Here's a nice little switch from my normal leviathan write-ups, folks. Although I like to discuss almost any film in-depth, there is such a simplistic charm and innocence to Tinker Bell And The Great Fairy Rescue that there is really no need whatsoever to critically dissect its construction or its motivations. In actual fact, I feel it would be doing the film an injustice to probe too deeply into its themes, to be honest. So, here we go with one of my smallest ever reviews … which should fit around the diminutive heroine of the fable perfectly.
Light of touch, deft of character and full of easy-please morals, Bradley Raymond's Tinker Bell series, now a fun, fast and fanciful trilogy of revamped spin-offs for the emerald-garbed fairy, have become something of an underground cult phenomenon. Whilst Disney's big hitters still bring home the bacon, even more so now that they are gaining a steady and consistent hi-def transformation, this little tangential addition to the Peter Pan mythos, set before the heroine falls in with Peter, Wendy and the Lost Boys, sort of snuck in under the radar but was assured and impressively popular enough to gather for itself a groundswell that would see it sticking around, aided and abetted by an armada of merchandise that, quite unfortunately, given the demanding voice of my own little “tink” I know all well about.
This third instalment now brings Tink into long-forbidden contact with humans for the first time. Fans of the series will already know how the naïve little fairy's inquisitiveness has landed her in trouble – the sort of trouble that usually brings the safety and harmony of her kind into some form of jeopardy too – and this story, set during Victorian times in the rolling meadow-lands outside of the turbulent, industrial cities and towns, has the ever-curious Tink (voiced by Mae Whitman again) venturing just a little too far away from the big Fairy Camp and becoming fascinated by the nine-year old Lizzie (Lauren Mote), who lives a happy but lonely life with her scientist father, Dr. Griffiths (Michael Sheen, who just crops up everywhere doesn't he?), in an isolated cottage. Lizzie has always believed in fairies, much to the consternation and chagrin of her father, whose pragmatic and methodical ways lead her to construct a highly detailed Field Guide on the subject in the hope that he will be impressed enough to take more notice of her. Of course, meeting a real fairy is the icing on the cake that provides with all the studied detail she wants … but tolerance isn't a thing that grownups are particularly renowned for, and soon the existence of this magical race is in hot water all over again.
In the meantime, however, Tink's circle of friends, carried-over from the first two films and still headed-up by the raven-haired and somewhat prickly Vidia (Pamela Adlon), falsely believe that she has been captured against her will by the butterfly-collecting Dr. Griffiths and launch a chaotic rescue mission that will see them encounter ferocious rainstorms that ruin their flying abilities, muddy puddles that threaten to swallow them up, clunking old jalopies that almost run them down and a merciless moggie who thinks of them as nothing more than tasty titbits. All the while, Tink and Lizzie are developing a bond that will cement the fairy's belief that humans can actually be good as well as introducing the little girls to a world of magic. Then, when situations ensue that threaten doom for the ethereal beings, it becomes a race against time to reach a mutual understanding before it is too late.
Raymond is one of those jobbing, middle-ground directors and writers of family fare. Solid and reliable, yet never yet bestowed one of Disney's more highly prized jewels. Nevertheless, besides the first and third Tinker Bell movies, he has brought workmanlike vigour to follow-on projects like Pocohontas II: Journey To The New World (which is actually a pretty decent continuation of the tale), the weird Lion King “retelling” from Pumbaa and Timon's point-of-view, and the sequel to The Hunchback Of Notre Dame. He came up with the story here, alongside Jeffrey M. Howard, and the influence of Mark Water's big screen adaptation of The Spiderwick Chronicles shines through in its support of an ultimately tranquil coexistence between the two races. There is nothing offensive here and although there is some jeopardy and danger, it is of the mild variety. In fact, I would say that the ferocious rats that attacked Tink in the previous outing were far more disturbing than anything unleashed here. It is true that the character of Tinker Bell has been altered from J.M. Barrie's original creation, who was a far more mischievous prankster with a jealous heart and a slightly treacherous nature, but the re-imagined fairy still has a precocious and hot-headed attitude that can often lead her astray. She is effortlessly charismatic, but you get the clear impression that she could be hard work too. A bit of a loose canon. So it is nice to see that she retains something of her original self.
