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"Tinker Bell and the Lost Treasure" Neatly Avoids the Sophomore Slump

by on November 5, 2009

Take the Blu-ray if you can get itI was as surprised as any when I found myself enjoying the first Tinker Bell direct-to-video movie, despite its long and troubled path from script to screen (and the fact that I am well outside its target demographic of girls too old for Princesses and too young for Hannah Montana). However, it seems that John Lasseter’s return to the company has sparked a renaissance at the Disney Animation Studios, with Tinker Bell turning out to be an extremely solid cornerstone for a four-movie franchise. Now available on DVD and Blu-ray disc, Tinker Bell and the Lost Treasure builds and improves nicely on the first movie, demonstrating that the inaugural movie’s success was no fluke. Tinker Bell and the Lost Treasure is another gentle and tremendously enjoyable movie. Though assembled from familiar, well-worn plot elements, it is carried by charm and a high level of tradecraft.

In this second movie, Tinker Bell (voiced by Mae Whitman) has hammered out her place in the magical realm of Pixie Hollow, crafting wondrous machines out of natural materials and the mysterious “Lost Things” that have washed ashore from the Mainland. Even so, she is as surprised as anyone else when the fairies’ Queen Clarion selects her to craft the Autumn Scepter, the centerpiece of the Fairy’s autumn revelry and the device with which the fairy’s Moonstone will rejuvenate the pixie dust tree that gives the fairies their magical powers. However, when the chief Tinker Fairy Mary tells Tinker Bell that the Moonstone is incredibly fragile, you can hear Chekhov’s Gun being loaded loudly in the background. It’s going off is the signal that sends Tinker Bell to unknown lands to seek out the Mirror of Incanta: a legendary lost artifact crafted from ancient fairy magic that can grant its bearer one wish. After that it’s a race against the clock to see if Tinker Bell can find the mirror and get it back to Pixie Hollow in time for the revelry.

As with the first Tinker Bell movie, one of the best things about Tinker Bell and the Lost Treasure is the way the world of the fairies is so beautifully and charmingly crafted. There is a great sense of playfulness and creativity in the design of the fairies’ small-scale world: the clothing made of flowers and leaves; Tinker Bell’s cobbled-together inventions; the large-scale, intricate workings of the pixie dust depot. There’s also an interesting blend of the mundane and the fantastic at work, as the magical denizens of Pixie Hollow flit about in their workaday routines surrounded by such magical settings as the pixie dust tree and the hall of Moonstone scepters. The lands north of Neverland have also been subtly changed to give it a wilder, less manicured sense of nature, culminating in the shadowy hold of a wrecked pirate ship. Throughout the movie, the CGI craftwork is top-notch, producing highly realistic and natural textures and character animation that can range from exceptionally broad to marvelously subtle. There are two especially noteworthy scenes, the first of which presents the story of the Mirror of Incanta as a fairy-tale for fairies, showing how fantasy would be presented to genuinely magical characters. The scene is greatly enhanced by the performance of Grey Delisle, who weaves the magical spell of the tale even without the benefit of the on-screen visuals. The second is the astonishing deep-focus shot as Tinker Bell leaves Pixie Hollow in a makeshift airship, which leads to a delightful scene infused with the same exuberance of flight that one finds in the lift-off of the house in Pixar’s Up or in any number of Hayao Miyazaki films.

