Disney // 2008 // 78 Minutes // Rated G
Reviewed by Judge Dan Mancini (Retired) // January 14th, 2009
Enter the world of fairies.
From her debut in 1953's Peter Pan to her iconic stint in the opening credits of The Wonderful World of Disney in the 1960s and '70s, the blond, curvaceous, leafy miniskirt-wearing fairy named Tinker Bell has become one of the most recognizable of Disney's animated female characters, standing shoulder-to-shoulder with the likes of Snow White, Cinderella, and Minnie Mouse. It's no surprise, then, that Disney would turn to Tink in order to launch their "World of Fairies" line of computer animated direct-to-video features (based on Disney's "Tales of Pixie Hollow" chapter book series). An origin story for Peter Pan's ornery and mischievous sidekick 55 years after the fact sounds like a monumentally bad idea, but Tinker Bell is a surprisingly top-notch production on all fronts.
"The first time a baby laughs, a fairy takes flight," we're told at the beginning of Tinker Bell. And so it is that an impish blonde fairy comes to life in Pixie Hollow. From this land of wonder and magic, the nature fairies do the high-profile work of changing the seasons on the mainland where humans reside. But our heroine is assigned to the army of tinkers, who do the less glamorous work of building and maintaining the magical gadgets that help the nature fairies do what they do. Worse yet, curious and adventurous Tinker Bell (Mae Whitman, Arrested Development) learns that the tinkers are never allowed to visit the mainland. With the help of her new friends Silvermist (Lucy Liu, Charlie's Angels), Rosetta (Kristin Chenoweth, Pushing Daisies), Fawn (America Ferrera, Ugly Betty), and Iridessa (Raven-Symoné, Cheetah Girls), Tink tries to prove that she can be a nature fairy worthy of seasonal trips to the world outside Pixie Hollow. Her earnest efforts to suppress her own talents and be something she isn't fail miserably. But when a vindictive fast-flying fairy named Vidia (Pamela Adlon) plays on Tinker Bell's naïveté in order to humiliate her, the coming of spring is accidentally put in jeopardy. Tinker Bell and tinker fairies Bobble (Rob Paulsen, Pinky and the Brain) and Clank (Jeff Bennett, Curious George) must use all of their ingenuity to save the season.
Watching Tinker Bell, it's clear from the get-go that director Bradley Raymond and screenwriter Jeffrey M. Howard love Disney's screen adaptation of J.M. Barrie's Peter Pan. Tinker Bell is respectful of the animated classic, while also expanding the world and fleshing out the character of its heroine. The way that Tinker Bell bucks against the expectations placed on her by Pixie Hollow society is in perfect keeping with the sassy, playful, and sometimes petulant character from Peter Pan. Her knack for redeeming lost trinkets and abandoned baubles (a key plot element in Tinker Bell) is a touching nod to her future fondness for a certain ragtag group of lost boys.
But the movie has more going for it than a respect for the classic source material upon which it is based. Tinker Bell's story of personal discovery and the importance of being true to oneself is couched in a steady stream of fluid and fast-paced animation. The movie finds a satisfying ebb and flow between action sequences like a stampede of malevolent weeds and perfectly timed slapstick that highlights Tinker Bell's klutzy and impetuous side. Tinker Bell's world of fairies may be custom-made for young girls, but there's plenty of energy and silliness to appeal to young boys, too (provided they can put aside the stigma of watching a movie about fairies).
Though the voice cast contains recognizable names like Lucy Liu, America Ferrera, and Anjelica Huston (as Pixie Hollow's Queen Clarion), the show doesn't stoop to trading on their stardom with cheap nods to popular culture. Each actor delivers an earnest performance without a trace of self-consciousness. Rob Paulsen and Jeff Bennett provide genuine laughs as the oddball tinkers Bobble and Clank without ever straying into grating comedy. Mae Whitman's voice lends Tinker Bell just the right mix of enthusiasm and innocence, though the fact that she speaks at all is incongruous (it would have been difficult, if not impossible, to develop Tink as a character while keeping her silent as she is in Peter Pan, but there's still something odd about the character speaking).
I'm sure Tinker Bell looks great on DVD, but its CG source thrives in high definition. Pixie Hollow's flora, fauna, and fairy architecture are rendered in sharp and subtle detail. The characters are also highly detailed, with fluid movements and pliable, expressive faces. Most importantly, the 3D rendering of Tinker Bell is entirely faithful to the original 2D character design. The Blu-ray's 1080p transfer presents the film at the 1.78:1 aspect ratio. Colors sparkle. There isn't a digital artifact to be found. From their Pixar releases to the dazzling Platinum Edition of Sleeping Beauty, Disney is consistently churning out some of the best high definition transfers of any of the major studios. Tinker Bell maintains their excellent track record. The transfer is especially impressive considering it isn't a theatrical feature.
The uncompressed Dolby 5.1 surround audio mix is nearly as impressive as the image. Music, dialogue, and effects are pristine. A broad dynamic range showcases lots of subtle detail without the various elements having to compete with one another. Directional panning is minimal, but the entire soundstage is used creatively to give Pixie Hollow an immersive feel.
All of the supplemental material from the DVD release is included on the Blu-ray. "Creating Pixie Hollow" is a fluffy, mildly informative 10-minute making-of featurette. There are a half-dozen deleted scenes. "Magical Guide to Pixie Hollow" is an interactive map of Tinker Bell's home, an enchanted place whose quadrants simultaneously represent the four seasons. "Tinker Trainer" is another interactive featurette that allows young kids to try their hands at a little virtual tinkering. There's also a music video for "Fly Your Heart Away," performed by Selena Gomez of the Disney Channel's The Wizards of Waverly Place. As with all Disney releases, there are a host of previews for other titles, including the next in the "World of Fairies" series, Tinker Bell and the Lost Treasure.
With the exception of BD-Live capabilities, there are no HD exclusives on the disc. That's about the only thing disappointing about this release.
Given its pedigree as a direct-to-video prequel to one of Disney's classic animated features, Tinker Bell should be forgettable pap. Instead, it's a charming little movie that respects Peter Pan while presenting a rich world all its own.
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Scales of Justice
* 1.78:1 Non-Anamorphic (1080p Widescreen)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
* PCM 2.0 Stereo (English)
* English (SDH)
Running Time: 78 Minutes
Release Year: 2008
MPAA Rating: Rated G
* Deleted Scenes
* Music Video