Continuing this week’s celebration of all things Tinker Bell, I spoke to Ellen Jin Over, Art Director for the new DVD, Tinker Bell and the Lost Treasure. I was really lucky that Tinker Bell historian Mindy Johnson was there, too. Don’t forget to enter my contest for the new Tinker Bell DVD and wings!
NM: Tell me what it is like to dress a fairy!
EJO: Dressing Tinker Bell is real exciting because that’s one of the major Disney characters, and to dress her in something else than what she was wearing is very exciting. They are fairies and their dwelling is Pixie Hollow, made of all natural stuff, so we begin with found objects made from nature, influenced by Victorian styles. She wears a green leaf dress. We wanted to continue that color scheme and nature, be inspired by nature, bring different texture of the leafs, different color variations, made out of flowers, leaf, and feather. Of course she is wearing leggings because it is fall, a shawl, boots with pom poms made of cotton ball.
NM: How do you suggest not just her environment but her personality?
EJO: Different fairies have a different personality. Silvermist is a really feminine personality and a water fairy; Irdidessa is really organized and she is also a light fairy, so depending on what their talents are, we give them some costumes that match. Silvermist will always have a long dress. And Tinker Bell, she’s really active, she’s really curious, very adventurous. Because in this movie she travels far out of Pixie Hollow into some other unknown land, we wanted to give her a really active, kind of sportly look. So she has a visor, a shawl for the cold weather, a pair of boots so she can run around and jump and hop and protect her little delicate feet. In this outfit she can do whatever she wants, climb up.
NM: It’s been about a hundred years since Tinker Bell first appeared — and she was just a little spot of light on stage in productions of “Peter Pan.” And then Disney was the first to personify her in the animated version of the story (which was also the first to have the title character played by a boy instead of a woman). How has Tink changed over the years?
Mindy Johnson (author of a forthcoming book about Tinker Bell): She did begin as a flash of light with James M. Barrie. He explored many different avenues on how to portray this character and she took the imagination of many including a very young Walt Disney as a boy, having seen the play as a child. She was always in the back of his mind as he built the animation studios and he had his version in development for 16 years, beginning before WWII, in the late 1930’s. It wasn’t until the 1950’s that it came back into development. The character was designed by a Disney artist named Mark Davis, a legendary animator, something of a ladies man — he worked on Cinderella, Snow White, and Princess Aurora. It was a challenge to portray a realistic, humanistic, character, especially because she was largely portrayed via pantomime. There were quite extensive explorations of her as redhead, brunette, a little powder puff, a whole variety of things which is the crux of this book I am working on about her history. But all of that is part of what left her so implanted in everyone’s mind as the embodiment of magic, and wonderment and fantasy and fun and a little mischief. There have been a number of things since the 1952 debut in the film. She was brought into the early television show to open each program. And now she has her own stories.
NM: How do you introduce her new evolved persona to the audience?
EJO: By giving her an adventure of her own. It was really the director’s choice to send her to a place where she was going to have a really great experience exploring this fantasy world. She was really given a great task, to make a fall scepter. It was such a great task that she wanted to be really good about it. But she made a mistake, the moonstone broke. She got the idea from the story-telling fairy that there is a far away place where you can find the moonstone so she decided to go on a trip. We see that she is not afraid to explore new territory to complete her responsibility. And boys like her, too, because she is not your typical princess, she is a tomboy and not afraid to do things, more of a character that could appeal to both audiences.
Disney, which had to drop the word “educational” from its marketing of Baby Einstein DVDs following complaints from the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood (CCFC), has now had to back down further and offer a refund.
The New York Times reports that the $200 million a year business, which is predicated on the idea that DVD-watching is beneficial to infants even though the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends no screen time of any kind, television, DVDs, or computers, before age 2, is so pervasive that as many as a third of all American babies have seen at least one of these DVDs. In what the company is calling an “enhanced consumer satisfaction guarantee” and the CCFC is characterizing as capitulation, the company will refund $15.99 for up to four “Baby Einstein” DVDs per household, bought between June 5, 2004, and Sept. 5, 2009, and returned to the company.
I have been a furious opponent of Baby Einstein and the other DVDs for infants since I published the one of the first exposes of them as a racket in the mainstream media, a 2005 article in the Chicago Tribune. When I was working on the article, a company representative’s absurd response to my question about academic studies showing no benefits in learning from their products that their DVDs were “not research-based.” The New York Times story reports that even though they had to remove the word “educational” from their literature following CCFC complaints and a Federal Trade Commission investigation, the website still promises “number recognition” and introduction of shapes. And, of course, the name itself implies that the products increase knowledge or intellectual capacity.
The academic studies show that what infants learn from watching a family member once takes them four times as long to absorb in a DVD. And the very act of watching a DVD with the pulsing refresh rate of the screen can be at the same time soporific and stimulating, making it more difficult for them to get restful sleep. The only thing they learn from these DVDs is how to watch television. Susan Linn of the CCFC was a terrific resource for me in my work on this issue and I am delighted to see her success in bringing to parents’ attention how useless these DVDs are.
My good friend and fellow critic Tim Gordon and I went to hear hip-hop artist/actor/philanthropist Ludacris speak at the National Press Club on Friday. He was there to talk about his foundation and the work it does in Atlanta and around the world to help provide opportunities, guidance, and inspiration for young people. His opening remarks were impressive as he described programs that provided 20 cars to people who needed them in order to do their jobs and take care of their families and described his goal: “Not so much to see what nobody has seen as to think what nobody has thought about what everybody sees.” He spoke about his family’s “deep-rooted tradition of service that underscores the responsibility we all have.” He was grateful that his own commitment to giving back was underscored is his first job, working for Radio One. Boss Cathy Hughes insisted on community service from her employees each week, establishing a precedent for what Ludacris would do after he became a successful recording artist.
The best part was his responses to the questions from the audience, which included local teenagers and fans as well as seasoned reporters. He told the audience not to attribute violence to hip-hop but to ignorance. And he spoke of the way the hip-hop community came together in a matter of hours to help him when one of his projects needed support. My favorite moment was his answer to a question about the most important lessons he learned from his mother, Roberta Shields, who now serves as president of the foundation. He said he could not count the important lessons he learned from her but he would tell us one. He always did well in school, especially in math, but she would give him extra work to do and he did not like it, especially one annual assignment to write down his expectations and goals. He hated it at the time, but Ludacris (born Chris Bridges) attributes his success to her insistence that he be specific and concrete and accountable for his aspirations. He learned from that to “stop quitting.” If he did not achieve the previous year’s goals, he had to think about why he did not and how to do better next time. I looked over at her and saw her beaming with pride.
I am thrilled to have been asked to attend the Tallgrass Film Festival in Wichita, Kansas, later this month and especially looking forward to spending time with my beloved B98 buddies, Brett and Tracy and am forever grateful to them for making it possible for me to be there.
I am very excited about the line-up of screenings, including a preview look of a work in progress, the documentary “What’s the Matter with Kansas,” based on the best-selling book by Thomas Frank about shifting political priorities and coalitions. The film features former Kansas Congressman and Secretary of Agriculture Dan Glickman, who now serves as the head of the Motion Picture Association of America. And I am really looking forward to introducing the family film program, featuring “Alice Upside Down.”
The program is filled with enticing choices from exotic international releases to heartland American stories. I can’t wait.