Inasmuch as it's possible to feel sorry for a movie, I do feel sorry for Pixie Hollow Games. Originally pitched to be the fifth and last of the Disney Fairies features, with a release in 2012, it ended up being swapped with what was then being called Tinker Bell and the Mysterious Winter Woods, sliced to a third or less of its running time, and released as a 22-minute special that premiered on the Disney Channel in November, 2011.

I feel absolutely disgusting saying this about a Tinker Bell movie, but Pixie Hollow Games really badly needed to be longer. At 22 minutes, it has exactly enough time to express its story in the most concise way possible, and establish its setting in the shortest number of lines you could imagine, and if the only thing we cared about in our filmed entertainment was efficiency, like we were programming a children's station in East Germany in the '70s or something, then there'd be nothing wrong here at all. But I hope and pray that nobody needs to have it explained why including only the absolutely essential narrative beats to tell a coherent story isn't inherently a satisfactory way to approach things. There needs to be room to let the story breathe, to let the characters have a chance to live as anything other than bullet points on an outline, to let the world sink in, especially with Pixie Hollow Games taking a look at such a completely different element of the fairy world than Tinker Bell and the Lost Treasure and Tinker Bell and the Great Fairy Rescue.

It is the time of the titular games, something like the Olympics of the fairies; already we've hit a point where it would be nice if the film would talk a little - or at all! - about the way that the games work, how they came to be, what their significance is; as transparently as they're a knockoff of the Triwizard Tournament from Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, it couldn't have hurt to also think about copying J.K. Rowling's knack for creating a synthetic historical backdrop for the event. But not at 22 minutes, no way. We are not primarily focused on Tinker Bell (Mae Whitman) in the games, which surprised me; instead, the main focus is on two garden fairies, Tink's good friend Rosetta (Megan Hilty, replacing Kristen Chenoweth and going rather overboard on the sassy Southerner bit), and the newly-created Chloe (Brenda Song), the first garden fairy in memory who's actually excited about the games, and also the first, as far as we can tell, who's a bit of a tomboy.

No pair of garden fairies has ever won the event before, and the past four years running have been won by the champion team of storm fairies, Rumble (Jason Dolley) and Glimmer (Tiffany Thornton) - the sudden proliferation of fairy sects is another thing that might have been fun to explore a bit, but several of the new teams aren't even named - so Rosetta is content to put in a minimal effort and get back to creating beautiful plants. But chance keeps them alive through the first couple of events, and soon, Rosetta is anxious to avoid disappointing Chloe especially, and all her other garden fairy sisters (and one token brother) generally, and so she tries her best to play hard and win, even if it is against her prim and image-obsessed nature. If I tell you that the final event pits Team Garden against the haughty Team Storm, the ultimate underdogs versus the ultimate bad winners, I pray you are near enough a hospital that the heart attack that this surprise brought on will prove not to be fatal.

We're in appallingly safe territory here, though after the galling "why would a little girl want to do science?" theme of Great Fairy Rescue, I am pleased that the Fairies franchise has returned to generally mature and intelligent life lessons that, if I had a 9-year-old daughter, I would be content to let her watch and absorb these lessons, before telling her to turn off the cartoons and come watch some Lucio Fulci with Daddy.* It's not groundbreaking - none of the Tinker Bell movies are "groundbreaking" - but even in America in the 21st Century, it is still worth confirming for an audience of little girls that, if sports are your thing, that's totally okay. And if some preening jock boy snorts about how you're too "pretty" to be physically active, he's pretty much a dickweed that you can go right ahead and ignore.

As with all the Fairies films, there's also a more gender-neutral lesson, about how sometimes you might be confronted with doing something outside your comfort zone, and it's a good idea to suck it up and do that thing, rather than make everybody kind of hate you by simpering about how much of a precious snowflake you are. And in the process, you might even end up having a good time.

So, great, right? Nice lessons, harmless storytelling, satisfactory characters, especially with the ghastly comic relief duo Bobble (Rob Paulsen) and Clank (Jeff Bennett) being shunted off to act as color commentators, where they can't get in the way of the plot too much. And that's all swell, but Pixie Hollow Games suffers anyway from a flaw that might also be a function of its condensed narrative, for maybe there were more subplots for more characters when this was going to be an hour and a quarter long. I'm referring to Rosetta's prominence above all the other fairies (except Chloe, who just gets thrown right at us like we're supposed to give a shit about this brand new nobody), when, frankly, Rosetta sucks. I imagine that there is some carefully-moderated children's message board where Rosetta fan fiction rules the day and "who loves Rosetta?" threads spread like the dandelions Rosetta herself would undoubtedly nurture along, but for myself, Rosetta is my least favorite of the core fairies, and sometimes, you know how you overhear what you just said, and you suddenly regret it? I only just realised that I had an internal ranking of the characters in the Disney Fairies franchise, and I feel unbelievably awful about it.

But anyway, fuck Rosetta. Seriously, she's the worst, and having to pay attention to her at the expense of everybody else for 22 long minutes is not, by any means, where the series seems like it was supposed to go. It's a weird shift of tone, and one I do not approve at all.

Still, sometimes one must admit that one is a 31-year-old male watching stories aimed at pre-teen girls, and having any opinion isn't necessarily becoming. At least the film has a sensible message that feels intelligently-shaped despite it's somewhat clichéd nature (and, in 2011, "it's okay for girls to play sports" wasn't the most triumphantly groundbreaking direction the series could have gone). It's rushed enough to feel basically pointless as a narrative, and its protagonist is tedious, but it's better than harmless, and "harmless" is already something of an achievement in contemporary children's entertainment.

Oh, and the animation is still the exact same thing, because why wouldn't it be? There are some nice textural effects with water and dust, though, so it's at least as attractive as any of its predecessors. And it's pretty damn sleek for TV animation, which is after all what it was. But talking about the animation of the Tinker Bell movies is starting to feel pretty dumb.