PirateFairycoverGrade: B+
2014, 78 min., Color
DisneyToon Studios
Rated G
Aspect ratio: 1.78:1
Featured audio: DTS-HD MA 7.1
Includes: Blu-ray, DVD, DigitalCopy
Bonus features: C
“The Frigate That Flies” clip

My daughter, who’s part of Disney’s target audience for the CGI animated Tinker Bell series, says that she likes all the direct-to-video offerings—Tinker Bell (2008), Tinker Bell and the Lost Treasure (2009), Tinker Bell and the Great Fairy Rescue (2010), Secret of the Wings (2012) and this fifth installment in the series, The Pirate Fairy. They’re all good, she says, but the last two are her favorites.

For me, it’s no contest. Secret of the Wings offered wonderful graphics and animation, but I found the ending too pat and the logic strained throughout an uncomplicated and emotionally shallow narrative. Like the other sequels, it felt formulaic to me as it hit all the familiar notes—BFFs, opposites joining forces, mess-ups being vindicated, etc.—without adding anything terribly new. The Pirate Fairy, on the other hand, feels much more honestly energetic and exuberant, and maybe that’s what the addition of a scurvy (but comical) bunch of pirates does for a film.  

Disney animators had fun with this one, coloring mostly within the lines of the Pixie Hollow movies but slipping outrageously outside the margins every now and then as they offer a rollicking prequel to Peter Pan. If Disney doesn’t come up with a pint-sized pirate theme-park ride featuring the new zesty song “The Frigate That Flies,” they’re missing the boat. The song will have you waving imaginary tankards of ale and smiling as you admire the animation of the brotherhood—especially a concertina-playing cook who provides much of the comedy.

Mae Whitman returns as the voice of Tinker Bell, but she shares star billing with Christina Hendricks, who plays Dust Keeper fairy Zarina—an ambitious, misunderstood little thing who ends up leaving Pixie Hollow with the all-important Blue Pixie Dust needed to make the gold dust that keeps everyone airborne. That would be bad enough, but she goes to Skull Rock to join the band of pirates who might better appreciate her talents. Captain Hook is a clean-shaven young man named James (Tom Hiddleston) who pretends to be a cabin boy and gets the pirates to elect Zarina their captain—all part of a plan to get her to make the Gold Pixie Dust so their ship will be able to fly. Can Tinker Bell and the other fairies get to Zarina in time and convince her to come back to Pixie Hollow, or is she too entrenched, now, in a life of piracy?

PirateFairyscreenWith The Pirate Fairy, Disney manages to incorporate the best of both worlds. There’s still plenty of fairy activity, but the pirate plot balances what in previous films has been a Saccharine sweetness and emphasis on all things sparkly that relegated the Tinker Bell series to an audience of little girls. The Pirate Fairy is a film for the whole family, and that’s what allusions to a beloved Disney animated classic can do: expand the audience to the kind Disney has always prized.

Rumor has it that The Pirate Fairy had or is slated for a limited run in theaters, but it’s frankly good enough to have merited a wide release. Wonderfully drawn and animated, it’s packed with energy and full of fun references to that 1953 Disney animated classic—ranging from playful allusions to the hook that the pirate captain James will eventually come to have, to a hatchling crocodile who “imprints” on one of the fairies and takes an instant dislike to Hook. Have a look at the clip for “The Frigate That Flies” in the specs at the top of this review and you’ll get a pretty good idea of the film’s caliber.

With a movie franchise, too often the law of diminishing returns applies. Creative teams lose their energy as a series goes on . . . and on, and sameness creeps in. We’ve seen it with the Barbie franchise, but miraculously (maybe it’s the Pixie Dust?) Disney’s Tinker Bell movies seem to get better with each outing. The Pirate Fairy may be the best one yet. It’s the kind of film that’s just plain fun to watch, which is why it seems destined for replays.