**/**** ImageA- Sound B- Extras C
screenplay by Joe Ansolabehere, Paul Germain, Bob Hilgenberg, Rob Muir
directed by Bradley Raymond
by Jefferson Robbins There's this thing in children's fiction I call the Curious George Effect. A character transgresses, and in the context of that character's world it's a big hairy deal, potentially life-threatening. But the repercussions are so nifty-neato that the initial sin is shrugged off, perhaps never mentioned again, perhaps not explicitly identified as an error in the first place. The consequences for the guilty character are as follows: anxiety, cool adventure, reset to status quo.
The "Disney Fairies" series, a set of dtv prequels to the 1953 Peter Pan, embraces this pattern wholeheartedly with its newest entry, Tinker Bell and the Great Fairy Rescue. In at least one previous instalment, Tinker Bell and the Lost Treasure, we actually saw the title character struggle with the consequences of her selfish actions, even while the resultant adventure unfolded around her. This was a welcome thing in kids' entertainment--a journey that built character, in both senses of the word. Here, the adventure is the whole point, its only goal the tediously traditional repair of a troubled human family. It's a step backwards in storytelling and, worse, it chooses sides in the eternal struggle between Science and Faith, coming down exactly where you think.
Odd, that, given that Tinker Bell (voiced by Mae Whitman) is a fairy who applies scientific principles to her tasks in the sylph community of Pixie Hollow. She's an engineer, a maker of vehicles and machinery, hence her name. Other fairies--mostly female, some of them designed and voiced (by, for instance, Lucy Liu) to create funny feelings in hetero daddies--perform other functions, with their uniforms identifying their caste like little Star Trek ensigns. Mostly, they're nature's stewardesses. While abroad at "Fairy Camp" in the Victorian English countryside, Tinker Bell gets trapped by Lizzy (Lauren Mote), the young daughter of a distracted naturalist (Michael Sheen) summering nearby. (No mother is present, or mentioned.) The rescue of the title is the effort mounted by the other fairies to retrieve Tinker Bell, who: got into this mess by behaving like an idiot; is in no danger; and can leave whenever she wants.
First she must convince Sheen's not-really-neglectful parent to not only give his daughter the time of day, but to actually turn his back on reason and "just believe." Really, the man's simply trying to pursue his passion and make a living as a single parent at the same time--does he have to be made the unwitting bad guy because his science sends wide-eyed anthropomorphic butterflies to the bell jar? Lizzy decides to lie and take the fall for a wrong Tinker Bell committed, and her punishment is she gets taught to fly. None of this comes as a surprise from a Disney now intent on looting its own legacy, yet in light of Tinker Bell and the Lost Treasure's promising directions, it is disappointing. The voice artists are absolutely passable, with the exception of Mote, who's awful, and, at the other end of the scale, Sheen. The actor gives energy and groundedness to an anxious, absent-minded but no less loving character, hypnotized by the mundane and startled by the sublime.
THE BLU-RAY DISC
The CG animation of the "Fairies" series, which has Pixar's John Lasseter as executive producer, is at least as good as what we were seeing in theatrical releases six to eight years ago--like Shrek level, maybe on par with Monsters, Inc.. The film's faces are doll-like but mobile, colours are convincingly countryside green and wood-brown, hair has sheen and texture, water swirls and splashes and finds its own level, as it must. Still, offshored to Indian production house Prana Animation Studios, the animation is a long way from the quality of Pixar's main line. The artists seem to have the biggest trouble with soil textures, so when the fairies are barred from flying (it's a plot point), the ground beneath them unscrolls like the terrain in an early Call of Duty FPS. It's a pretty gross intrusion into some otherwise immersive cartoonery. Accompanying the film's 1.78:1, 1080p transfer on Blu-ray is a 5.1 DTS HD-MA track crisp enough to facilitate an appreciation of the foley work, as when the fairies scamper plinkingly across floating china plates pursued by a housecat--but the mix itself is indiscriminate, parceling effects and dialogue evenly amongst all channels and making no use of room feel.
The copious spinup trailers include Tangled, Beverly Hills Chihuahua 2, The Search for Santa Paws, Disneynature's Oceans, Toy Story 3, a "Diamond Edition" of The Lion King, the forthcoming "Fairies" movie Tinker Bell and the Mysterious Winter Woods, the Beauty and the Beast BD, ads for Disneyland and the studio's Blu-ray output, and a warning that DVD piracy kills fairies. Director Bradley Raymond and producer Helen Kalafatic introduce 14 minutes worth of deleted scenes (in storyboard form), notably an excised glimpse of Lizzy's ever-so-agnostic father finding a fairy of his own during his childhood. Bridgit Mendler croons the obligatory single "How To Believe" (3 mins., HD), and you can build your own "Fairy Field Guide" with an interactive game. (Pass.) "Design a Fairy House" (2 mins., HD) tapes a bunch of kids building such gewgaws at EPCOT Center, which Raymond finds "exciting." "Tangled: An Exclusive Sneak Peek" (4 mins., HD) is basically just the trailer again, bisected by EPK blurbs from cast and filmmakers. There's also a one-minute tutorial on how to rip the digital copy of certain Disney films (not this one) to your computer, and I hope to God I'm the only person ever to actually watch it. Special features are the same on the enclosed DVD inside this combo pack. Originally published: October 27, 2010.
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