Sunday, April 20, 2008

O Tinkerbell, What Have They Done Unto Thee?

A few years ago, when I bought the DVD of Disney's Peter Pan, I was a little surprised. I'd not seen the film since I was a kid (when, of course, I loved it, along with the rest of the animated canon), and apparently my personality has shifted quite a bit in the intervening years. Peter himself, for example, is wholly unlikeable--he's got no personality at all, save for a vague selfishness, and while every little boy wants to be him, no grown man ever should. (Likewise, I loved Holden Caulfield when I was sixteen, and now I just want to kill him.)

The only human character in the movie--by which I mean the only character who reacts to things more or less the way human beings would react--is that pin-up fairy, Tinkerbell. I recognize that Tinkerbell is problematic in terms of gender and sexuality; I get that she's a collection of stereotypes, from her sexy look to the way she examines her posterior, horrified by its size, in a mirror near the start of the film. But Tinkerbell rings emotionally true. She's in love with an idiot who doesn't appreciate her, who actually grabs her, holds her upside-down, and shakes her so that his new girlfriend can fly away with him. And when she's finally taken all she can stand, she gets so filled with rage that she actually attempts to murder Wendy. Tinkerbell is one tough broad.

Or she was. In an attempt to skew the horrible "Disney Princesses" line of merchandizing to an even younger crowd, the Mouse has just started its "Disney Fairies" line. Now, the Disney Princesses, as aberrant and horrifying as it is, at least makes sense. Little girls watch "Sleeping Beauty" and want to be Aurora. (Then they go to Disney World and get hair extensions and whore clothes and yell at their parents in line. Then my girlfriend almost kills them. It's a good system.) But Tinkerbell isn't the kind of role model I imagine most parents want for their little girls. She doesn't play nice, even if she proves herself capable of self-sacrifice at the end of the film. And besides that, she's really the only canonical Disney fairy--except for Flora, Fauna, and Meriwether, and they're not included in this line.

And so Disney has (a) completely changed Tink; and (b) given her an entire series of politically correct buddies, all of whom live in a magical place called "Pixie Hollow." (You can read more than you want to know about it at the official website.) The fairies are racially diverse but all have basically the same figure, of course, except for their teacher, an overweight matron named "Fairy Mary." I'd be a hypocrite for talking about the homogeneity among their body types because of my affection for the original Tinkerbell (whose figure is, after all, unchanged), and so instead I'm going to rant about the changes made to her character, the bowdlerization of Tinkerbell.

First of all: I don't think Tink would have friends. I see nothing in Peter Pan that suggests she plays well with anyone, and so it's pretty clear that her fairy buddies were created so that little Madison's parents will have to her buy fifteen backpacks instead of one. And oh, her friends are awful and have the types of names parents who give their children fauxhawks would like: Silvermist, Rosetta, Fawn, etc. In twenty years, are we going to have a rash of adult women named "Iridessa"? Count on it.

The fairies are, of course, precisely and cynically calculated to appeal to every type of little girl (except overweight ones). Fawn is the "rough and tumble tomboy." Silvermist is vaguely Asian and naively optimistic (at least she doesn't ride a dragon or something). There's even a fairy for little girls lost who haven't yet established a sense of self: Prilla, who has no idea what her talent is but loves the color pink.

Most of the other fairies get awesome occupations like animal-fairy or water-fairy. Do you know what Tinkerbell "loves" to do? She loves to repair pots and pans. Dirty pun aside, I'd love to know why come Peter Pan gets to never grow up and to bang mermaids and Indian maidens all day long while Tinker has to stay at home with a welding torch. And why such a domestic occupation? In the film, Tinkerbell wasn't particularly matronly--I get the feeling she only hung around with the idiot lost boys in the hopes that she could surprise Peter in the shower. Here, she's burdened with the responsibility of holding society together. No way the 1953 Tinkerbell would put up with that.

Tink's fact sheet claims that she's a social outcast, and interestingly, she doesn't appear in the lineup with the rest of the fairies but in her own circle off to the side. But in the excerpts from the book series provided on the website, she's friendly and helpful (two words that would never describe her in the film). She also talks.

Disney's mute characters are usually their most expressive ones. Think about Pluto, for example, who never says a word but runs the full gamut of emotions in his face--he's a much more dynamic and expressive character than Mickey Mouse, and he may even be more so than Donald Duck (always my favorite). Likewise, part of Tink's appeal in the film is that she doesn't have to speak the ridiculous dialogue the other characters get. She retains an aura of mystery, which only contributes to her being such a tough broad.

But she's not a tough broad anymore. She does people's repair work mostly because she's such a nice person (1953 Tinkerbell was not nice by any stretch of the imagination), and she's got a cadre of more interesting friends--outcast or no. In short, Tink's turned into a sororiety girl, a "perfect little flirt" who reinforces the status quo and doesn't seem to rock the boat much anymore. (She certainly isn't into murder these days.) I can't wait until my next trip to Disney World, when I will doubtless see eight-year-olds dressed in her outfit and will have to hold the vomit down.


Kate said...

I was enjoying the post until you took a turn towards the cynical at the end. Analysis: good. Vomit comments: not so good. But still overall worth reading. It's interesting to see posts about all sorts of genres (i.e. Disney "canon" :-) vs. Updike).

Michial said...

The whole post was cynical, though--but I'd argue I feel more betrayed than cynical. ;)

distractedblues said...

I would argue that posts on Updike and Disney are not necessarily all that disparate. One of the essays I like to assign the youngsters is a piece by Updike about Disney (specifically Mickey Mouse). Did I ever send you a copy of that, Michial?

amadeo-armand said...

Ten points. I can't bear to see what they've done to my poor Aurora, so I haven't even thought to look at Tink. My sister was one of the annoying ones, though, with Tink clothing two sizes too small.

You've inspired me to post my book-thoughts on my LJ. Feel accomplished, monsieur le professeur. Feel accomplished.

Michial said...


Just out of curiosity, what did they do to Aurora? Just the Disney Princesses thing?

I must say, I've always found Aurora to be the most personality-free of the princesses. What do you like about her?

ledzep44 said...

I saw those stupid little clips on Disney Channel about the fairies, but I didn't know she was like that. I remember when I bought the DVD last year and watched it, I was surprised when she measured her hips and was so aggressive. Being nice just isn't her thing at all. That's terrible.