Monday, 9 September 2013

Tinker Bell: Rendering Magic Obsolete

My general opinion (and recommendation) on the Disney Fairies movies is very simple: If you go into them with an understanding that they are primarily aimed at children, you might find a lot to like about them. They aren't on the level of celebrated Disney animated features, but they are enjoyable in their own right. Essentially if you enjoy My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic, you might want to at least check this one out as well.

What I'll go into here are some basic thoughts on the series and how it redefines Tinker Bell from just a fairy who mends pots and kettles into an all-out fairy McGuyver (which includes some of your regularly scheduled criticism of social justice outrage). Also a large part of this is just me showing off a franchise I love more than I should.

Rendering Magic Obsolete
Disney Fairies Movies

The jealous and sadistic fairy we were presented with in the original Peter Pan (1953) is mostly gone in this continuity. Befitting her new status as protagonist and her new target audience she has become a much more soft, friendly yet complex personality with an obsession for fixing stuff. And it actually works.

The very first scenes of the first movie set the tone quite beautifully. The newly-born Tinker Bell discovers her talent when a hammer flies towards her and she holds it in front of her in a pose that is not dissimilar from heroic scenes such as Link pulling the Master Sword out of its pedestal in various Legend of Zelda games. We are still a while away until we see her talent shine but the reverence for her skills is already there (even if she herself doesn't see it yet) and it is particularly noticeable because here we have a female character holding a typically male working class item and finding power in it.

Setting and Tinker Bell's Place

The Pixie Hollow setting for the series is essentially a giant workplace (relative to their size, they are fairies after all). Every movie so far has had a season assigned to it and we see the fairies tirelessly working to keep the seasons operating as they should be.

For reference, here's the list:

Tinker Bell - Spring
The Lost Treasure - Autumn / Fall
The Great Fairy Rescue - Summer
Secret of the Wings - Winter

So while there are plenty of moments where the characters are just goofing off or where the adventure takes place far from their workstations, the backdrop is always a sort of corporate environment with a certain work ethic involved. It is not an endless amount of tea parties and cookies (although Great Fairy Rescue plays around with that stereotype with the fairy character almost maternally indulging a child) or knights rescuing the princess. The individual fairies all have responsibilities regarding their jobs and some of the conflict actually revolves around professional responsibilities not being met.

As far as magic talents go, Tinker Bell got the raw deal. She cannot hold light like Iridessa can. Unlike Silvermist, water acts realistically and seeps through her hands. Nevertheless she gets to shine because her curiosity, bravery, creativity and resourcefulness allow her to come up with practical solutions for the problems presented. Compared to the other fairy talents this makes her a realistic character in a fantastical setting. She thinks she's mundane, not glamorous, but she discovers that her talents make her valuable in areas the other fairies can't be and learns she's as valuable a cog in the machine as the others are.
Thus in essence, the Disney Fairies franchise conjures up a world in which creativity, innovation and resourcefulness are greatly valued against magical wonders (One could say things only start going right for Tink the minute she gets her head out of the clouds and starts embracing practicality). The setting itself is one that seems stereotypical for a franchise aimed at girls, but the approach in filling up that setting is far better handled than you would think.

The Pirate Fairy

With the recent announcement that Tom Hiddleston would be voicing a young Captain Hook in Tinker Bell and the Pirate Fairy (technically he plays "James", but his future as Captain Hook was right there in the announcement so unless they pull a Mandarin on us it'll be the worst kept spoiler in recent history) there will likely be an increase of popularity for this series of movies. That is once the haters get over the outrage of Disney daring to cast a mainstream actor in a movie they preemptively decided to hate.

It's not like this is the first non-voice actor celebrity attached to the franchise. Lucy Lui has voiced Silvermist since the first movie. Anjelica Huston voices Queen Clarion in a recurring role. Michael Sheen was cast as Lizzie's father. Lord Milori from Secret of the Wings was actually played by former James Bond actor Timothy Dalton.

Secret of the Wings (2012)
Lord Milori, voiced by Timothy Dalton

Needless to say, I'm looking forward to it. I'm just wondering why they spliced footage from The Lost Treasure into this new trailer.