Even if you won't hear of Tinker Bell mentioned in the same breath as Pixar, Dreamworks or even the more classical Disneys, the animation is superb and sumptuous. In fact, I would say that it is probably too good for the little eyes that are soaking it all in. Nah, I'm kidding, of course. It is the young'uns who deserve the best, even if it is true that they could surely sit through this even if it was presented in murky, noise-addled VHS without any complaints. But if you thought that Disney might skimp on the visuals and the sheer artistry because the series is rarely produced with theatrical intentions (only this third film actually received a cinematic run … and, even then, only here in the UK) then you'd best think again. This is detailed, vivid and hugely imaginative stuff. There is tremendous flair and energy devoted to the action scenes, which are plentiful, and each and every frame is lovingly rendered with the utmost desire to transport the eyes, as well as the imagination, to somewhere rapturous and beautiful. The locations have lots of depth, and the camerawork is sinuous and gliding, offering lots of dynamic sweeping arcs. The characters, themselves, are a visual delight. Okay, the main bunch of fairies are clearly post-modern hip-chicks that look like they have sprouted wings and flown off the set of the last High School Musical, but this only serves to make them more immediately identifiable and accessible to children these days. Their voices, too, are cool and pleasantly “twangy” with Mid-Atlantic colour. Support comes from Lucy Liu, Christen Chenoweth and Raven-Symone.
Of course the show is all about friendship and loyalty and devotion. And there is nothing wrong about these noble concepts being reinforced amid the spectacle and the wonder of such a bewitching story. Naturally, this then becomes the measure of how successful a children's movie is going to be. Let's face it, even innocent minds can find the shovelling-on of morals somewhat gag-inducing at times, with clinically accentuated rights and wrongs of various life-lessons often getting in the way of the fun. Disney and Pixar are, unquestionably, the grand masters of combining these altruistic, soul-enriching themes with dynamic and engrossing storylines and characters. Even as adults, who intrinsically recognise each and every lesson that is slipped under the door, the formula works exceptionally well and, for the majority of the time, remains happily uncloying. And so it is with Tinker Bell. We understand the emotional swingshift that Lizzie and her father must undergo, the acceptance and tolerance phase … but what makes it so pertinent and a lot more affecting is that this is mimicked in the relationship that Tink has with Vidia. If anything, this is where the story hits the spot. Although we can see that Lizzie feels alienated and overlooked, we also understand that this is a condition that would not necessarily continue even without such fantastical intervention saving the day. She wouldn't grow up to be any less of a woman even if her belief in fairies was massively poo-pooed without validation by her self-absorbed father. And, by extension, there may be kids watching who can appreciate the situation that Lizzie finds herself in with her father though, once again, I doubt very much that the narrative will compel them to analyse their own predicament with any degree of psychological depth.
However, it is the angle of mutual and unconditional friendship that is best served by the drama. Vidia is clearly Tink's closest friend, but the impulsive nature of the knowledge-thirsty fairy widens the gulf between their societal roles. Videa is easily perturbed by Tink's wayward personality … and the plot's dynamic is possibly more relevant, even though it is less dwelt upon, when dealing with the bond between the two occasionally reluctant friends. Not all children feel cut off from their parents, but you can bet that they will, at some time or other (and probably with unnerving frequency as well), fall out with their best friend. Disney's stance is that this will happen regardless, but that it is just as easy to make amends again. Plus, it is determined to promote the idea of making new friends, as well. Not bad thoughts to foster, then. And nothing edgy about dark stranger that will give them nightmares either.
Apart from the generic goofy side-kicks Bobble and Clank (who, in a blessed relief, aren't featured all that much) I can't think of anything negative to say about this. It is a rich and rewarding pleasure to sit and watch the film with my daughter … and I find that I genuinely don't mind the fact that she often has it, or either of the other two films in the series, playing again and again. And I certainly cannot say that about a lot of family animated features, including many of the acknowledged classics from Disney and Pixar, which do grate after a bit. Even the score, from the under-appreciated Joel McNeely, who also supplied the music for the first two films, is densely melodic and suffused with cinematic energy. The pulse-racing grand finale takes on a very enjoyable John Williams-style of energy and derring-do, and the central ballad from Bridgit Mendler is suitably candy-coated but immensely catchy at the same time.
All three films in the series are available on Blu-ray, but as far as I am aware only the second two – Tinker Bell And The Lost Treasure, and Tinker Bell And The Great Fairy Rescue – are available in a boxset … which seems odd. Why not just place them all together in one triple hit? Anyway, I feel that whilst the second film is possibly more exciting and varied (there's certainly more danger and magic at play), The Great Fairy Rescue is the more positively enchanting and endearing. The interaction between Tink and Lizzie is simply joyful and the emotional core of the tale, whilst unavoidably saccharine, is delightful and far more attuned to the mindset of audience, who are, let's face it, little girls around four, five and six. My daughter (aged four) is utterly in the thrall of Tinker Bell and, believe me, there are far worse role-models out there for a small child to admire.
I can heartily recommend this and, indeed, all of the Tinker Bell films.
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