Con­nect­ing to a Clas­sic

Dis­neyToon’s The Pirate Fairy steers the Tinker Bell fran­chise into fa­mil­iar ter­ri­tory that closes the gap with its ori­gins in 1953’s Peter Pan. By Thomas J. McLean

Animation Magazine - - Features -

Writer-di­rec­tor Peggy Holmes knew she wanted the sixth en­try in Dis­ney Toon Stu­dios’ Tinker Bell fea­ture se­ries to be about a girl who runs away from home. But they were miss­ing a way to turn that into an ex­cit­ing and en­gag­ing story.

“We were ac­tu­ally sit­ting with (Walt Dis­ney An­i­ma­tion Stu­dios Chief Cre­ative Of­fi­cer) John Las­seter and the other di­rec­tors and writ­ers and talk­ing about where can we go,” she says. “And af­ter about two hours, John all of the sud­den pounds his fist on the ta­ble and we all look up and he goes: ‘Pi­rates! She could run into pi­rates!’ And we all went, oh, gosh, what a big idea! And with pi­rates came the idea that we could in­tro­duce a young Cap­tain Hook.”

The path was then set for The Pirate Fairy, due out on home me­dia April 1, and the first movie in the se­ries to steer clearly into the realm of Dis­ney’s 1953 clas­sic Peter Pan.

The film cen­ters on a new fairy char­ac­ter named Za­rina, voiced by Mad Men star Christina Hen­dricks: a slightly non­con­formist pixie dust keeper who has un­con­ven­tional ideas for us­ing the mag­i­cal sub­stance. When one of her ex­per­i­ments back­fires, she runs away from Pix- ie Hol­low only to re­turn a year later leading a band of pi­rates that steals the source of pixie dust. That forces Tinker Bell and her friends to try to stop her, a goal made more dif­fi­cult by a mishap that switches their pow­ers, and unites all the fairies against an un­ex­pected but fa­mil­iar foe.

A new char­ac­ter was nec­es­sary for telling this story, says Holmes, be­cause none of the es­tab­lished Pixie Hol­low char­ac­ters worked as a ru­n­away. “I don’t think Tinker Bell would run away from home; Tinker Bell takes things head on,” says Holmes. “I don’t think it would be be­liev­able (for Tinker Bell to run away).”

De­sign­ing Za­rina was one of the main chal­lenges, says Ray­mond Shenusay, head of story on the movie. “She had to be a very hu­man char­ac­ter up front, enough for us to

be in­vested in her, but she also had to be­come a pirate and do some mean things to her friends,” he says. “We needed a char­ac­ter who, de­spite the fact that she’s six inches tall, you could be­lieve that these pi­rates were tak­ing or­ders from her.”

The look of the char­ac­ter had to stand out as well. Char­ac­ter de­signer Rit­suko Notani says her first look in Pixie Hol­low fol­lowed the gen­eral fairy es­thetic — wear­ing all or­ganic ma­te­ri­als like leaves for clothes — but with tweaks to show her ec­cen­tric­i­ties, such as slightly un­kempt hair and be­ing just a lit­tle taller than the other fairies.

For her trans­for­ma­tion into the Pirate Fairy, she gets a new cos­tume in­clud­ing a pirate coat made from the cuff of a man’s jacket, wild red hair and smoky eye makeup.

The young Cap­tain James Hook was a par­tic­u­larly dif­fi­cult char­ac­ter to han­dle be­cause the re­veal of who he is to be­come is a key plot point in the movie. That meant there had to be sub­tle hints to his iden­tity with­out be­ing ob­vi­ous. Most of the movie sees him with­out his iconic hat, coat or mus­tache, but sharp eyes will catch de­tails like the tiny ruf­fle on his shirt col­lar that fore­shad­ows the full cos­tume he comes to wear.

In­spi­ra­tion was drawn from fre­quent trips to the Dis­ney An­i­ma­tion Re­search Li­brary to in­spect the orig­i­nal art­work from Peter Pan.

Avengers star Tom Hid­dle­ston voices the char­ac­ter, bring­ing a sim­i­lar bal­ance to his per­for­mance. “The orig­i­nal per­for­mance of Hook was by Hans Con­ried, and it’s a big, over-the-top per­for­mance,” says Holmes. “What Tom clearly un­der­stood was it was a be­liev­able per­for­mance for that era, and so he un­der­stood he had to find a huge per­for­mance here but be­liev­able for a con­tem­po­rary au­di­ence. And he got that in spades.”

The an­i­ma­tors on the film looked fre­quently at ref­er­ence ma­te­rial, some of it of the ac­tors as they were record­ing their lines, says Yuriko Senoo, an­i­ma­tion su­per­vi­sor on the movie. “For Christina Hen­dricks, who did the voice of Za­rina, we also looked at Keira Knight­ley from Pi­rates of the Caribbean,” says Senoo. “But we mainly shot ref­er­ence of our­selves to get the per­for­mance that we wanted.”

The most dif­fi­cult char­ac­ter to an­i­mate proved to be the baby crocodile. (Yes, this movie re­veals how Hook’s neme­sis from Peter Pan got the tick­ing clock in his stomach.) Senoo says it was a tech­ni­cal chal­lenge to an­i­mate a char­ac­ter that is so car­toony — oc­ca­sion­ally walk­ing on two legs and at other times on four.

Of the hu­man char­ac­ters, Senoo says the an­i­ma­tors most en­joyed work­ing on the pi­rates. “We could go broad and do dance and song,” she says.

En­vi­ron­ments also of­fered lots of op­por­tu­nity for the fea­ture, such as re­vis­it­ing and get­ting a closer look at iconic lo­ca­tions from Peter Pan, says pro­ducer Jenni Magee-Cook. “We didn’t have the in­te­rior of Skull Rock to go from, so we had to add to that,” she says. “It’s re­ally sub­tle but if you look at the build­ings in­side there when the ship is docked on the in­side, there’s a build­ing and a wa­ter wheel and a dock and if you re­ally study it those are all ship parts.”

The pro­duc­tion also sent a crew to visit pi- rate-like ships and take pho­to­graphs from the per­spec­tive of the six-inch tall fairies us­ing a 3-D cam­era.

Ob­vi­ously, the mak­ers of The Pirate Fairy were se­ri­ous about honor­ing the past and pay­ing at­ten­tion to all the de­tails opened up by its con­nec­tion to Peter Pan. And, if you needed more proof, the tick­ing of the clock the baby croc swal­lows is the orig­i­nal sound from Peter Pan, pulled from the ar­chives.

The Pirate Fairy is re­leased on Blu-ray combo pack and Dig­i­tal HD on April 1.

Tom Hid­dle­ston and Christina Hen­dricks brought their vo­cal tal­ents to young Cap­tain Hook and Za­rina in The Pirate Fairy.

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