THE PIRATE FAIRY is the sixth movie in the Disney Fairies Tinker Bell series and introduces a new fairy, Zarina, to the core of the crew (Tinker Bell, Iridessa, Rosetta, Vidia, Silver Mist, and Fawn). It’s the best of both worlds: pirates and fairies! In this post, I’ll share my experience chatting with THE PIRATE FAIRY’s director, Peggy Holmes, and producer, Jennifer Magee-Cook. Follow this link for my spoiler-free review of Disney’s THE PIRATE FAIRY, available now on Blu-ray/DVD.
SPOILER ALERT – Because of the nature of the conversations, there may be spoilers in these two posts about the making of THE PIRATE FAIRY. For our previous posts about the making of FROZEN and the making of SAVING MR. BANKS, the movies were out for months. If you’ve read my review of THE PIRATE FAIRY, you’ll know that it’s worth getting it ASAP.
Our THE PIRATE FAIRY meetings took place at Disneytoon Studios, which was decked out like a pirate’s stronghold. It must be empowering to have your employer acknowledge and laud your accomplishments to the extent of redecorating the office to reflect your success. Everywhere we looked, we saw THE PIRATE FAIRY.
Zarina’s story is of a fairy who makes a mistake and how she handles that mistake. She is a dust keeper who doesn’t use pixie dust to fly, choosing instead to use her allotted ration for experiments instead. She makes her mistake when she discovers that she accidentally brought home a speck of blue pixie dust. Instead of returning it to the depot, she uses it in experiments. When a catastrophe ensues and her mistake is discovered, she runs away. While she and Tinker Bell have similar qualities, this is where they differ. Tinker Bell would have handled the situation differently.
We don’t know what happened in that missing year, including how Zarina became the pirate fairy, but Peggy thinks that James found Zarina on the beach and learned to understand the fairy language from spending so much time together. This is one example, among many, of how THE PIRATE FAIRY stayed true to PETER PAN – when we see the fairies from the human point-of-view, they tinkle like bells. Another example is the pirates singing and, boy, do they sing! “The Frigate That Flies” is such a catchy number that even a hiding fairy gets drawn into a jig (I love that scene).
Holmes and Magee-Cook had nothing but praise for Tom Hiddleston (James) and Christina Hendricks (Zarina). Tom loves Disney and was very excited to play James. Christina was the first choice for Zarina. They were both smart about processing their characters. Carlo Ponce also earned their praise for his work as Bonito. We were treated to a video of Tom recording the pirates’ song and he gives full-body voice-over! All voice-over sessions are recorded so that the animators can capture nuances and movement from the natural behavior of the actors, so Tom was an excellent choice in that regard. Fun fact: Animators have mirrors in their work spaces to enable them to capture true motion from their own faces for animation.
Sadly, there are no real plans to move forward with the story, though the path has been opened, so we can always hope. Jake and the Never Land Pirates will not be entering the story (which makes me happy).
The pirate theme wasn’t the first idea. At Disneytoon Studios, the directors work in peer groups. Rather than presentations, they collaborate on stories, allowing creativity to be enhanced by the group, making sure the best stories are created and made into films. They knew they wanted to go forward with a new fairy making a mistake and leaving Pixie Hollow, but it wasn’t until they were in a “story trust” that John Lasseter came up with the idea of making it about the Never Land pirates, incorporating elements of PETER PAN. As we posted about previously, the team went to the Animation Research Library to make sure they get the PETER PAN elements right.
John Lasseter also came up with the Crocky idea. We watched a video of Crocky’s development and learned that baby crocodiles look just like adult crocodiles, but smaller. John wasn’t happy with that (not enough cuteness) and suggested a baby crocodile that looked more like a baby, with big eyes and a big belly. And that is how the Crocky we know and love was born – before he was actually hatched, that is. Fun fact: Crocky has the exact number of teeth that a real baby crocodile is born with. Two words: “Alarm Crock” – I hope that means we’ll be seeing an Crocky alarm clock in the Disney Store soon. Fun fact: the clock in THE PIRATE FAIRY is the original clock from PETER PAN.
Merchandising is not an aspect of story building at Disney. The merchandising team doesn’t get involved until the movie has been made. Check out this post for more of the great products available for Disney’s THE PIRATE FAIRY. Similarly, distribution isn’t part of the process. After the movie gets made, the distribution team determines whether or not a film will hit the big screens or go straight to home video. [This came up because so many of us thought this movie would have done very well at the box office.] The entire process is collaborative, rather than consecutive. Story work and character design work off of each other to bring the story to life (see my post here about our Q&A with the animation team).
Disney animated films are incredibly detailed and touch the hearts of their viewers. The challenge of making the world in the film true-to-life drives the research process. “Truth in the materials” is the driving concept – if there are cheats in a movie, the viewer gets pulled out of the story. In order to get the pirate ship right (yes, at Disney, even animated films are as true-to-life as possible), the team went to Oxnard to conduct research on a real pirate ship, the Lady Washington in Oxnard, California. They learned how to sail a tall ship and the varying roles of the different sailors’ positions. A 3D camera was brought to help capture scale and perspective and one of the photos of the cannons was used to create the composition of the fairies in the cannon scene. We got to see the 3D photo and the movie’s replication is spot on.
The reason for switching the fairies’ talents was to create an obstacle that would slow them down. Zarina needed a way to hinder them without actually hurting them. [It also allowed the fairies to work together, each teaching the one with her talent how best to use it, creating an even more collaborative team.] Plus, it gave them new outfits to design and it allowed them to make Vidia a tinker! The pompom scene was a favorite for the makers and the viewers.
Fun fact not related to THE PIRATE FAIRY: Jennifer Magee-Cook was an associate producer of PREP & LANDING. Can you guess where I’m going with this? Can you guess where Magee got her name?
As we posted previously, Adventures by Daddy was invited to Hollywood for behind-the-scenes access to several Disney films (FROZEN, THE PIRATE FAIRY, and SAVING MR. BANKS). Disclosure: Disney Home Entertainment has invited Adventures by Daddy on an all-expenses paid press trip to Los Angeles, California to tour the Walt Disney Studios and learn about their upcoming home releases. Disney has provided for transportation, meals, and lodging, but all opinions expressed are those of the author. For more family movie news, be sure to follow Adventures by Daddy on twitter and “like” our facebook page too.