Wednesday, September 23, 2009

The Tinker Bell Movie

I elected this one myself, actually.
As it happens, my housemate Arch and I got into a bit of a debate the other night about the Tinker Bell movie. Specifically, it was his understanding that the sequel to this film was going to be theatrically released, and therefore that must have made the direct-to-DVD original a movie that sold reasonably well, at the very least, to justify such an occurence.
Well, I did some research and came up with some interesting results.

First I will talk about the movie. Then I will talk about the facts and figures.

(That's me on the left. Cailen is on the right.)

Firstly, I suffered a pretty severe dose of scheissenbedauern watching this movie.
For those of you who don't know what this word means, it is German for "shit regret". It's the disappointment you feel when something isn't actually as bad as you thought it was going to be.
The thing about Tinkerbell is basically that it's just... generic.
Really, realy, really generic.

Case in point, check out these characters. These four are supposed to be Tinker Bell's friends and I can't shake the feeling that they were all just reclothed and re-haired versions of the same model. And yes, I know that's pretty common in 3D films nowadays, they did it in the Incredibles, bu the difference here is that they actually look like clones of each other.
The picture even has Tinkerbell pulling much the same pose and expression as the girl next to her.

The characters who are not carbon copies of Tinker Bell, we have all seen somewhere before. John K would call them "Cal Arts" faces. He would also call them "bland".
While I consider the faces cute, personally, it gets very tiresome seeing them on fourteen different characters, including males. There are probably three unique faces in the film out of a very large cast. I thought at first this must have something to do with the budget of the film, but as I will point out later this was clearly not the case.
At any rate, at least Tinker is easy on the eyes.

Unfortunately, she's not as forgiving on the ears.
One thing I genuinely liked about this movie - insofar as it existed - was the celtic feel they brought to it.
Considering the origins of the Faery legend, I found it fitting that the score was largely of an Irish celtic flavour, and all the other "tinkers" (who are essentially the mechanics of the fairy hollow) have strong regional accents. I think the entire film may have been more palatable if the entire cast was consistent with this feel, but no. Tinker Bell is thorough yank. First we are led to believe that Tinkerbell doesn't talk, but once the Tinker Bell movie comes out she's firing out American dialogue left right and centre.
Actually, she and her friends (not the male ones, with the regional accents) pretty much sound like Casey at the mall. Bratz with fucking fly wings.

This leads me to a very, VERY interesting theme in this movie, which is that heavy industry (American industry?) beats primitive agriculture.
You probably think I'm fucking with you. I'm not.

The MESSAGE of the film - the moral that is shoved down the kids' throats - is that you should be proud of who and what you are, and that you should embrace your talents. The thing is, Tinker Bell wants to be a nature fairy but instead is delegated the roll of a 'tinker', someone who makes pots and pans, someone who puts together carts and buckets that other fairies can use.
Essentially what happens is that Tinker Bell finds out slowly that she cannot do anything, except build.
Not only can she build, she's a motherfucking engineer.


Tinker Bell fucks everything up and ruins the big event where the fairies change the season to Spring. She has completely ruined months of work and the season is going to be postponed worldwide (never mind the two separate hemispheres of Earth, but okay, I'll buy that).
Of course, she eventually figures out that she can use pieces of human machinery that has washed up on shore of the fairy island to engineer and build contraptions that will hasten the agricultural process to the point where they get Spring ready in a few days.

I'm sorry, but that is fucked.

What the hell is that supposed to teach kids?!

Okay, whatever, that's not important. Let's hope one day the engineers build robots to do everything for us so we can kick back our heels for eleven months of the year. Clearly, industry is what makes the world go round, including the four seasons and the forces of nature. Anyway.

