Film

Fairy Sisters Are Doin’ It For Themselves: Why Disney’s Tinker Bell Movies Matter

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For the past few years, My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic has often been praised for its positive depiction of female characters of many different kinds. While I agree with this and am glad to see the show have such a good influence, another series of children’s media has also been moving things into the right direction, in regard to female characters; I am talking about the Disney’s Fairy universe, mostly known for its Tinker Bell movies.

I had only vaguely heard about them until a friend recommended them to me. I like interesting female characters, fairy tales, Fantasy and I have no problem watching children’s material although I will turn 30 at the end of this year. So, I tried the first of the five movies and I went through all of them as soon as I could, and I even watched the special Pixie Hollow Games.

Tinker Bell is often – but not always – the main focus. Yet, all the other female fairies – whose looks aren’t over sexualized and who participate to diversity in terms of looks as well – from the main cast have importance in the stories. This heterogeneous female group of characters promote team spirit, tolerance and forgiveness.

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All fairies have their talents and help in the community, even when they can struggle with their place, such as Tinker Bell does, especially in the first movie. A very compelling element in this fictional universe is how science and magic aren’t mutually exclusive. Though set in a fantasy world, the movies encourage girls’ interest in science, especially through Tinker Bell and her curiosity and love of invention.

Not everything is perfect for the Fairies, as it is also shown later with the Winter ones. In the fourth installment, Secret of the Wings, Tinker and others encounter difficulties to make some mentalities evolve. The fact that characters aren’t perfect and need time to learn who they are and to work better together is something to be praised, no matter whether the watchers are the targeted children audience or older ones.

Female characters are well-written and compose the main cast of the series, but it doesn’t mean that male characters (as well as animals and insects – which are more gender neutral) have no room to be. Like in My Little Pony, male characters show up in the series. One of the most interesting example is Terence, a male fairy – as both genders exist in Pixie Hollow and the other Fairy lands. His friendship with Tinker Bell is a significant aspect of several plot lines and he has a good influence on her. While in later movies, some other characters joke about them possibly being or becoming an item, what is truly brought forward is their friendship, regardless of how it might evolve over time.

Some choices were bolder than I expected when it comes to character development, especially for two specific fairies: Vidia, who was introduced in the first movie, and Zarina, who appeared in the most recent one, The Pirate Fairy. Both of them could have easily remained antagonist and be stuck in these role, but the writers gave them room to evolve in a more positive way. Vidia started as the antagonist in the first movie but she changed her ways and learned from her mistakes, turning her into a protagonist in the following installments of the series. Her rivalry with Tinker Bell still shows up in a more discreet fashion at times, but overall, she has found her place in the main cast of fairies.

As for Zarina, she goes rogue after the opening of The Pirate Fairy, because her innovative ideas aren’t well received in Pixie Hollow. In the rest of the narrative, she becomes an antagonist until she also learns from her own mistakes and Tinker Bell and the other fairies help her make amends and find her place again. The way Zarina is treated also shows what Tinker Bell might have done, as both characters are similar in how they are willing to bring change on their own level and not strictly abide by what has always been done.

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Tinker Bell and Zarina

I hope that other specials, like the Pixie Hollow Games that focused on one of the other fairies, Rosetta, will happen. I would love to see at least one made for each of the fairies who are Tinker Bell’s friends. Even if they don’t get an actual movie, a television special would still be a very nice touch and give more insight in their personalities.

It is easy for a movie franchise to run out of imagination and go through a bit of a dry spell, but so far, I haven’t seen this happen with the Disney Fairies and I can even say that the fourth one was my favorite of the series. I look forward to the next movie and hope that the franchise continues to be as interesting and that even more room will be given to the other fairies, besides Tinker Bell, even if through other television specials.

Natacha Guyot is an independent researcher and writer. She works on Science Fiction, transmedia, gender studies, and fan communities and practices. She is also a vidder, bookworm, fangirl and feminist. More about her projects, including her upcoming book Women in Science Fiction Television (Scarecrow Press, 2015) can be found on natachaguyot.org.

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