Even though I like Blaze, I think John Lasseter was wrong and the 'Blaze Says Goodbye' scene should have been left inThe large supporting cast introduced in the first movie is mostly pushed aside for this one, with Tinker Bell herself carrying most of the movie. Luckily, the script, the animation, and Whitman’s vocal performance are more than up to the task. Even when Tinker Bell is being thoroughly unreasonable with some of her friends at the start of the movie, she never loses her plucky charm, and it’s all a setup for a very nice character arc. Of the supporting cast from the last movie, the fairy Terrence (Jesse McCartney) gets the biggest boost, graduating from his small but important bit part in the first film to a full-blown supporting role with just the slightest hints of romance with the leading fairy. It’s interesting that his idealized laid-back surfer wise-man act in the first movie transforms into something more human in this one, but the transformation works for the most part. If anything, it feels similar to the way the romanticized image of a person give way to their reality as you get to know them better. The other major supporting player is Blaze (Eliza Pollack Zebert), an endearing firefly whose diminutive size belies his outsized courage. Many of the animal sidekicks in Disney movies can feel wildly out of place (like Terk and Tantor in Tarzan or the execrable Mushu in Mulan), but despite his more cartoonish appearance, Blaze serves as a wonderful foil to Tinker Bell. It helps that his dialogue-less performance is reminiscent of other pantomimed animated characters, like Aardman’s Gromit or Pixar’s WALL-E.

Since the first movie established the setting and most of the characters, Tinker Bell and the Lost Treasure can get off to a faster start, but even so, it takes nearly a half-hour to get to the meat of the story. The meandering pace afterwards and the near-complete lack of direct antagonists also leaves the movie with a curious lack of urgency. This lack of urgency is not aided by the way Tinker Bell’s adventures seem to be lifted and sewn together from many other quest-centric fairy tales, making it easy to guess several plot twists well before they happen. Even the plot’s time constraint—a reliable cinematic tool for building suspense—doesn’t really manage to raise the stakes much higher. The plot of Tinker Bell and the Lost Treasure was deliberately designed to be much more boy-friendly than the first movie, but it generally opts for exploration over action. None of this is meant as real criticism, but the hints at grand adventure don’t quite unfold the way the trailers for the movie seem to promise.

This shot is so much more impressive in high-def. Why you no put Blu-ray in computers, Apple?Tinker Bell and the Lost Treasure is available in both a single-disc DVD edition and a DVD/Blu-ray disc combo pack. The contents are identical on both discs, but the Blu-ray is easily worth the extra money if you have the hardware to play it. The natural settings all do better with the more saturated colors and extra sharpness of the 1080p high-definition video, but the aforementioned deep-focus shot as Tinker Bell leaves Pixie Hollow just doesn’t have the same sense of scale on the DVD simply due to the technical restrictions of the format. The soundtrack uses a 5.1 sound mix (DTS-HD on the Blu-ray and Dolby Digitial on the DVD), which is mostly unused by the movie itself but does reproduce the Celtic-inspired soundtrack very well. There are relatively few bonus features, but they are all fairly enjoyable. A second, semi-animated “Guide to Pixie Hollow” tours through some of the settings of the movie in more detail, showcasing pre-production artwork along the way. The “Pixie Hollow Comes to Walt Disney World” featurette chronicles the construction of a special garden topiary at Epcot Center, and is interesting mostly to see how seriously the folks at Disney approach their jobs of fabricating fantasy. Several deleted scenes with filmmaker commentary are included, most of which were left behind in storyboard/animatic phase, although they are all shown with recorded dialogue, while the amusing “Scenes You Never Saw” is reminiscent of the Pixar blooper reels. Finally, Disney teen star Demi Lovato provides a music video for her “Gift of a Friend” song that runs over the movie’s end credits; help yourself if you’re so inclined.

It really wasn’t that long ago that the direct-to-video arm of the Disney Animation Studios was the laughingstock of animation fans everywhere, shoveling out sub-standard “cheapquels” that were barely watchable at best, and insults to the Disney legacy at worst. As a result, it’s understandable that the average Disney fan might look askance at something like Tinker Bell and the Lost Treasure, but the movie’s ample successes are the best demonstration of a rejuvenated sense of purpose in Disney Animation. Tinker Bell and the Lost Treasure neatly avoids a sophomore slump, building nicely off the first movie and creating even more anticipation for the upcoming sequels.

All images © Disney. All rights reserved. Many screenshots above are standard-definition and do not reflect the image quality of the Blu-ray disc. Don’t forget to check out our interview with Tinker Bell and the Lost Treasure Art Director Ellen Jin Over.

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