Children's & Middle Grade · Fantasy · TV & Movies

“Tinker Bell”: The State of Activism in Pixie Hollow

After Rose and Natacha started talking about how great the Tinker Bell movies were, I figured there must be something to them. Basically, the first movie was like a cross between A Bug’s Life and My Little Pony, two properties to which I’m deeply attached. I didn’t love it quite as much as those, but it’s definitely worth a watch if you skipped it the first time around! I liked the focus on female characters that didn’t exclude the presence of male characters altogether. It worked as a simile to women in technical fields in the real world. I also really liked the visible diversity of the fairies and the complete lack of misogyny. I think Rose and Natacha have pretty well covered the pros of the movies in detail, so I won’t rehash all that again… What I would like to talk about is activism. (Spoilers ahead).

Tinker Bell DVD Cover

When fairies are born, they walk through a circle of items. When one of the items glows, it indicates the fairy’s talent. Then the fairy goes off to work with the other fairies of the same talent. Tinkering is a rare talent, and a vital one — tinkers like Tinker Bell are responsible for making all the gadgets the other fairies will use as they go about the tasks involved in changing the seasons. In Tinker Bell the fairies are getting ready to travel to “the mainland” to carry out their tasks related to spring. However, even though tinkering is rare, it isn’t valued, and the tinkers aren’t allowed to go to the mainland for spring.

The other fairies aren’t segregated. Fairies with talents related to water, animals, flowers, etc., are all friends, and will all be headed to the mainland. Tinkers aren’t exactly ostracized, but they’re really not part of the same mixture as the others. It basically parallels “geeks” and “everybody else.” Tinker Bell, as the newbie, wants to go to the mainland. She decides she doesn’t want to be a tinker, and tries to learn other talents, but none of them work for her. She finally learns to accept herself and love her skills, and as a cosmic reward for this self-knowledge, the fairy queen announces she’ll be able to visit the mainland. It’s a pretty traditional “Once you give up what you want, it’ll be given to you” children’s story.

Tinker Bell movie still

That’s all very nice. There’s a theme in several places about how all the talents are vital, which I appreciate. Some fairies are snotty about how they’re the most important, others are just happy with their own contributions, and others are more humble, still perfectly aware that Pixie Hollow couldn’t function without them. I like having such a girly, classically pretty and feminine character who’s good at engineering.

What bothers me is that Tinker Bell doesn’t even consider asking for the mainland policy to be changed. There’s a brief exchange with the queen where Tinker Bell tries to invent some doodads that would be useful for tinkers on the mainland and the queen (and the tinker boss) shoot her down. After that, she tries to change who she is as a person instead of pointing out the policy is discriminatory. Sure, she’s only a few days old, and maybe children watching the movie would also think like in terms of identity, but all the more reason to introduce the concept of activism! You can’t just expect the government to reward you for being content with your lot in life. It doesn’t work like that. If you’re content with the treatment you’re receiving, you’re just going to get more of it.

In this case, in the process of discovering her talent she saved Pixie Hollow in a high-profile way, which led to the queen seeing her value and giving her a job to do on the mainland. But demonstrating your worth isn’t incompatible with demanding change. I wish they’d taken the opportunity to at least introduce the idea of activism and equality.

I’ve been watching the rest of the Tinker Bell movies and loving them — short reviews coming every day this week!

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20 thoughts on ““Tinker Bell”: The State of Activism in Pixie Hollow

  1. So glad you commented on my last post so I could find your blog! I love finding my blogger soul mates out on the internet 🙂 I’ve only seen bits and pieces of this movie but I think you bring up some awesome points. Looking forward to reading more and seeing if we cross lines anywhere once my new project is up and running!

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  2. You should definitely write a children’s book about activism, that’s so cool! I loved reading this and learning about the story line, because I haven’t watched this. I felt like you had a really valid point about her changing herself to fit in with the policy. I also can see the argument that she is so young and may not realistically come up with an activist response, but I’ve always felt that fantasy is a fun place to play with what’s natural or realistic, to open the viewers’ mind to new possibilities. What I mean is, I think it would be powerful to have Tink respond in ways young human girls often don’t at such a young age. It would potentially send an empowering message to the girls watching it while also adding a “parent/adult-interest layer” which I tend to appreciate in shows and stories for kids–the addition of stuff kids don’t readily pick up on but the adults might enjoy. I hope I’m making sense here!! I loved your post, Hannah.

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    1. Thank you! More Tinker Bell coming up! 🙂 Thursday’s post will return to this topic in particular.

      Yeah, I have less of a quibble with this movie in particular for not being about activism, and more a question about why I can’t think of ANY. It’s such a typical chidren’s story to have a character be denied something based on her species or interests and then learn to appreciate her strengths. Why not teach others/the government to appreciate those strengths too? It could be such a lightbulb moment for a kid, without really even departing from that standard formula.

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  3. While I agree with you in principle, I don’t think Tinker Bell as a protagonist had the experience to just assume she could ask, and there wasn’t anyone who was going to suggest it to her. She does ask for a significant policy to be changed later and is told flat out “no, this is the way it is, which forms the basis for conflict..”

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    1. I would agree, except she’s not shown to have any qualms about just walking up to the queen and showing her stuff. I’m not surprised she gets that response later, they seem pretty rulebound for fae… But that’s all the more reason. 🙂

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      1. Well, my point was more that she DOES ask when she knows enough to realize that asking by itself might change something. She was pretty confident that Queen Clarion would hear her out and change the rules later on, but that’s not what happens. I think in the first movie it probably just wouldn’t occur to her that asking would affect anything. Her initial experiences in the culture would have led her to think more along the lines of “performance has value, everybody’s always doing things, so in order to get what I want I need to perform some task and prove myself” not “I can ask for what I want and might get it.”

        Her experiences with Queen Clarion had all revolved around talents–which gave the fairies jobs–which translates to performance–so it makes perfect sense to me that a very young character with that set of experiences might think it was okay to go to the Queen with an invention but that it wouldn’t enter her mind to just come empty handed and ask for what she wants.

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          1. I was just thinking that part of the problem with Tinkerbell in this context is that she’s just the wrong kind of protagonist. She tends to make decisions quickly and the movies focus on her social growth. She doesn’t have a lot of social experience at all in the beginning, and the only time she seems to stop being impulsive is when she has an idea for an invention. Even when she does ASK the Queen, it’s like “Oh, I’m gonna go do this…OH, I should ask the Queen, she’ll listen…Wait, what?”

            A character like TA would be a better fit for a movie about changing things by advocating for what you want. (kid-TA, not grown-up TA.)

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          2. It would’ve been a different kind of movie had it been about activism, sure. And possibly harder to work out a character progression from cute and nice to, well, the B-word. Still waiting to see how that works out.

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