There’s an awkward moment in Tinker Bell and the Lost Treasure where it slowly dawns on the viewer that they care about the Autumn revel, and are worried about the fact that there doesn’t seem to be a way to save the shattered moonstone – without which the tree will never be coated in the blue pixie dust that is essential to the survival of the hollow where all the fairies live. The cotton wool balloon is lost and the magic mirror on the pirate wreck doesn’t work, so there’s no way that Tinker Bell will get back in time for the blue moon to hit the magical gem at the right angle. Suddenly you realise you’re invested in a film about CGI fairies. It feels uncomfortable.
Disney has built a successful franchise out of Tinker Bell and her fairy friends in a way that may unnerve JM Barrie, the writer of Peter Pan where the mischievous sprite first appeared. In the original stage play, she was just a beam of light that characters interacted with, but was upgraded to a visible fairy in Disney’s 1953 animation, where she gained her iconic green leaf dress (there’s a witty moment in this film where she chooses from a rack full of these identical clothes). In her own franchise, however, she is given a voice where she was previously silent, and her more villainous attributes, like betraying her friends and trying to get Wendy killed, are replaced with tamer qualities like “occasional anger”.
The little creature must have been successful, as there are now six films with her in the lead, averaging around one a year since Tinker Bell in 2008. The studio are creating a densely detailed world, where fairies trade in pixie dust (cocaine?), and magical rituals involving moons and gems keep the world alive and the seasons in motion. This film reveals that our heroine gets her name from her profession; she is called Bell, and she is a Tinker, see? It’s a carefully ordered society where every fairy fulfils certain roles and it’s probably best not to mention Peter Pan as he doesn’t seem to bear any relevance to any of it.
Only one of these sagas is currently available on Netflix UK: The Lost Treasure, in which the inventive engineer has to create a staff to hold the moonstone to welcome in the Autumn blue moon. Or something. There’s a certain amount of shame that comes with an adult admitting that Tinker Bell and the Lost Treasure is not terrible, but it’s an inevitable conclusion. This isn’t bad. It’s also not great, by any stretch, but it does a lot of things right.
The bright colours and uncomplicated CG animation may not be the most attractive to look at, but it’ll keep the youngest demographic entertained. The story, rooted in the dense fantasy lore of the fairy world, keeps everything moving and is clearly structured, so children will be able to follow it. In fact, many other animations and films for adults could learn a thing or two about the pace and eventful narrative of The Lost Treasure. Primary school kids (well, the younger end anyway) will most likely enjoy the easy-to-grasp message – 10 points if you can guess what the real treasure is – and get swept away in the fantasy and adventure of it all.
Don’t get confused, now. The Lost Treasure is not the new Toy Story, or even the new Epic. It’s hard to believe that viewers of any age will find the jokes funny, and it’s all executed with the kind of fake, glossy grin of a suburban American household that’s hiding deep existential despair. It’s not an interesting film by any measure, and one suspects that the motives for making it were more to do with merchandising than creative passion. Yet the slickness and accessibility of the story is something that many, many films aimed at children still manage to fail. The Lost Treasure has a single purpose, and it achieves it efficiently. Which is about all you can ask for from a cheap rip-off of Peter Pan.