Like the Harry Potter book series, the DVD based Tinker Bell stories set in the world of Pixie Hollow start simple, easy to get into, and then progress into more and more complex stories and issues. DVD number 3, “Tinker Bell and the Great Fairy Rescue,” follows that tradition presenting a rich story with many more characters and emotions involved.
As the name implies this film features a rescue which implies some action and the directors aim to deliver. It also delivers some important moments in the mythos of the Peter Pan world. I don’t want to give away any spoilers, but in the clips I saw, I spent a lot of time going “oh, that’s cool.”
The third film really shows a progression in quality film making that has occurred since the Pixar brain trust arrived after merging with Disney. The art direction and character animation continue to improve. They’ve moved the characters away from the cartoony feel. The set design is fully realized with lots of rich detail.
Earlier today, I was priviledged to participate in a roundtable Q&A session with Helen Kalafatic and Bradley Raymond, Producer and Director respectively, follow below the jump for the transcript.
(For Helen) How did your experience with “Harold and the Purple Crayon” and with “Sponge Bob” influence your participation in Tinker Bell and the Great Fairy Rescue?
A – Helen Kalafatic: Being able to draw from past experience is valuable in any line of work. Working with large creative teams in a studio environment has been especially helpful. Animation production is very collaborative and this film was the most collaborative production I’ve worked on.
Q – Helen: I’m noticing a lot more emphasis on action in this and The Lost Treasure. Are you trying to make this series more appealing to boys or do the girls want some action too?
A – Helen Kalafatic: The rescue was key to the story we wanted to tell and naturally with a rescue comes action and adventure. We wanted all children to go on this exciting journey with our characters.
Q – Helen: With a few more films already planned, what has been the key to the success of the Tinker Bell franchise for the films and Disney?
A – Helen Kalafatic: Our creative team’s ability to tell great stories and to create multi-faceted and believable characters. The ability to stay true to the world in which the characters live have been important in the success of Tinker Bell.
Q – Brad: How does it happen, that Tinker Bell and Lizzy become friends?
A – Bradley Raymond: Tinker Bell and Lizzy become friends while they create a field journal about fairies. Imagine having a real fairy helping you with facts about Pixie Hollow as you create a book of fairies! That is one of many wish fullfillments in this story that I hope the audience will enjoy.
Q – Helen: How hard was it to lure Michael Sheen in and what did he bring to the character of Dr. Griffths?
A – Helen Kalafatic: We have a great casting department here which is headed up by Jason Henkel. He really did a fantastic job in bringing Michael Sheen (and the rest of the cast) onto the film.
Q – Brad, you have quite an amazing voice cast in this film from Mae Whitman as the title character to Lucy Liu, Kristen Chenoweth, Angelica Huston. Talk a bit about the process of assembling this amazing cast.
A – Bradley Raymond: We do have an amazing cast (although Angelica Houston’s character does not appear in The Great Fairy Rescue)! One of the most important aspects in voice acting for animation is the ability to act with your voice. In live action or television a lot of the amazing actors in our franchise use their face and eyes to show an emotion. Why we are so lucky is our cast can get those same emotions across with just their voices as well. Once you have that from your cast, then you can sit back and hear how they create their characters.
Q – Helen, where did the idea of setting this film in the English countryside come from?
A – Helen Kalafatic: Brad wanted to set the film in the English countryside near London to keep the feeling of Peter Pan with us.
Q – Brad, are human faces the most difficult to render via computer animation? They seem to have improved over the years. Can you talk about what you did to try to capture the look and texture of flesh?
A – Bradley Raymond: One of the reasons humans are so challenging to create in animation is that we know how humans behave. So the first goal was to keep Lizzy and her father’s acting subtle. If we made them too cartoony, we wouldn’t believe the world they live in and all the magic would be lost. I am very proud of how all of our animators accomplished this goal.
Q – Helen,what can Tinker Bell learn from Lizzy and what can Lizzy learn from Tinker Bell?
A – Helen Kalafatic: Both Tinker Bell and Lizzy learn about each other’s worlds. There is a beautiful sequence in the film where Lizzy learns all about the fairy world and it has a great song to accompany it called “How to Believe” written by Adam Iscove. That sequence probably answers this question better than I can.
Q – Brad, Lizzy’s crayon drawings look photographically real. Could you talk about the process of drawing them?
A – Bradley Raymond: When one of our amazing artists with years of experience tries to draw like a nine year old, the audience notices. That would make our world less believable. So we decided to have real nine year old girls do Lizzy’s drawings for her. Not only is this extremely cute, but you begin to believe this world is real. Ultimately this makes Lizzy’s first meeting with Tinker Bell more magical.
Q – Brad: The animation, in my opinion, have been better with each film, and this film looks no different. Was there a conscious effort to improve or was it a by-product of the team getting comfortable with the technology, time frame, and each other?
A – Bradley Raymond: I agree that the animation is great in these movies. We have an amazing team of artists who are so dedicated. Our animation supervisor, Sheryl Sackett, works so closely with our animation team and she deserves a huge part of the credit.
Q – Brad what were your goals in directiing this film? What “stars” did you use to steer by, so to speak?
