The Pirate Fairy is the fifth in the series of 75 minute computer-animated films from the Disney Fairies franchise. Featuring Tinker Bell as the main protagonist, the films are based on the children's books by Gail Levine. In the opening film we were introduced to the beautiful, enchanted world of Never fairies called Pixie Hollow. With their distinctive Celtic-themed musical score and spellbinding visuals the films were a delight to watch, a major departure from the usual direct to video fare. The redesigned Tinker Bell's character retained her wide emotional range and feisty personality, lost the jealous part, and was upgraded to a brilliant, somewhat rebellious, builder and inventor - an excellent role model for the target audience (children 5-12). I really liked the message, which was this: you don't need glamorous looks or extraordinary powers to make a difference, if you have creativity, determination, and heart. Time and again Tink's contraptions achieved what other fairies could not with all their magic. Because of their positive message and wonderful new reinvention of Tink's character, the first three movies were a treat for the whole family. Five years since the first one was released, my two younger kids and I still enjoy watching them over and over again.
With the fourth film (Secret of the Wings) things started to break down. No longer a family feature, the movie targeted the more profitable teenager market. A multitude of new characters was introduced, almost none with a memorable enough personality, but sporting pop star outfits and hair, in contrast to the original cast whose clothing was inspired by nature. The use of cartoon physics made the film seem disconnected from reality. The musical score became heavy on pop, borrowing the rest from the first movie. Tink's idealistic desire to help others was replaced by a selfish wish to be with her sister. Her emotional response was toned down (she does not become angry and turn red anymore). Still, "Secret" was not a bad movie, featuring at least one successful new character in Lord Milori and revealing the romantic side of Queen Clarion's personality.
I was hoping the fifth film would reverse the downward trend, but that did not happen. From the start, it feels unoriginal by including scenes and ideas from earlier films: Opening from Peter Pan, blue dust from The Lost Treasure, stadium from Pixie Hollow Games, fairy teaching human to fly from The Great Fairy Rescue, fairy trapped in a lantern (Peter Pan), and somebody saying "Ironic, ain't it" yet again. The main character (Zarina) is a modest and inquisitive young fairy-scientist who quits her job to become an aggressive and glamorous pirate fairy, again with a pop star outfit and hair. The story of her eventual redemption is predictable and shallow. There are no moral choices to make, no time for reflection, no thinking required from the viewer. The film encourages the young viewers to choose the glamorous Zarina over the scientist Zarina, which is the opposite of the message from the original Tinker Bell series.
The story line is unpredictable only to the extent that the viewer would not expect so many holes and inconsistencies in the plot, which I considered an insult to my intelligence. The story called for the fairies to operate the pirate ship (turn the wheel, open doors, tie the ropes, etc), which they are clearly not capable of doing. The filmmakers' solution, which is as dumb as it is unimaginative, was to make them ten, sometimes a hundred times stronger than a normal fairy (without any explanation), in an episode that calls for it, then go back to normal in the next episode. This kind of constant tampering with the laws of physics made the scenes on the pirate ship feel cheesy and cartoonish. The pursuit, escape, and fighting sequences are repetitive - I actually lost count of how many time the blue dust phial was stolen and retrieved. The film feels hastily put together and poorly edited. At first I liked the idea of talent switching, and it did generate some amusing story twists, but upon some reflection I realized that it destroys the original message of the series that talents (which are much more than magical powers) are unique and at the core the character's very identity. Being true to yourself seems no longer in fashion.
Tinker Bell's performance here is even less inspired than in the "Secret". She is no longer a "very special fairy", but a generic water talent. Her emotional response was narrowed even more, no joy and laughter this time. The pirates are 100% cliche. The soundtrack is again not up to the standard of the Tinker Bell movies. The songs are good, but apart from the theme played during Zarina's chemistry experiment (lifted from The Great Fairy Rescue), the score is mostly unmemorable pop and generic pirate tunes. The Pirate Fairy just doesn't have the magic and the heart of the earlier films in the series.
To be fair, there are a few positive things to say about the film. The animation is vivid and colorful, on par with a modern theatrical feature. The opening song is very good. There are several genuinely funny episodes, like when Vidia realizes she became a tinker fairy. And I enjoyed the heartfelt scene when Tink returned the stolen blue dust to the pirates to save her enemy's life. The young James Hook is amiable, and the cook does some acceptable comedy. But the lack of imagination and originality throughout most of the movie relegates it to the list of underwhelming sequels. Kids will like this movie (mine did, although not enough to ask for a second viewing). As a parent, however, I recommend avoiding this release - go buy your kids one of the first three Tinker Bell movies on BD, or better yet, a book from the Disney Fairies series.