DisneyToon Studios (2012), Released by Beuna Vista Home Entertainment (October 23, 2012), 4 discs, 80 mins, 16:9 ratio, DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1, Rated G, Retail: $49.99


Tinker Bell shows her customary curiosity in journeying to the Winter Woods and searching for the answer to her sparkling wings. Her discovery of family leads to complications for the fairy world, and danger for the pixie dust tree.

The Sweatbox Review:

After a delay of a year, Disney has resumed its releases of what was supposed to be an annual tradition. The reasons for this delay have not been reported, but assumedly have to do with hammering out a proper story, an issue that previously delayed the launch of the first movie. This fourth entry has also undergone at least one title change, as it was previously promoted as being Tinker Bell And The Mysterious Winter Woods (note that “Tinker Bell” is no longer part of the title, a first for this series). After a lacklustre third movie, I personally did not mind waiting longer for a better story.

Despite the name change, this movie follows the lead of the others by promoting a season of the year. In Secret Of The Wings, Tinker Bell experiences the fairy preparation for winter, where the tinker fairies construct baskets that will assist owls from the Winter Woods to carry new snowflakes. When she accompanies a fairy to the bridge between the warm world and winter, she is disappointed to find out that warm fairies are not allowed to cross over to the cold domain. This is a long-standing rule enforced by Lord Milori of the Winter Woods. However, Tinker Bell is only informed of this is after she jumps across the bridge and is astonished to see her wings begin to sparkle. She is dragged back to the warm side, but she is unable to forget the sparkling effect, certain that it has an important meaning.

As she fails to find answers in her own land, Tink wishes to return to the Winter Woods in order to meet a knowledgeable fairy who may be able to solve the mystery. She knows that the law of the land forbids this; but of course, this being Tinker Bell, she is not content to follow the rules, and she devises a plan to cross over to the Winter Woods by smuggling herself in an owl’s basket. After making herself some warm clothes, she has her friends help her to make the journey.

It is not long before she finds out how ill suited warm fairies are to the chilly climate, but she endures, and meets Dewey, a wise older fairy who is a keeper of knowledge. In a somewhat awkwardly presented coincidence, another fairy appears before Dewey with similar questions about sparkling wings. Tinker Bell and the other fairy, Periwinkle, immediately realize there is a bond between them, and they instinctively realize the truth of their relationship… and thus a new chapter is created in the “secret origin of Tinker Bell.” The two fairies are delighted to have found each other, and they devise a plan for Periwinkle to cross the bridge to the warm side, in order to also explore Tinker Bell’s world. Stealth is important, as the law naturally forbids this also. Periwinkle shows as much spunk as Tink, and she goes anyway, with nearly fatal results. A new plan is made with the help of Tink’s friends, leading to an amazing day for Periwinkle as she explores the warm seasons. However, the plan begins to unravel when the means used to shield Peri from the warmth fail, and a new emergency develops. The result is that both fairies end up in trouble, and the wrath of Lord Milori ctually leads to a new crisis that threatens the well being of the pixie dust tree. Tink and Peri must work together with Tink’s friends to save the tree. If they fail, then the lives of all fairies will be inextricably altered forever.

This is a return to form for a movie series that got off to a very strong start in its first two releases before faltering slightly last time. My interest was held throughout this time out, thanks to an interesting exploration of the fairy world, and a story that combines warm sentiment and exciting adventure. The concepts presented feel mostly true to the established fairy mythos (though one may need to “forget” a detail or two involving winter fairies from the first film) and enhance our understanding of the fairy world. It may not seem like the type of thing that would entertain a reviewer in my demographic, but the quality of the production trumps any such concerns. True, I may not ever watch these Tinker Bells films more than once or twice, but I don’t mind sitting through them with my kids, who have also found them to be a nice treat.

The animation quality notches a little higher once again, primarily with increased (though still not enough) attention to the fairies’ hair. It’s a small thing, but it brings much more believability to the visuals, which have always been otherwise rich and lovingly textured in this series. I couldn’t say that the animation truly approaches feature animation levels, only too evident in the animation of some of the animals. As always, the delight is in the design details— while smaller ones enjoy the rich colors and sparkling animation, older viewers can find themselves pleasantly distracted by seeing how the designers have envisioned a magical world comprised of a combination of natural things and misplaced items from the human world.

If this movie stumbles slightly, it is with a few story moments that could have been better presented. The meeting of Tinker Bell and Periwinkle came so suddenly, I had to rewind to see if I’d dozed off and missed something. The revealing of their shared past moments later was nicely demonstrated, but a little too mystical and convenient. Whenever history is presented in the story, it is wonderful that the director chose to “show, don’t tell,” but the in-story reason for such visions seems a little sketchy. Nevertheless, this can be mostly forgiven, as it was all done in the interest of moving the story along in a visually interesting way.