A – Bradley Raymond: The ‘star’ that we used to steer by was ‘the second star to the right’ of course. Walt Disney’s Peter Pan was such a huge influence on this whole world. So I wanted to try and capture the same magic that I felt when I first saw Peter Pan in this film. Just seeing Lizzy flying for the first time brought me back to that magical world!
Q – Helen: The animation, in my opinion, have been better with each film, and this film looks no different. Was there a conscious effort to improve or was it a by-product of the team getting comfortable with the technology, time frame, and each other?
A – Helen Kalafatic: We are always striving for the highest quality so yes, there is always a conscious effort to improve. The individuals working on this film have an innate desire to be the best at their craft, the whole crew has a great sense of pride and it shows on the screen.
Q – Brad, much of the preview we have seen takes place in a room. Where beyond that does this new TINKERBELL adventure take us?
A – Bradley Raymond: When Tinker Bell’s friends find that Tink is stuck in the ‘human house,’ they band together to rescue her. Because fairies can’t fly in the rain, we get to see our gang build a boat and travel on the ground to get to Tink. This gives us a great sense of scale as our fairies face all kinds of peril. They face an oncoming car, a waterfall and even a cranky cat!
Q – Helen: What is your favorite animated movie of all time?
A – Helen Kalafatic: My first lunchbox was Pinocchio, I loved that film but Cinderella was another favorite and I was so excited to be the Fairy Godmother in my first grade play. I was around three when my parents started taking me to Radio City to see the Disney films and those memories are with me forever. My favorite contemporary animated films are Ratatouille, Up and Iron Giant. Wow, that was a long answer!
Q – Brad, how does this movie fit into the Tinkerbell saga? Do you guys consider the other movies before developing a new story?
A – Bradley Raymond: When we start to develop a Tinker Bell movie, we present our ideas to our story trust. As a group we look at the whole franchise and world we created for ideas and try to keep each film consistant.
q – Helen, do you feel a special responsibility since you’re dealing with such an iconic character in Tinkerbell?
A – Helen Kalafatic: Absolutely! It’s such an honor to be working on a Tinker Bell film. We all feel a responsibility because Tinker Bell is an integral part of the Disney history and tradition and her character is part of so many people’s childhoods.
Q – Brad, why was Mae Whitman chosen to play Tinker Bell?
A – Bradley Raymond: When we heard Mae Whitman’s voice for the first time we all looked at each other and said, “She’s Tinker Bell!” We wanted someone who could capture the multifaceted personality of Tinker Bell – all with her voice! She brings Tink’s fiestiness and playfulness and sweetness to life. Mae is an amazing talent!
Q – Brad, what is it about Tinker Bell that makes her so appealing to such a mass audience considering her character was never the focal point of a film until the first Tinker Bell film?
A – Bradley Raymond: Even though she is from a far away magical world, Tinker Bell is one of the most relatable characters in movie history. She has so many facets to her personality. One of the most memorable moments in Walt Disney’s Peter Pan is when Tinker Bell gets angry and turns red. There are so many stories that could be told with such a multi-dimensional character.
Q – Brad, why was the decision taken to base the four sequels around the seasons?
A – Bradley Raymond: In the world of Pixie Hollow, fairies bring the magic of nature to our world. They arrive and change the seasons. This is such a magical and relatable idea that it seemed natural to set each movie around the backdrop of the four seasons.
Q – Brad, there have been subtle references to the Peter Pan story in the first two Tinker Bell films. Has the overall franchise arc been mapped out so there’s a logical lead-in from the end of this series to the original film, or is it being taken one installment at a time?
A – Bradley Raymond: In each Tinker Bell movie there has been many references to Walt Disney’s Peter Pan. In the first movie, young Wendy has a small cameo. in the second movie, we fly by Skull Rock and in the latest movie we get to hear the phrase, “think happy thoughts” for the first time.
Q – Helen what were your goals in producing this film? What “stars” did you use to steer by, so to speak?
A – Helen Kalafatic: My goals changed as we moved along and new goals were set but overall I wanted the crew and director to be in an environment where they felt comfortable and happy so that we could all feel at ease with each other. When people feel good about their work they can expand and support eachother.
Q – Helen: Was it an active decision to give Tinker Bell’s friends more screen time in this installment after the emphasis was more squarely on Tink herself in the second one?
A – Helen Kalafatic: Screen time wasn’t something that was an active choice. Brad wanted to create a story that was believable and entertaining and timeless. All of the fairies play an important role in the rescue and the amount of screen time just worked out naturally.
M – Helen, thank you so much for joining us today. Any final thoughts?
A – Helen Kalafatic: Thank you for this opportunity! You had some great questions. I loved working on this film. We had such a wonderful crew, the leads, artists and production management people were amazing. To have John Lasseter as our Executive Producer was incredible and having Brad Raymond as a Director was a gift.
M – Thank you so much for your attendance today. Any final words Brad?
A – Bradley Raymond: Thank you all so much for your amazing questions. Helen and I have had such a great time chatting about our experiences working on this movie with you today. This has been such a dream come true for me. I love stories about ordinary people who experience extraordinary events. This story is exactly that. Hopefully the audience will have as much fun watching the movie as Helen and I did making it. Thanks again everybody.