Luckily there is one fairy who fits the bill, she just happens to be the star of the show, and she gets to save the day. My favorite of Tink’s inventions is a nut-gathering machine made from a glove, a harmonica and the bulb from a perfume bottle.
There’s a beautiful little scene earlier on where Tink rebuilds a toy music box from lost things she’s found washed up on the shore, and now her job description transforms once again, from inventor to finder-of-lost-things. Queen Clarion (voiced by Anjelica Huston) decrees that Tink and her fellow tinker fairies should go to the Mainland to return the music box to its proper owner.
The ending scene has the most beautifully lyrical animation of the movie (indeed, some of the prettiest 3D animation I’ve seen in any movie), as doves and fairies fly to the Mainland to spread Spring upon a wintry London scene, and then Tink returns the music box to a certain little girl we may remember from a story told long ago.
Loreena McKennitt, whose ethereal voice has given more goosebumps than there are stars in the sky, sings the lovely “To The Fairies They Draw Near,” and narrates a few lines of verse at the opening and closing of the film. There’s also some very nice celtic instrumental music throughout the movie, which unfortunately does not seem to be included on the soundtrack CD. There are also one or two forgettable Disney-style songs.
While the movie has no great characters like the hilariously foppish Captain Hook, no brilliant metaphors like the crocodile with the clock in its belly, and no heartfelt pleas to believe in order to cure Tink of a deadly dose of poison, “Tinker Bell” definitely has its moments. And while the quality of the character animation is unspectacular, and the dialog doesn’t sparkle much and most of the jokes are rather familiar, the movie does dare to cover new ground with its surprising multifaceted theme of finding meaningful and satisfying work. If that’s too intellectual for you, you can probably still enjoy the scenes of Tink tinkering with the lost music box, and showing off her inventions. And if that’s not enough for you, the Loreena McKennitt song is still worthy of your attention.