These films get their own section because there are a whole lot of ‘em. After John Lasseter shut down production on the many direct-to-video sequels, satellite studio DisneyToons was tasked with creating films for the Planes series (a spinoff of Cars) and the Disney Fairies franchise, a spinoff of Peter Pan exploring the fairy world that Tinker Bell originally came from. The franchise was marketed similar to the Disney Princess franchise (with the same target demographic), with dolls, books, a meet-and-greet section in the Disney parks, and a film series released between 2008 and 2014. Future sequels were cancelled because they weren’t making quite enough money on DVD sales – I figure it was a case of market oversaturation. I’m not exactly the target demographic so I’m merely ambivalent about these films, but I can tell you one thing – if I were 20 years younger, I would have LOVED THE SHIT OUT OF THESE MOVIES.
[This review has been moved over from previously being listed under Part VIII, and I unintentionally repeated myself a bit when introducing the franchise. Whoopsie.]
As of the Disney-Pixar merger, production was halted on the (many) planned direct-to-video sequels. Instead, from now on, DisneyToon Studios would be solely producing the Planes spinoff films, and the Disney Fairies franchise. I guess there are worse things you could be employed for. So Tinker Bell is the first of a spinoff prequel series about Tinker Bell’s life before she met Peter Pan, which explores the place of her birth, called Pixie Hollow. There are apparently 6 movies so far, a bunch of books, their own section in the Disney Parks…whew. When Disney launches a marketing scheme, they really know how to push it. I confess I’m not particularly well versed in this universe, but I suppose as I watch the films I’ll understand things more.
- There was a distinct Celtic flavour in the instrumental and vocal music, which I really appreciated as A: Much of the accepted Western lore about Fairies is based in Celtic mythology and B: ‘Tis the song of my people! There were lots of fiddles and flutes in the music, which gave the film both a whimsical and a bittersweet tone. It really worked well as a part of the world building of Pixie Hollow too. The very pretty vocal music was non-diegetic, so there wasn’t any singing of feelings or anything. Which is slightly disappointing, as Kristen Chenoweth is in the voice cast. One minor problem that the setting/music caused is that the Fairies don’t really have consistent accents, and there’s no explained reason why. But Disney never really pays attention to that sort of thing.
- The only reason this franchise has anything to do with Peter Pan is because of cynical marketing tactics going on a name recognition basis. There is basically nothing, beyond a few tiny references here and there, that has anything to do with the original film. Tinker Bell herself is an entirely different character – there’s none of that vindictive, jealous behaviour (that was perhaps a result of sexist attitudes in the 50s). Instead she’s clumsy, unhappy with the job she was born to do, and socially awkward. She’s ultimately a nice person here, which, uh, is not what I think of when I think of Tinker Bell. In Peter Pan, you got the distinct impression that Peter was the only person in the world that she loved, let alone respected. Well…she’s trying very hard to fit in with Pixie Hollow, so…she might as well be an entirely different character. The Disney Fairies series really could have stood on its own as an original story instead of a very loose spinoff.
- [Edit: As explained in the comments below, Tinker Bell’s wild personality divergences actually come from J.M. Barrie’s original description of fairies as being so small, they can only be all good or all bad at one time. Which is a much more comforting thought!]
See Also: Peter Pan, Return to Never Land
[I’ll just use the sequels’ intro sections to do a quick plot summary.]
For the Autumn season, the Tinker Fairies (who specialize in fixing and inventing things) have been chosen to create a sceptre for a special Moonstone that, when it catches a particular full moon that occurs every 8 years, creates blue pixie dust that revitalizes the magic Pixie Dust Tree that gives the fairies their flying powers. The sceptre design job has been given to Tinker Bell, whose friend Terence tries so hard to be helpful that she loses her temper and shatters the Moonstone. She then goes on a quest to find a magic mirror that grants wishes. Hilarity ensues.
- I really like the Moonstone. It’s absolutely beautifully animated, and while I can’t quite figure out the connection between Moonstones and Autumn (Harvest Moons, I guess?) I just liked looking at the shiny anyway. I am quite biased in this respect, as I wear a Moonstone ring every day. The film’s Moonstone looked realistic, but also believably magical. I also have to say that although I will never be a fan of Tinker Bell as a character, she was written a lot more like how I knew her – with her having an explosive temper (and a face that turns red when she’s about to blow).
