Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Taking Tinkerbell seriously

After about the twentieth viewing of Disney's Tinkerbell movie, I started to treat it as a media studies case. That's not to claim that I have any credentials whatsoever in the field of media studies. But I've heard enough dissing about Disney films like Pocahontas etc, to encourage me to have a go at analysing Tinkerbell.

The plot goes loosely like this: at the beginning of Tinkerbell's existence, she discovers that her fairy talent is as a tinker. Whilst exploring her new home and place of work in Neverland, we see that she is probably the only tinker fairy who is classically pretty - her main workmates are a plus-size boss-woman (voice by the enormously talented Jane Horrocks), a geeky boy fairy with oversized spectacles, and a Scottish boy fairy who looks like John Candy. Tinkerbell's best mates are a cluster of nature fairies; all girly girls and all looking forward to going to "the mainland" to make Spring happen. Tinkerbell decides she doesn't want to be a boring old tinker and tries to learn another talent. Along the way she accidentally destroys all the fairies' Spring work but saves the world from another Ice Age with a plan that includes much tinker-made machinery. Tinkerbell learns that tinkering is her thing, and to be proud of it.

So. Themes.

1. Tinkerbell's gadgets and automated Spring-creation allows the fairies to re-make Spring in a fraction of the time it took them to do it the labour-intensive way. Obviously this story is all about the triumph of industrialisation over agrarian economies. Those pointy-eared pixies would be stupid to go back to their old ways of working.

2. Tinkerbell initially wants to change the way she makes her living, but eventually learns that she can't be anything other than what she is - a tinker. Doesn't this concept contradict the Great American Reinvention myth? That you can better yourself, be whatever you want to be as long as you believe in yourself and work for it? Tinkerbell, meet Flashdance.

3. On the other hand, perhaps it's a positive message, that we should all accept who we are, regardless of what our respective strengths and weaknesses are.

4. Tinkerbell, and most of the other female fairies, have large, childlike heads atop grown-up bodies. This is very disturbing. At least Barbie is supposed to resemble a physically mature woman.

5. Tinkerbell wants to be a nature fairy like her friends. Her friends are like a high school girl clique, but nicer. Tinkerbell's workmates, fairies she ought to feel a bond with, are not. Tinkering is unsexy. Nature is sexy. But tinkering wins the day. Maybe Disney is trying to tell us that geekdom will inherit the Earth - but don't expect it to look pretty.

6. There is one fairy "of colour" i.e. she's black. I didn't see any fairies with Asian features, nor any with wide flat noses or frizzy hair. Hell, it's not like the producers had to go and find a bunch of actors to fit the range of human appearance and ethnicity. It's animation!

7. Vidia is a fast-flying nature fairy. She's a lot like the-woman-who-hates-me at work, though far prettier (and, of course, the latter is not a fairy by any sense of the word). She's the one fairy who isn't "nice", and she's the one who gets Tinks into trouble. Why oh why oh why did the animators have to make her a brunette! That's soooo stereotyped!

TLM doesn't seem to mind any of the above. So I'll probably be watching it again tomorrow morning.


Anonymous said...

very funny (would like to add something more constructive but have to go and watch an hour of 2 1/2 men).

Make Tea Not War said...

Interesting! Forwarned is forearmed. I haven't watched Tinkerbell yet but from what you say I shall try and stay clear of it.My little fairy obessee would probably want to watch it 20 times but I'm fairly sure that I would rather not.

Nigel Patel said...

I love Jane Horrocks.
But then anybody who's been on Ab FAb is up there in my book.

BTodger said...

Now I'm feeling bad about buying the DVD. But then again the hooks were into TLM about it almost 2 years ago.

There was no avoiding it once she spotted Tinkerbell on the case.

Which was in a rck full of other DVDs at a distance of 12 feet...

Violet said...

donnasoowho: funny but, I hope, instructive.

mtnw: I'm a bit wary of anything Disney these days. I keep hoping for a Cantonese-speaking Dora to be created.

nigel: she's really impressive. Did you see her in Little Voice. She can sing and sound exactly like just about any famous torch-song singer you can think of.

btodger: you can't control it. as you say, she woulda spotted it and demanded it.

PBS said...

Very interesting analysis, I want to see that movie now! Just saw "Wizard of Oz" again, which we've all seen at least dozens of times. For some reason, it struck me differently this time.

Violet said...

pbs: I saw somewhere that The Wizard of Oz has a split-second view of a hanged man, who was a studio worker.

Desiree said...

The film seems to be a terribly contrived attempt by Disney to validate Tinkerbell's name - fergawdsakes, she's a fairy - 'nuff said surely!!! [sigh!]
Re: the Wizard of Oz thing - absolutely false:

Violet said...

desiree: it's so Hollywood. Like when the Hulk movie had to put in some father-son angst to justify some of the green guy's anger issues.

Anonymous said...

Personally I loved the "tinker" thing. Tinkerbell is basically an inventor and an engineer, which I think is a very positive image for girls.

Violet said...

anonymous: well yes, it's great that she turns out to be a very bright and inventive problem solver. But the rest of the tinkers just make pots out of acorns.