The Social Justice Side

Now a common complaint from social justice types is that entertainment and toys for little girls never focus on the same areas of interests that toys for boys focus on (after which there'll likely be a long rant on how masculine traits are valued more by society then feminine are). Disney Princesses (or princesses in general) are bad because they aren't teaching girls to be engineers! So, like with all the other complaints I've gone over in the past, it becomes frustrating because I don't think you'd have much trouble sneaking in some Disney Fairies with your little girl's Disney Princess diet. So once again there's the issue of the ranters providing free advertisement for the "bad stuff" while leaving the examples which are positive by their metric out to dry.  

A series in which fairies are responsible for the workings of the seasons does sadly result in some unfortunate implications that science is wrong (which reaches its zenith in the The Great Fairy Rescue, where the antagonist is a stuffy scientist and everything scientists know about the workings of the seasons is presented as a fairy conspiracy. No kidding), but I think that's an attitude that more easily grows out of children while the curiosity aspect and creativity is retained (and which might inevitably tie back in with an interest in science anyway). The writers likely chose to portray science in this aspect to tie in with a general dislike of science kids of a young age have rather than actively being antagonistic towards it. In fact most of the conflict in Great Fairy Rescue comes from this particular scientist being too stuck in his principles rather than his entire career being a pointless waste of time (although again, fairies are responsible for the seasons).

Damsels Again

Since we've been talking about Damsels in Distress so much over the last few months, let's take a quick look at that for a moment. In Great Fairy Rescue, both Tinker Bell and Vidia are captured at some point in the story (hence the Great Fairy Rescue). Aside from Clank and Bobble, the entire rescue party consists of female characters getting to utilize their respective skills. On top of that, the entire time the respective characters are trapped they try their absolute best to escape by themselves. No helpless princesses in towers here.

Anyway, let's take a look at the stuff Tinker Bell builds or fixes over the course of the main movies. I'll leave out some of the smaller examples because I'd be describing the majority of every movie. 

Tinker Bell (2008)

"I make forces of nature, you make pots and kettles.
I work up in the sky and you work down in a ditch."

The first movie features the birth of Tinker Bell and her arrival in Pixie Hollow. When she learns she is a 'mere' tinker fairy she is disappointed because all the other fairies have magical talents that let them control nature itself. At first she attempts to change her skillset by emulating her friends and failing at it. Yet even during her attempts to become something else than a tinker fairy, Tinker Bell is shown to progressively rely less on magic she can't do and instead starts to subconsciously embrace technological solutions.

Fixing the Music Box

After a series of failed attempts to learn the magic required for nature skills, Tink stumbles upon a broken music box and instinctively tries to repair it. It comes so naturally to her she's not even aware she's enjoying herself doing the thing she claims she doesn't want to do.

(YouTube) Tinker Bell Feature: Music Box

Automating the Spring Preparation Process

The last act of the movie is actually not that dissimilar from Pixar's A Bug's Life (1998), in that both feature would-be inventors try to help their people with a series of inventions which aren't accepted until a crisis occurs, which might not be all that much of a coincidence as A Bug's Life director and writer John Lasseter had a degree of input in the production of DisneyToon movies (Which is also why we no longer have Disney sequels and why an earlier cut of Tinker Bell was scrapped entirely for being "virtually unwatchable"). In it, preparations for spring are impossible to be completed in time. Tinker Bell decides to finally embrace her skills and manages to convince the other fairies that together they can automate the various processes required for the spring preparations and in doing so they manage to complete them in record time, thus saving spring.  

It also becomes a trend in the following movies for there to be casual dialogue about Tink's inventions that made the jobs of other fairies easier and her checking up if anything needs fixing.

The Lost Treasure (2009)

Tinker Bell has been given the responsibility to make a scepter to raise the moonstone for the Autumn Revelry, but after a fight with her best friend she accidentally destroys a unique artifact. Discovering the existence of a lost pirate treasure that could replace it, she decides to travel to a faraway island in secret.

The Pixie Express

Her speedboat has no real relevance to the plot. It serves more the purpose to show how Tinker Bell has become comfortable in her job as Pixie Hollow's resident engineer and innovator.