A quick word on plot, because there really isn't much of it.
There seems to be a lot of effort put in here to make the story rich and engaging, but this has apparently been done by the most derivative writers in existence, with just a dash of ineptitude.
The story works - barely.
They admittedly did make an effort to keep it interesting and move it along in a reasonably dynamic fashion, without resorting to a flat, episodic 'this happens, then this happens, then this happens' routine.
The main thing I take issue with is that all these characters appear and aren't properly utilised.
The villain gets a pretty limp-wristed come-uppance, even when she was caught completely red handed in masterminding the ruin of the spring change.
The love interest is introduced in the final third of the movie, and is pretty much left dangling (a very subtle look in the direction of the three or four sequels they currently have planned).
I was frankly expecting a hell of a lot more from Bell's regional Tinker friends, but they seem to have plenty of presence in the movie without actually doing much in it. Indeed, there are large gaps in the movie where they seem to have been forgotten.
All this story needed was to be tightened, but I can imagine Lasseter was in a pretty understandable rush to either axe it or get it out of the door.

The animation was occasionally floaty but more often jerky, but it wasn't bad at all for a direct-to-DVD release. I'd be cocking my eyebrow if it got into the cinema, but the characters themselves were well constructed. Just not handled by the best animators. If the movements and expressions weren't poor, they were suspiciously familiar.

I'll tell you what I really liked about this movie. The backgrounds.

Being a nature-centric film, there are actually some really beautiful environments in this piece. You can tell this is where most of the work (and money) went.

All in all, I wouldn't say this film was a travesty at all. But I swear to god I've seen this narrative ground been tread through ten billion times before.
Many of you will be thinking, "well this was a direct to DVD, mate, what did you expect?"

I'll tell you what I expected. Either the worst movie ever made, or the best.

This film had gone through about twenty revisions of the script by the time Disney bought Pixar. It was the pet project of a woman called Sharon Morrill, who was in charge of the Disney direct-to-DVD department (so clearly she was the spawn of Satan himself).
When it became very obvious that Pixar was more than capable of kicking ass and taking names without the help of Disney - and even more obvious that Disney sucked at making 3D movies (Chicken Little, Meet the Robinsons) - Pixar made it very, very clear that if they were going to be bought out by Disney, they were going to do it on Pixar's terms.
So when the infamous (but probably inevitable) buyout of Pixar occured, John Lasseter found himself on the board of directors.
This is probably the first time someone vaguely creative has had any kind of control over Disney operations since they told Roy Disney his interests were not in line with that of Disney Corporation. Which kind of shows the "Disney to Corporation ratio" that was present at the time.

Clearly, despite making Pixar's most cuddley films, John Lasseter is not a man who fucks around. He took a stroll through the direct-to-DVD department and axed a veritable shit-tonne of films which were not up to his standards of storytelling. Upon seeing "Tinker Bell" in the state it was, he famously described it as "nearly unwatchable" and moved our dear Sharon to another department (i.e. fired her and gave her another job where she could do less damage).

Somehow - to my utter shock - this film was released. It exceeded estimated sales by about 20%, which is a bloody good thing for the company because if it had met the estimated sales they would have lost money.

After the dozen or so iterations of the movie that were made and remade, the final film landed on a roids-ridden budget of fifty million dollars. For a direct-to-DVD movie, that's just fuckin' stupid.
It made about fifty two million back.

Close shave, guys. Cloooose shave.

Let's hope that with Lasseter around, the sequels will do better than skimming dangerously to breaking even with the budget, eh?


  1. Why would they make and release a film that they expected to make a loss? Things like this almost always go worse than you expect. I suppose it's genericness (or is that genericism?) leant it to the widest possible chunk - or lowest possible denominator - of the kiddie market.

  2. The reason they released it, I think, was a last-ditch effort to recoup some of their losses. An overbudget movie that makes only a fraction back is still better than an overbudget movie that is a complete monetary write-off.

    The reason I was surprised to see it released, of course, was because I didn't think they were that close to completion. Apparently Lasseter stepped in and tinkered with it long enough to bring it to (at least) a releasable standard, but even that was a risk.