SECRET OF THE WINGS – 3D Blu-ray review

I’m no expert on Tinker Bell. Peter Pan (complex) maybe, but not Tink. So for this film I’m relying on my 10-year-old daughter, who falls within the target age range of the Tinker Bell films that Disney has been cranking out since 2008’s “Tinker Bell.” Then came “Tinker Bell and the Lost Treasure” (2009), “Tinker Bell and the Great Fairy Rescue” (2010), and now “Secret of the Wings,” which is tagged “A Tinker Bell Disney Fairies Movie.”

Yep, like the Buddies pics and the “Beverly Hills Chihuahua” films, this is one of Disney’s money-making franchises. But that doesn’t mean they don’t put care into the production. The all-CGI work is impressive, especially in Blu-ray, and Disney has filled the cast list with some pretty high-profile voice talents: like Anjelica Huston, Mae Whitman, Kristin Chenoweth, Raven-Symoné, Lucy Liu, Jodi Benson, Timothy Dalton, and Jesse McCartney.

So how does this fourth feature-length direct-to-home-video entry stack up against the rest?

Curiously, here’s where my daughter and I differ.  My daughter thinks it’s one of the best because it has a better plot than the other films; I think it’s inferior because of the plot.

Who’s right? Well, I think we both might be. For little girls who are drawn to this franchise, the plot strikes closer to home than previous entries. The first film introduced Tinker Bell as a character who was thought of as a disaster by others and who felt adrift until she found her niche in the social scheme of Pixie Hollow. But the theme of finding one’s place in the world is really something that older children on the cusp of adulthood can more readily identify with. The plot of “Secret of the Wings,” on the other hand, seems more accessible to young girls. It’s about sisters. BFFs.

“Tinker Bell” was an origin story, and as such it had to deal with scrutiny over character inconsistencies—like, how can this winged little pixie be so giggly and charming and happy, when Tink in “Peter Pan” was a jealous, conniving, pouting candidate for anger management therapy?

By this installment, Tink’s personality has long been established for this series, along with her propensity for jumping pixie-feet first into new adventures. In “Secret of the Wings,” Tink’s friends in Pixie Hollow have been contracted to send x-amount of baskets of supplies and such to the wintry side of the pixie world—a world that has a magical line of demarcation mid-way along a fallen tree that spans a river leading from one world to the next. On one side it’s perpetual spring and summer; on the other side it’s winter. Don’t think too much about it, parents, or the fact that seasonal fairies were a part of Pixie Hollow in earlier films, which had a Minister for every season.

Tink (Whitman) wants to cross over to the winter world, even though it’s forbidden because, for one thing, her wings would freeze and she couldn’t take the cold. That doesn’t stop her from making a warm outfit for herself that can also protect those fragile wings and hiding in a basket to be dropped by owls on the wintry side. And there, what does she find?

Well, the first trip over she just gets frostbite on her wings and has to be taken to the fairy hospital, followed by a trip to the Book Nook where she finds a book about wings that might help her understand how to protect them. But bookworms ate all the good parts, and now more than ever she needs to cross over, because that’s where the author known as The Keeper apparently lives.

It’s the second crossing when she finds a kindred spirit named Periwinkle (Lucy Hale) who looks like her, has the very same wing pattern, and even loves to collect found objects. It turns out to be her sister.

Again, parents, don’t think too hard about his one—or the fact that Disney at least provided a logical explanation for separated-at-birth sisters’ films “The Parent Trap” in 1961 and 1998. Here, all we get is something akin to a stork story: a baby’s first laugh somehow halving, with one part going to the warm side of Pixie Hollow and the other the cold.

When the lord of the Winter Woods, Lord Milori (Dalton), arrives, he gives orders to send the warm fairy back to where she came from. And so the adventure comes from the two fairy sisters trying to figure out a way to be together. Tink wants her sister to visit her on the warm side, and so she enlists the aid of her tinker fairy friends, who make a snow machine on wheels that can keep Periwinkle cold. But when the snowmaker runs out of ice? It’s only the start of big problems for all of Pixie Hollow. But when Lord Milori says the two sisters may never see each other again, do you really think Disney is going to let these two stay apart?

A pat ending will give young girls the warm fuzzies and their parents raised eyebrows. But hey, it’s a Tinker Bell Disney Fairies Movie aimed at little girls ages 4 through 10. My daughter is at the high end of that range and she still maintains it’s one of the best “Tinker Bell” films. Right now, her extracurricular activities and her best friend are the most important things in her life. HAVING a best friend is important at this age and younger, and so I can see why the target audience would go for this film. Logically, though, it’s Silly Putty—a real stretch, and an uncomplicated narrative that’s restricted to a forward movement and impediments. There are no subplots, and nothing more complex than that. So parents won’t enjoy this one as much as the original “Tinker Bell.” But what do we matter anyway?

Say what you will about the plot, “Secret of the Wings” is a delight to watch, a feast for the senses. In 3D, quite a few objects break the plane of the TV screen and there’s an impressive depth of features throughout the film. Colors and black levels are absolutely perfect in both the Blu-ray 3D and standard Blu-ray presentations, as is the level of detail. Disney always does such a fine job of creating worlds, and it’s marvelous just watching how the characters do things in Pixie Hollow, with some scenes reminding you just a bit of “A Bug’s Life.” The animation is superb. How far CGI has come!

In 3D there’s some ghosting and aliasing, but otherwise I saw no other compression issues, and to see these things you really have to be looking for them. But (and this doesn’t bode very well for the industry) my daughter preferred the standard Blu-ray version. She’s not a big fan of the glasses, and in truth the Blu-ray actually looks crisper than the 3D.

I half expected a 7.1 audio with this one, since Disney has been moving in that direction, but the featured soundtrack is an English DTS-HD MA 5.1, with plenty of rear speaker involvement . . . but not much in the way of subwoofer rumble. Then again, there’s not much call for it—only a bass presence, and that’s certainly provided. Some scenes dominated by the center and front channels, but for the most part “Secret of the Wings” boasts rich-timbred soundtrack.

Disney apparently front-loads their CGI films, putting all of the budget into creating the film itself rather than supplementary features. Apart from a “Pixie Preview” and music videos by the McLain Sisters (“Great Divide”) and Zendaya (“Dig Down Deeper”), the only bonus feature is “Pixie Hollow Games,” a bonus adventure about Olympic-style competitions. It runs a little over 20 minutes long, so it’s a substantial short feature, and one that the target age group ought to enjoy.

Bottom line:
I’d probably give this entry a 5 or 6 out of 10, even considering the target audience, but with my daughter collecting the films and pronouncing this one “the best,” I have to warm my own wings a bit and award it a 7 out of 10. In my defense, even if parents may be stung by the narrative logic, “Secret of the Wings” is still a wonderful sensory experience to share with your child.