- I was led to believe that the Disney Fairies movies would be a lot more of an ensemble storyline rather than focusing exclusively on Tinker Bell. The other films rectified this problem, but I was really annoyed at how I still barely knew anything about Tink’s friends (besides the boring Terence). They might as well have not been in this movie. Her friends are replaced in this story by an annoying firefly called Blaze, who basically adds nothing. Give me elemental shiny fairies, Disney!
Tinker Bell ventures a bit too close to a human household whose occupants are an overworked entomologist (more specifically a lepidopterist, as he specializes in studying butterflies – I taught you a new word today!) named Dr. Griffiths, and his young daughter Lizzy, a dreamer who is fascinated by fairies. Tink gets caught in the ‘fairy house’ that Lizzy constructs and thus her friends have to mount a rescue to find her. Peril ensues.
- I quite liked Lizzy, who was a decently well developed character. She clearly takes after her father through her inquisitive and curious nature. She also has his unfortunate trait of obsessing over one specific subject. But she also sets herself apart from him because she’s still innocent & not cynical. She was really cute and likeable, and it was touching how badly she wanted to please her father, and how much her friendship with Tinker Bell meant to her (since there were no other children around).
- This movie has the worst anti-science bias I’ve ever seen short of a creationist documentary. The plot is astoundingly critical of Dr. Griffiths’ workaholic nature, firm belief in empirical evidence over imagination and fairy tales, and basically treats him like he’s a serial killer for having pinned butterfly samples. Yeah, the whole magical fairies thing is going to be naturally at odds with someone who is more concerned with the ‘real world,’ but to basically make Dr. Griffiths out to be wrong in everything he thinks and does is a particularly silly message to teach children considering that fairies indeed are not real. (Did anyone else hear a tiny body hitting the carpet just now?) And while I’ve never been entirely comfortable with pinned butterflies, how else are scientists supposed to closely study them?
Pixie Hollow Bake-Off (2013)
Both of these are short films – Pixie Hollow Games is a half-hour TV special and Pixie Hollow Bake-Off is a 6-minute short film, so I’m reviewing them both here. Because neither film is feature length, I don’t have a lot to say. PHG is basically the “Fairy Olympics” and focuses on Rosetta, a garden fairy who hates getting dirty and doesn’t have any confidence that the garden fairies can possibly win the Games. PHBO is…basically what it says it is. A fairy-fied parody of those ubiquitous baking reality shows.
- PHG: I liked how the ‘antagonists,’ the Storm Fairies, were written. Rumble is pretty funny with his Elmo-like speech of referring to himself in the third person, and Glimmer was surprisingly nuanced. She wasn’t a one-dimensional villain, but an actual athlete who wanted to win fairly and legitimately.
- PHBO: Tink and her friends made an extremely elaborate and unusual looking cake to contrast with the Baking Fairies’ boring white tiered cake. That was relatively fun on its own, but I enjoyed the twist ending that the fairies forgot to make the batter taste good, so they lost the competition anyway. The film series is so reliant on its narrative conventions and cliches, it was actually nice to see something different.
- PHG: Some of those games seemed to be incredibly biased towards one fairy type’s particular ability. I’m trying to figure out how any of it could possibly be fair. One game involves the fairies riding on frogs, which would be easy for an animal fairy, and another game involved waterskiing (which would benefit the powers of a water fairy). This may have been a little worldbuilding problem, since there seems to be a fairy type for every possible task and ability.
- PHBO: The series has a bad habit of introducing new fairies just to service the plot. Baking fairies were never mentioned before, so why I’m supposed to care about their competition with the main cast is baffling to me. I also suspect that if I were actually a fan of baking shows, I’d appreciate this short more, but I was just kind of underwhelmed by it.
This is my personal favourite of the series. Tink is curious about the dividing line between Pixie Hollow’s summer domain and the eternal winter domain of the Winter Woods. Although it’s dangerous for her to cross, her wings mysteriously start sparkling beautifully when she does. She crosses the line again to find out why – it turns out that the baby’s laugh that created her split in two and also created her twin sister Periwinkle. Both fairies were born in separate seasonal domains, and their wings sparkle when they’re near each other. Because it’s dangerous for Tink to be too cold, and Peri to be too hot, the sisters now must find a way to be together without endangering each other. Drama ensues.
