I had been warned in advance by many, including regular commenter and generally savvy student of animation Trish, that the third movie of the Disney Fairies line, Tinker Bell and the Great Fairy Rescue, was thematically problematic. So I was prepared, and ended up finding the movie not as massively irritating as I think I very easily might have done. Still, there really just isn't much of anything you can do with something as casually jolly in its overt anti-science message as Great Fairy Rescue. How overt? "You don't have to understand, you just have to believe" is a verbatim quote, delivered to the film's designated Bad Dad, a scientist with no time for his adorably lonely daughter. You can, undoubtedly, come up with more overt messages than that, but "Hey Dad, fuck you and fuck science" wouldn't probably show up in a Disney-released cartoon for little girls.

That's not even the plot, really, which is, in keeping with Tinker Bell and Tinker Bell and the Lost Treasure, is all about how when the going gets rough, friends are what keep you going. Tinker Bell (Mae Whitman) is now about 15 months old, and having first celebrated winter turning into spring and then summer turning into autumn, the series now turns itself to spring becoming summer (and it wouldn't necessarily seem that, following the events of Tinker Bell, this should be her "first" summer on the Mainland, but it's a little continuity hiccup as such things go). Summer apparently being a much bigger deal than the other seasons, the entirety of Pixie Hollow more or less picks up and puts down roots throughout the English countryside, and it is from one such base camp a short trip outside of London that the new film's tragedy will strike.

Tinker Bell, you see, being mechanically inclined, is utterly ecstatic to see the new human invention of the automobile from a distance, and despite being told by pretty much everybody that she must absolutely NOT get too close to the humans, she darts out the first chance she gets to take a closer peek, followed by the nasty, bullying fairy Vidia (Pamela Adlon), coming not out a desire to do ill, but out of real fear that the impetuous Tinker Bell will create a terrible disaster for everyone. And sure enough, that's exactly what happens: flying into a little fairy house made by the human child Lizzy (Lauren Mote), Tinker Bell is trapped when Vidia decides to prop the door shut, to teach her a lesson, and this happens just at the exact moment that Lizzy comes looking inspecting.

The great fairy rescue, then, turns out to be the rescue of Tinker Bell herself, which I'd contend is not remotely what's implied by the title. After Lost Treasure sidelined everybody but cute, sexually nonthreatening boy fairy Terence (sexually nonthreatening boy pop star Jesse McCartney), Great Fairy Rescue brings back the whole gang, while leaving Terence out in the cold: Vidia, even though nobody likes her, because she's the only one who knows where to find Tinker Bell; the four color-coded and thematically distinct friends Silvermist (Lucy Liu), Iridessa (Raven-SymonΓ©), Rosetta (Kristen Chenoweth), and Fawn (Angela Bartys, replacing America Ferrara - actually, that already happened in Lost Treasure, but the character is so unimportant there that I didn't even mention her in my review); and the awful fucking comic relief tinker fairies Bobble (Rob Paulsen) and Clank (Jeff Bennett). They get into oh! so many scrapes and adventures along the way, but those mostly serve as cutaways.

The main story sticks with Tinker Bell and Lizzy, who is ecstatic out of her mind to find out that her mirthless entomologist father (Michael Sheen) was wrong, and fairies do exist. But her insistence that she knows now for a fact that his coldly scientific approach to life is inaccurate meets to no avail, and he's too busy trying to catalogue a strange butterfly mutation (caused by an accident in the fairies' butterfly-painting line) to give his daughter the attention she needs. Which makes her magical new friend all the more welcome in this summer in the country, even if fairies cannot communicate with people, as their speech sounds like bells ringing to humans, something Tinker Bell knows quite readily even though, in theory, her people go out of their way to never have any contact with people. I only just realised that this means that Tinker Bell's name is basically the fairy equivalent of naming a human being Accountant Voicebox.

Thus far, the quality of the Tinker Bell movies has far exceeded my expectations, not because they are well-made (they are not), not because the acting and characters are superlative (they emphatically are not), and not because they surprised me with the twists the narrative took (they didn't). Great Fairy Rescue is the much-needed corrective; it is the film that I though all the Tinker Bells would be all along. And that's for reasons above and beyond its dubious message, but that's so dubious, coming after the first two movies were astonishingly sensible and intelligent in their life lessons, that it's hard not to give it pride of place.

