I recently attended a press screening of The Pirate Fairy, a direct-to-DVD animated feature from Disney. The Pirate Fairy takes place in Pixie Hollow, with Tinkerbell and friends. This movie is exactly what you would expect from Disney. It’s entertaining fluff.
But! It was a chance to take one of my girls out one-on-one, so off we went to enjoy some Fairy time, just me and Miss V.
Miss V is just so totally her very own person. She isn’t really into all the princess stuff, and never got into Barbies. V doesn’t really go in for girly-girl, in general. She loved Littlest Pet Shop and is obsessed with Lego City. She wants to be a cop when she grows up, wears hats whenever she can, and shuns pink. She plays Nerf, loved Aikido, and is a natural with a bow and arrow. She has a breathtaking sense of self. She knows who she is, what she wants, and what she likes. What she likes is camo, bunnies and kitties, and Minecraft.
Fairies in general aren’t really her thing. I was really surprised she had noticed The Pirate Fairy and wanted to go see it, honestly. Miss C is my daughter who loves all things sparkly and well, Disneyfied. Not V.
Watching the movie with her, I got it. I know why Miss V likes Tink and her friends. It’s because they are totally themselves, too.
The fairies each have their own natural talents, which are nurtured by those in authority- both male and female. The fairies don’t need to attract a man and don’t think about it every second of every day, but at the same time they aren’t man haters. The male fairies aren’t all imbeciles or cads, as is so often the case with Disney menfolk. The boy fairies don’t have to be lessened in intelligence or character for the girls to be equal. Girl fairies and boy fairies have the same intelligence and the same opportunities.
Each fairy is perfectly herself and everyone else is totally okay with that. Rosette loves clothes and hair. That’s what she enjoys, that’s who she is. She doesn’t feel compelled to change her style, even when she changes her talents. (Can you tell we have some fairy fans here? Yes, I’ve seen them all.) Tinkerbell tinkers. It’s what she does and even when others aren’t so happy with it, she still tinkers. She doesn’t feel like she needs to change and be like other fairies and start worrying about her shoes during her off time.
Tinkerbell and her world is Disney’s most feminist creation.
If you consider feminism- that is, respecting girls and women as distinct individuals in their own right, as equal contributors to humanity in thought and deed – then the Fairy franchise really is the most feminist of movies aimed at girls.
Disney often gets raked over the coals for their Princess promotion. The Damsel in Distress, waiting for her Prince Charming to rescue her. The beautiful girl whose life will be perfect if she can just get a (rich, handsome) man. If she’s not hanging around being pretty, kind, and charming (Aurora, Cinderella), she’s falling in love with someone unsuitable (Ariel, Jasmine, Pocahontas, Rapunzel) who didn’t choose rich, handsome men to start out with. No worries, the men will be made into Princess Marriage Material by the end of the movie. Usually there’s a fair bit of hiding who she really is (Ariel, Jasmine, Cinderella, Mulan). Why, Ariel doesn’t even need to say a word. There’s no need for that if you have Princess love, and it’s standard that the movies all wrap up with a couple headed off into the sunset or a wedding.
The only Princess to break out of this mold was Merida, and that’s why Brave is the best movie in the genre to date.
But not so in Neverland. It’s different with the fairies.
SPOILER ALERT- though really, you already know how The Pirate Fairy ends, don’t you? Friends are rescued, everything works out, all’s right in the end. It’s how they get , there that makes this movie- and the other Tinkerbell movies something different.
The plot: Zarina, a Dust Keeper fairy, is curious. Gary Fairy (yes, that’s his name, really) can’t answer her questions, so she sets up a lab in her room to experiment on her own. (So STEM of her!) She invents a new kind of pixie dust but it all goes horribly wrong. Zarina gets fired, so she runs away.
A year later Zarina comes back, but not to make amends. She needs special pixie dust to complete her latest experiment, making a pirate ship fly, so she steals it. The pirates are younger versions of the Neverland pirates; Captain James Hook (voiced by Tom Hiddleston) has both hands but is still treacherous. He double crosses Zarina, Tinkerbell and crew rescue her, then they join together to get back the stolen pixie dust and save the day. And of course the day is saved, as it always is, because that is the point of fairy tales, isn’t it?
Tinkerbell and friends, however, are a different sort of Disney heroine. There are no love triangles. The six female Fairies devise their own plans, and improvise as needed. They don’t seek out the guidance of their superiors (who are all asleep) or look for guidance from the mystical and mythological. No sea witches, future tellers, magic trees, or talking mirrors here- the Fairies know what needs to be done and figure out how to do it, by working together.
They all lean in, and no one is called bossy.
The fairies powers get mixed up, so Tinkerbell becomes a Water Fairy; the Light Fairy, Sunflower, becomes a Garden Fairy, the Garden Fairy, Rosette, becomes an Animal Fairy, and so on. They work together. They help each other out. They stick together no matter what. They use their natural talents, shoring up each others’ weaknesses, supporting each other and the overall mission (get the pixie dust and save Pixie Hollow.) They do not flirt or use sex appeal to get their way or to trick people.
Even Zarina, for all her flaws, makes her own choices. When faced with being dismissed from Dust service, she chooses to leave rather than remain in Pixie Hollow without meaningful work. She convinced the Pirates to take her on and lead the ship for a year. She invents and masters different types of pixie dust, creates a plan to steal the Fairies’ prized possession, and puts it into action on her own while the menfolk wait behind. Later, she uses her knowledge of pixie dust to turn the tables on the Pirates and ultimately save the day.
There’s not a lot of nuanced discussion about the Pirates. They are assumed “bad” because they oppose the fairies, and because they are pirates (duh.) They sing about stealing things and toss around swords.
The Fairies don’t stand on a moral high ground; they seem ambivalent about the Pirates’ plan to steal everything from every port. In this movie, the Pirates are bad because they took the Pixie dust and were faithless friends to Zarina, not because they plan to loot and pillage. Don’t look for any righteous life lessons here, unless it’s that when someone is overly flattering watch out for treachery (not a bad thing to know, actually.)
Oh, and Tom Hiddleston. He sings adequately. Don’t go see this movie thinking you’re going to get some Tom Hiddleston goodness here. He does the best he can, I suppose, with a flat two-dimensional Disneyfied villain who seems to be an afterthought. Smee is here, as is the crocodile and his clock.
OK, I think I’ve officially spent way too much time pondering the feminist manifesto of Disney characters, and I’m not even in a women’s studies class. Am I alone in this?
Which Disney “Princess” do you think is the best role model for girls? I can’t decide between Fairies (ok, that’s multiple characters) and Merida.
P.S. – my girls go crazy for a good printable, so here are someThe Pirate Fairy coloring sheets!
The Pirate Fairy hasn’t hit Redbox yet but it’s in stores and on Amazon now. [click to continue…]