Can I admit that I really, really did not want to see 'Tinker Bell?' Maybe it's just the reaction I have to direct-to-video sequels and spin-offs of Disney animated classics. With few exceptions, the studio's recent output of video premiere epics has not exactly inspired confidence. The thinly-disguised cash-ins of the likes of 'Tarzan,' 'The Lion King,' 'Cinderella,' and 'The Little Mermaid' have ranged from passable to downright atrocious. And now we have 'Tinker Bell,' which (obviously) builds upon the mythology of 'Peter Pan,' and is only the first in what Disney promises will be a whole series of Tink-centered DTV titles. But does the world really need such a thing?
Turns out 'Tinker Bell' is actually not that bad of a premiere flick. It's cute, nicely-animated, and even rather hip and modern, giving us a new spin on an old character who is quite far removed from the rather selfish and mean-spirited Tinky we remember from Disney's 1953 version of 'Peter Pan.' Remember how seemingly-innocuous Tinker Bell plotted to have Wendy Darling killed so she could have big ol' Peter all to herself? That Tink is pretty much gone here, instead replaced by a sort of Mean Girl churned through the Disney Channel machine. The back of the box even promises she is always "charming and loveable." A scheming assassin, this Tinker Bell ain't.
The first Disney animated direct-to-video feature to be piloted entirely by the folks at Pixar (including John Lasseter, who has been notably vocal against previous Disney DTV product), 'Tinker Bell' also comes up with an expanded mythology for the character that's full of holes. (Which, perhaps, are intended to be filled in by Disney's future 'Tinker Bell' adventures.) As voiced by Mae Whitman, Tinker Bell now comes from a land called Pixie Hollow, which has its own culture of various fairy races that all jockey for position of social standing. And in a sort of weird allusion to the Virgin Birth, Tinker Bell is separated from the other fairies because she shows up in this provincial corner of Neverland already fully-grown. This is only one of the story decisions that makes 'Tinker Bell' a bit queasy. Many obvious questions are not answered (such as how Tinker Bell and the rest of the denizens of Pixie Hollow got there in the first place), and aside from a brief appearance by Wendy and a trip to London, there is very little narrative connection to the original 'Peter Pan' at all.
If 'Tinker Bell' is not exactly a success as a story, it certainly looks terrific. Pixar and Disney have taken the complaints leveled against the studio's previous DTV output to heart, and this one does not look cheap. No, it's not a visual tour de force on par with any of Disney's true classics (which include 'Peter Pan'), but the shiny CGI surfaces are well-detailed and vibrantly colored. The voice cast is also strong, and in addition to Whitman, includes America Ferrera, Lucy Liu, and Raven-Symone as fellow fairies. The soundtrack is likewise slickly-produced (if I could have done without most of the saccharine-sweet, Disney Channel-ready tunes). It's just too bad 'Tinker Bell' feels so calculated to appeal to a new generation weaned on the post-modern humor of CGI animated films like 'Shrek,' and takes such liberties with the original character. 'Tinker Bell' will probably appeal to its target audience of tots and young tweens (largely female), and it is a step up from most past Disney DTV fare. Just don't expect a new animated classic.
'Tinker Bell' looks fantastic on Blu-ray. Disney presents the direct-to-video release in 1080p/AVC MPEG-4 video (at 1.78:1). The encode is flawless, with the meticulously-rendered CGI and bold, bright colors offering a wonderful high-def image.
A direct digital-to-digital transfer, there is not an imperfection to be found. The image is highly-detailed, with every last fine texture visible. Black levels and contrast are pitch-perfect, with even the darkest areas of the picture revealing the most minor of detail. The sense of three-dimensions is terrific, with the "picture window" effect on full display. Ditto the color palette, which is wonderfully bubbly and clean throughout. The transfer is always razor-sharp, and there are no compression issues or apparent artifacts. 'Tinker Bell' is easily the best direct-to-video presentation I've yet seen on Blu-ray.
Almost on par with the video, this uncompressed PCM 5.1 Surround mix (48kHz/24-bit) is first-rate. Disney has certainly spared no expense with 'Tinker Bell,' and this arguably raises the bar for audio presentations on direct-to-video features.
Nice and expansive, 'Tinker Bell's wholly studio-constructed soundscapes are lush and robust. Dynamic range fully extends itself from the highest highs down to the deep, tight low bass. Though not an action film per se, the surrounds are quite sprightly and consistently engaged, both for well-directed discrete effects as well as fairly-sustained ambiance. While I'm not a huge fan of the lightweight score by Joel McNeeley, it is also expertly blended into the mix. Dialogue sounds well-balanced, too, with no words lost. 'Tinker Bell' may not have as memorable a soundtrack as the true Disney classics, but it's certainly impressive for a direct-to-video title.
The supplements Disney has produced for 'Tinker Bell' are clearly geared for the younger set, so there's only a small amount of material for us grown-ups. All video materials are provided in 1080 video, with optional English subtitles.
'Tinker Bell' is a cute and innocuous direct-to-video sequel to a genuine classic. This 'Peter Pan' spin-off doesn't really add as much to the Tinker Bell mythology, but kids will surely enjoy it. This Blu-ray is an A-plus effort from Disney, with stellar video and audio, and enough supplements to keep those interested happy. 'Tinker Bell' probably isn't worth more than a rental if you don't have kids in the house, but kudos to Disney for giving this direct-to-video premiere such a lavish next-gen debut.