It’s nice to see that this movie series is not running out of steam after all. If Disney must continue with these, it’s good to know that the quality can stay fairly high. Many older viewers without children will undoubtedly pass on this series, which is undoubtedly aimed at smaller fry, particularly girls; but when the next one gets released, I’ll be there on the couch, ready to enjoy it with my kids.

Is This Thing Loaded?

Maybe I’m in the minority, but I actually look forward to watching the Previews at the beginning of a new Disney disc. This one got me excited for the Blu-ray release of Peter Pan, while the preview for the next Tinker Bell movie only brought about mild interest— it appears to feature Tink’s friends to a larger extent, which is nice, but the plot looks a little hokey, with the fairies getting mixed-up clothes and powers. Wreck-It Ralph, as we know by now, looks like a winner. The same are all available from the menu’s Sneak Peeks, as well as trailers and promos for Brave, Cinderella II & III, Sofia The First, Finding Nemo, Planes, Disney Movie Rewards, and Disney Parks.

The big extra, which certainly helps to boost the value of this set, is Pixie Hollow Games (22:34), a TV special that premiered on the Disney Channel in November of 2011. Fans of Tinker Bell may be a little disappointed to find that she is basically a supporting character, but it’s still a nice, if clichéd, story of Rosetta and a new garden fairy named Chloe teaming up to end the garden fairy losing streak at the Pixie Hollow Games. The story may not be especially fresh, but the execution is wonderful, particularly the unique ideas for fairy sports.

Aside from that, there are two music videos, one each for Wings and Games, starring what I assume are the latest Disney teen discoveries; and a cute one-minute Pixie Preview: Fright Light. It’s not clear what exactly it is previewing, though I’m guessing it will be another TV special.

The DVD has all the bonus content, but the Blu-ray 3D disc does not carry over any bonus features.

Case Study:

Contrary to earlier publicity, there are only two ways to own this film on Blu-ray in the US and Canada (aside from any possible retailer exclusives). Some were looking forward to purchasing a 2-disc Blu-ray/DVD combo, but the only way to get that in Region A is to buy it in DVD packaging. North American Blu-ray owners who look down on DVD packaging for their hi-def discs will need to buy the 4-disc combo pack that also includes a 3D version and a digital copy. The higher resulting MSRP is off-putting, and does detract from the notion of this being a casual purchase.

For the Region A combo pack that we’re looking at here, the four discs come in a standard-sized Blu-ray case, with two discs laid on top of each other on each side of the case. I know BDs are supposed to be fairly scratch-resistant, but I can’t say I’m crazy about seeing discs lying directly on top of one another. Also inside the case are two inserts, including one for Disney Movie rewards, and a general Disney advertising booklet. This all comes inside an O-sleeve with a glued-on lenticular cover.

Ink And Paint:

In a surprising move, Disney has chosen to take the extra time between Tinker Bell releases to develop a 3D version of this film, available on its own disc in this set. The 3D is surprisingly rich, with a pleasing dimensionality and depth that eschews any cheesy “coming right at ya” moments. Still, watching the movie in plain old 2D shows no great loss in excitement, with a typically excellent direct digital transfer that shows off every pixel of craftsmanship. Banding is rare, and the picture stays crisp and solid throughout. Perhaps a bit of aliasing shows up on the 3D version, but I was looking hard. The level of detail on display in this movie rivals that of most studios’ theatrical releases, and the Blu-ray does it justice.

Scratch Tracks:

The audio track is just as impressive, with 5.1 lossless audio (DTS-HD Master Audio) that makes full use of your home theater speakers. Turn the sound up, and enjoy the full treatment, with music and sound effects pumping out of every speaker in a delightful display of sound design. You might not expect a Tinker Bell movie to rock the house, but if you don’t mind indulging in the teen pop style of the music, it’s an excellent track.

French and Spanish Dolby Digital 5.1 tracks are also available, and there are subtitles in all three languages, with the addition of English captioning.

Final Cut:

Keeping in mind who this is intended for, Secret Of The Wings is an engaging, beautifully designed movie that provides as good a story as the first Tinker Bell movie, and certainly is better than the last one (the second remains my favorite). The price tag is higher than one would like to see, but there is a 3D disc included, and also a pretty decent TV special. Having some supplements about the making of the film would have made this a more tempting purchase for animation buffs, but it’s hard to see young fans being disappointed at all.

Animated Classic or Back To The Drawing Board?