After enjoying immense success with direct-to-video sequels and prequels to classic toon features, Disney launches a new DTV franchise with “Tinker Bell,” a kinda-sorta spinoff from the Mouse House’s 1953 version of “Peter Pan.” Despite reports of creative differences and budget overruns, the finished CG-animated product is a polished, pleasant trifle that should enchant wee ones during hours and hours of repeat viewings; pic qualifies as the homevid equivalent of a pacifier. Parents will be grateful, sales will be bountiful and sequels are already in the pipeline.
Pic actually could be titled “Tinker Bell: The Early Years,” in that it delves into the eponymous sprite’s origins. In the world according to scripter Jeffrey M. Howard (who based his scenario on an original story by helmer Bradley Raymond), fairies magically spring to life each time a baby laughs for the first time. After that, they gravitate to Pixie Hollow, where they’re summarily assigned their life’s work under the watchful eye of Queen Clarion (voiced by Anjelica Huston).
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Tinker Bell (Mae Whitman) discovers her destiny is to be — well, a tinker. Specifically, she joins the ranks of tiny winged workers who assist other fairies charged with more glamorous tasks (creating rainbows, doling out morning dew, overseeing seasonal changes, etc.) far away on “the mainland” (evidently, early 20th-century London).
Initially, Tinker Bell rebels against her mundane lot and yearns to fly alongside such sister fairies as Silvermist (Lucy Liu), Fawn (America Ferrera) and Iridessa (Raven-Symone). Ultimately, however, she accepts her vocation just in time to design the high-tech innovations desperately needed to facilitate the transition from winter to spring.
Highlights include several gently humorous bits of comic business and a couple mildly exciting action sequences. Overall, though, there is a muted, sometimes dreamy quality to the pic, indicating a careful attentiveness to the tender sensibilities of the target audience. Nothing ever gets out of hand here, not even during a scene in which Tinker Bell and Vidia (Pamela Adlon), her snippy nemesis, are threatened by a hawk.
As often is the case in CG-animated features, most of the characters have the ineffably odd look of plastic dolls come to life, but that won’t trouble (and might even engage) small fry. Joel McNeely’s Celtic-flavored score is a major plus.
“Tinker Bell and the Lost Treasure,” a second episode in the franchise, is promoted with a teaser trailer on this pic’s DVD, and several more vidpics are planned. At some point, presumably, the filmmakers will explain why, by the time she got around to hanging with Peter Pan, Tink lost her ability to speak.