The Balloon Carrier

Having a long journey ahead of her but not having access to enough pixie dust to fly the distance herself, she accidentally discovers a way to ration her remaining pixie dust by making a balloon out of cotton puffs. Also she changes into her adventuring outfit for the occasion.

The Great Fairy Rescue (2010)

During their stay on the mainland for summer, Vidia tries to teach Tinker Bell a lesson about messing with human stuff and accidentally gets her captured by a human girl named Lizzy. While the other fairies set out to free her in stormy weather in which they can't fly, Tink and Lizzie form an odd friendship. Tink actually becomes a rather maternal figure in this one.

Indoor Plumbing

Being occupied placing pots and kettles under leaks from the roof, Lizzie's father has no time to spend with her. At night Tinker Bell finds the sources of the leaks and fixes them by installing a plumbing system with leftover materials.

Going Gremlin on a Car

Early on in Great Fairy Rescue, Tink's curiosity drives her to attempt to figure out how the human "horseless carriage" works (much to Vidia's dismay). 

"This, my dear, is exactly why tinkers shouldn't come to the mainland!"

The understanding she gains from examining the car becomes vital in the final scene where the fairy team struggles to keep up with the moving car. Tinker Bell moves ahead in order to shut it down. 

Secret of the Wings (2012)

Curiosity once again gets the best of Tinker Bell when she witnesses animals crossing over into the Winter Woods. Briefly crossing over the border herself, her wings start to sparkle. While researching what the sparkling means, she discovers her lost sister Periwinkle living in the Winter Woods.

The Snowmaker 

"I made it warmer over here. Maybe I could make it colder over there!"

Due to frost fairy wings being vulnerable to warmth and warm fairy wings being vulnerable to cold, there's a law in place that prevents the respective fairies from crossing over the border. In order to be together, Tink dreams up a machine that allows Periwinkle to visit the warm seasons. 

So yeah, this concludes my small list on a series of movies that does contain a lot of things social justice types would like to see but for some reason ignore. 

Links & References

"She is quite a common fairy," Peter explained apologetically, "she is called Tinker Bell because she mends the pots and kettles." - Peter and Wendy Chapter 3 (1911) by J. M. Barrie

Images from:
- Tinker Bell (2008)
- Tinker Bell and the Lost Treasure (2009)
- Tinker Bell and the Great Fairy Rescue (2010)
- Secret of the Wings (2012)

Err ...


  1. I find it ironic that the type of feminist you talk about, the ones who rail against masculine traits being valued over feminine traits, then go on to bash princesses or the color pink or anything associated with acting or being traditionally feminine. To use their jargon, they are perpetuating the very thing that they rail against.

    That said, great entry, and you made really great points about how Social Justice Warrior-types spend all their time focusing on negatives and things they don't like. I have to wonder if some of them care more about being outraged than actually making a difference...

    1. Yeah, it's completely ridiculous. They themselves create a lot of the problems by focusing so much attention to all the "negative" stuff and completely ignoring all the good things. All of the modern Disney Princesses have been badasses in their own capacity but these feminists can't look beyond the dress or them occasionally needing help (heck, they even turned Cinderella into a badass for the third movie).

  2. True enough that "these feminists" focus attention on negative stereotypes of women in Disney movies (I would hope that any woman living today would name herself a feminist - but I see your qualifying "these" and hope for the best). I can easily "look beyond the dress" to the Princesses' greater virtues, but the visual depiction of both the Princesses and the Tinker Bell fairies can't be ignored. For every verbally-delivered, positive message about gender in these films, there are seventeen powerful visual stereotypes to contradict it. Is there any reason, for instance, that the fairies need to be so rockin'ly sexy?

    1. I indeed mean the ones who I feel make everything worse rather than better. However I also don't think treating people like people requires a specific label, so I do reject the label of feminism.

  3. That said, both my six y.o. son and four-and-a-half y.o. daughter and I adore the Tinkerbell series. Visually stunning. Sweet, heart-warming friendships. Catchy pop and Celtic-laced tunes. Can't get enough. Thank you for this post.

    1. New to your blog - I'll explore and find out more. Might make my previous comments moot. But I'm jumping in mid-stream.