- One of the things that sets this series apart from the other sequels/direct-to-DVD films is that the animation is genuinely high quality. This movie is basically a feast for the eyes. The sparkling wing effect is stunning. The animation of winter vs. summer is just gorgeous. The art directors for this movie were at the top of their game. Some of the scenes that show how the changing seasons were used in magical ways were really entertaining – brown bunnies crossing the seasonal line and getting white winter coats instantly. I generally liked the “long lost twin sister” plot, but the wonderful animation is what made me appreciate this film the most.
- There is a romance subplot in the film that explains why the summer and winter fairies must be kept apart, and it’s very predictable and weakly written. The foreshadowing of who the doomed lovers were is painfully obvious, and it’s yet another variation of the Romeo and Juliet problem (though to be fair, there was a legitimate danger to the fairies fraternizing, rather than just family dramas). What I’d like to know is why it took presumably many years for Tink to be the first one to figure out a way for the fairies to cross seasons – is she that special? (The answer is probably yes, isn’t it?)
A pixie dust keeper named Zarina is exiled from Pixie Hollow for messing around with the pixie dust too much. She comes back as a, well, Pirate Fairy, and steals the all-important Blue Pixie Dust which more-or-less sustains the fairies’ powers and population. It turns out that Zarina has also worked out how to manipulate pixie dust to switch the fairies’ innate powers around, so Tink and her friends all end up trying to figure out how to use each other’s abilities. (Tink, for example, gets Silvermist’s water elemental abilities) Confusion ensues.
- Although this is my least favourite film of the series, the plot device of having the characters swap powers/abilities was a good idea. It led to some cute and lightly funny moments, and gave some important character development for the main cast since they had to compensate for no longer being experts at their particular talent. I’d probably like the series a lot more if it was more focused on the characters & their talents rather than these apparent grand adventures, if I have to be honest here.
- The major twist in the plot is that the pirate who has been helping Zarina with the Pixie Dust is…young Captain Hook. …Except that he barely resembles the character (and isn’t really recognizable until he puts on that foppish red hat). He’s also voiced by Tom Hiddleston, who sounds NOTHING like Hans Conried’s Hook beyond them both having English accents. One giant problem is that his presence in the story is a plot hole. He’s at least 20 years younger in this film than he should be, and unless he was somehow flitting back and forth between Neverland and the Seven Seas, he’s not supposed to age. That’s the thing about Neverland.
The final film in the series (for now) gets all science fiction-y with an ominous green comet passing over Neverland and waking up a giant hairy beast that had been in hibernation for hundreds of years. The animal fairy Fawn stumbles upon him and takes it upon herself to try to understand and befriend him, naming the NeverBeast “Gruff.” Gruff builds towers of rock for some reason, and may be the harbinger of Pixie Hollow’s apocalypse. Mysteriousness ensues.
- This review will have to be a bunch of giant spoilers, do not read if you care about that kind of thing. Anyway, it turns out that Gruff was actually Pixie Hollow’s saviour, who was building the towers to absorb the lightning storms that would have otherwise destroyed the fairies. Having been tamed by Fawn, Gruff spends a little bit of time helping out the fairies with menial tasks before he starts feeling the instinct to hibernate once more. Fawn’s goodbye scene with Gruff is very well written and acted, and is surprisingly mature and heavy for something targeted at quite small children. I wouldn’t be surprised if that ‘goodbye’ scene was written in such a way as to be an unofficial sendoff for the series, since it’s quite apparent otherwise that this film was not meant to be the final one.
- Most of the plot is a gigantic ripoff of How to Train Your Dragon. Misfit secretly comes across a dangerous animal. Misfit spends days trying to befriend the animal. Animal is dismissive of the Misfit and generally ignores them. Misfit and Animal eventually find ways to connect to each other through a touching montage sequence. Misfit finds out that Animal is a killer and is warned by their peers and leaders to stay away from it. Misfit hangs out with Animal anyway because they believe they truly understand it. Animal is revealed to be protecting the people from a much more dangerous and much more powerful foe. Misfit and Animal sacrifice themselves to save their home, and do not come out of the battle entirely whole. Yes, I just described both movies.
- [Gruff also strongly resembles Falkor the Luck Dragon from The Neverending Story, but it’s been so long since I’ve seen that movie, I can’t say if there are any other resemblances beyond visual ones].