It's not that Great Fairy Rescue says, explicitly, "science is bad and girls shouldn't be scientists". It is much odder than that. Lizzy's father gives her a field journal, and asks her to fill it up with real-world observations, hoping to snap her out of her fairy-obsessed nonsense; and this is exactly what she does, making detailed studies of how fairies move and act. So she is, in essence, doing research and fieldwork. But, the end result is still a little girl given a book to encourage her to think and study, and she fills it up with drawings of fairies. Then there's the tossed-off detail about how the fairies of the world have tricked humans into thinking that the seasons are caused by the Earth's axis of rotation, when it's obviously just fairy magic. And that dreadful, dreadful line about "you don't have to understand", explicitly contesting the basic idea of all research and knowledge and study, that we can understand more than we do, and should. Yet in the film's narrative universe, Lizzy is the one who does solid research and ends up understanding, and so... I don't even know. The film has icky implications, is all, and "science is for boys, magic is for girls" is by no means the least icky.

Now, like I said, that's a big, discomfiting problem, and after the first two Tinker Bell movies succeeded so nimbly at not restating the essentially reactionary party line of the Disney Princess line, the other marketing ploy by which the giant media conglomerate wants to tell the world's young women what to think, a disappointing problem as well - but it is not the only problem. Maybe not even the most debilitating; themes are something to debate and contest and discuss, but story and narrative structure is a much simpler, more concrete and even objective thing, and Great Fairy Rescue has a pretty wobbly story. The cutaways to the B-plot - the first in any Tinker Bell movie, now that I think of it, given that they have previously stuck exclusively with the title character - kill the momentum pretty effectively, and it doesn't help that instead of the vanilla but basically satisfactory Terence, we're saddled in this go-round with Tink's posse of cynically market-friendly buddies, with the tacky comic relief of Bobble and Clank stubbornly unimproved from previous outings, the girl fairies stripped of any but the most rudimentary personalities (Silvermist is spacy! Iridessa is panicky!), and Chenoweth really uncorking the Southern accent this time around, to disastrous effect.

Compared to that, the fact that the plot between Lizzy and her distant father, their relationship patched up by the kindly machinations of a supernatural being, doesn't feel any worse than just hideously overfamiliar, and even that isn't probably as big a problem for the film's target as it is for the rest of us. There's still the little issue of how redundant it is, stretching out the story so far that it even needs a fake-out scene where Tinker Bell leaves, only to decide to back, just to keep the plot going - at a mere 76-minutes, Great Fairy Rescue is hardly a bloated mess, but it still feels padded, which almost shouldn't be possible at that running time. It's not interesting enough to justify how little content there actually is, and how many times it would be possible to wrap things up early if only Lizzy and Tinker Bell didn't mutually agree, for no truly rational reason, to keep hiding the truth from Lizzy's dad. Something to do with his museum of embalmed insects, a potentially horrifying thread in a movie world where all the bugs are sentient and have big cow eyes.

In terms of animation: what is there to say? It was made to look as much like the first two as possible, and there has been no appreciable shift in quality. I suppose it's worth mentioning that even within the context of the frankly unattractive, plastic doll character models, Lizzy's dad looks particularly nasty, and Lizzy herself isn't exactly a triumph of character animation, with the series' typical inflexibility proving even more uncanny on faces that read as "human" not as "magical being".

The worst thing, by far, is their cat, which is unreal in a completely different direction from all the other animals in the franchise, though I think that surrounded by an entirely different design mentality, I think I could like her (I say "her" on account of it being a calico, though the only name it is given is "Mr. Twitches", the name of an Edwardian Londoner's pet if ever I heard one).

Anyway, it's really just more of the same, only to less effect. I suppose I like the film less than I might do, simply because it's so colossally blank and mediocre, after the first two were actually good in ways I'd never have anticipated. It is ugly, it is intellectually dim, and I don't like the implications of its story, any more than I like the laziness of its storytelling. But it does introduce the key Peter Pan mythos element that pixie dust can make you fly, something else Tinker Bell seems to know automatically even though fairies have nothing to do with people. And it's not just people that fly! Did you know that dishes could think happy thoughts? Well, now you do.