DIR: Peggy Holmes • PRO: Jenni Magee-Cook • CAST: Tom Hiddleston, Christina Hendricks, Mae Whitman
After ignoring the strict instructions of her boss at the pixie-dust factory, Zarina (Christina Hendricks) steals the all-purpose-plot-device and gets busy inventing the very concept of scientific experiment in fairy society. Despite the myriad of uses her discoveries could yield, they also resulted in some property damage so she does the only rational thing she can; exiles herself from her own society, becomes the captain of a bunch of human pirates led by the duplicitous James (Tom Hiddleston) and returns to steal the aforementioned all-purpose-plot-device to use for nefarious pirate-related goals. So Tinker Bell (Mae Whitman) and co give chase to get back the Plot Device and convince Zarina to come home.
Bizarrely, the experience that watching this reminded me of the most was the recent Hobbit film (or really anything set in Middle-Earth); it was full of confusing references to its own deep mythology which only the most ardent fans would understand (do you know how many of these there have been?), everyone had names that sounded silly when said aloud that were simultaneously utterly forgettable to the point that you start referring to the characters by defining features. In The Hobbit this boiled down to physical appearance, in the case of Tinker Bell, it’s racial stereotypes. You see Tinker Bell’s fairy cohorts are made up of an imaginative variety of borderline offensive characters; for example there’s hysterical black fairy, Asian fairy and white-trash fairy, to name but the most prominent.
The earlier joke about this franchise having an almost Tolkien-esque depth was not entirely inaccurate. The film is littered with references to characters and events from previous films, often at moments where an entire gag or explanation relies on your knowing what the reference is to. The narrative and characters aren’t complex enough that you’d feel like you’ve missed anything when these references sail straight over your head, their appearance and frequency was just unexpected. But make no mistake, this is a full-fledged continuity.
I will fully admit my ignorance of the wider Tinker Bell canon but that ignorance led to being genuinely but amusingly perplexed on certain points that may have been explained in previous films. Like just how fairy evolution works (as you may be gathering, the story is a bit thin giving one’s mind ample time to wander). They appear to be naturally occurring creatures who have wings by nature yet those wings are useless without ‘dust’, a resource they seemingly have to create themselves. So are they like penguins then? Penguins who found a way to use a magical, renewable resource to make their wings function again? Additionally, for a society that seems to be built around predetermined functions that all exist in harmony, there is a mildly classist undertone to the way Tinker Bell herself and her ‘tinker’ status are referred to (‘tinker’ here is used in the sense of ‘tinkering’ in an almost engineering way, not the actual real-world slur).
Marxist readings of a children’s film aside, it’s time to get serious. Tom Hiddleston is in this film and Tom Hiddleston isn’t all that great in this film. In fact, he comes close to being downright irritating at times. Sadly The Hiddleston appears to be phoning it in a tad and since his default state of acting usually consists of stealing whatever scene he’s in, it’s very apparent when he’s doing that lazily. The first couple of times you hear his pantomime evil-cackle it’s rather amusing but by the fiftieth time he’s lifelessly delivered it (and seriously, there’s an entire sequence where he’s just doing it non-stop), you find yourself wishing he’d just go away. And that’s not a thought anyone should be thinking while watching Tom Hiddleston in a film.
Despite that, the character that Hiddleston’s playing takes a bit of twist and during a (very Marvel Studios-esque) mid-credits scene becomes even more intriguing for the potential sequel. Let’s just say they’ve not forgotten what franchise Tinkerbell originally comes from and the notion of Hiddleston playing *that* particular character is very interesting. (Oh god… am I actually becoming invested in the possibilities of this franchise’s future?!)
On the whole though, this is a perfectly harmless piece of well-made, smoothly animated adventure/comedy that will no doubt play great to its intended audience. The voice cast are, for the most part, quite good and seem to be enjoying themselves. It moves along at a brisk pace, has a few nice little twists that’ll likely surprise younger viewers and mercifully only has one musical number. Although if they’d played that Natasha Bedingfield (yeah, apparently she’s still a thing, who knew?) song from the soundtrack one more time, the urge to forcibly detach my own eardrums may have won out.
G (See IFCO for details)
Tinker Bell and the Pirate Fairy is released on 14th February 2014