Disney Offers Fairies to Older Girls
RENEE MONTAGNE, host:
In order to save Tinker Bell, Peter Pan asked the children of Neverland to clap their hands if they believed in fairies. The Walt Disney Company definitely believes in fairies. It's hoping that little girls who were mesmerized by Disney's princesses will graduate to believing in fairies, too.
NPR's Kim Masters reports that even though fairies are small, they're very big business.
KIM MASTERS: Disney's fairy empire began with a fairy book, and the setting was familiar - Neverland.
Unidentified Woman: If you head toward the second star on your right and fly straight until morning, you'll come to Neverland.
MASTERS: And tucked away there is Fairy Haven, home to another very familiar character, Tinker Bell. But now she has lots of friends - shapely, doe-eyed little creatures with pointed ears and gauzy wings.
Unidentified Woman: Tink pushed open the sliding door to the kitchen. (Unintelligible) skipped a beat. She had never seen so many fairies.
MASTERS: These characters are plastered on a vast array of merchandize aimed straight at the hearts of little girls between six and eleven years old. For many of these girls, Disney princesses are baby stuff. Kathy Franklin is a Disney consumer products executive in charge of the princesses and the fairies. She says older girls have concerns that have changed since the days when they thought the princesses ruled.
Ms. KATHY FRANKLIN (Consumer Products Executive, Disney): They are saying to themselves, what am I good at? How do I make friends? How do I navigate this new world that I'm in? And fairies is really about that. It's exploring the whole world, so it allows us to do storytelling that's appropriate for that age.
Mr. JIM HILL (Blogger): It's all part of Disney's cradle-to-grave program.
MASTERS: Blogger Jim Hill writes about all things Disney.
Mr. HILL: You know, they're just looking for ways to grab every demographic group and make sure that they're out there buying Disney products.
MASTERS: On a warm Sunday afternoon, those eager consumers include parents and kids gathered in a hotel courtyard just outside the gates of Disneyland. They've come to hear Gail Carson Levine, award-winning author of "Ella Enchanted." She's reading from her second Disney fairy book, "Fairy Haven and the Quest for the Wand."
12-year-old Marie Lam(ph) is a fan.
You read these books?
Ms. MARIE LAM: Yeah. I read this one over and over. And this one, I'm starting right now.
MASTERS: Like many others, Lam says Tinker Bell first drew her to fairies.
Ms. LAM: I liked them ever since I saw the movie "Peter Pan" when I was really little.
MASTERS: The first book in Disney's fairy series spent 20 weeks on the New York Times best-seller list, and there has been an engine driving a growing fairy business. There's a DisneyFairies.com. And in a year, Disney has sold $800 million worth of books, toys and fashion. But the road to global fairy dominion has not been entirely smooth.
(Soundbite of scene from "Tinker Bell")
Unidentified Woman: Father says that fairies really do exists as long as we believe.
MASTERS: The first fairy DVD titled "Tinker Bell" was supposed to hit stores in October. Disney artists had put in months of work, says blogger Jim Hill, but then the company bought Pixar, which brought animation genius John Lasseter into the fold.
Mr. HILL: And he got a hold of the first pass of the Tinker Bell movie, and he thought it was horrible.
MASTERS: A massive marketing campaign was put on hold for a year. When the first fairy DVD appears in November 2008, Tinker Bell will break decades of silence. She'll be voiced by Brittany Murphy, perhaps best known as Eminem's love interest in "8 Mile." That doesn't sit well with some Disney fans, and it's only one of many things that doesn't appeal to Jack Zipes.
Professor JACK ZIPES (German, University of Minnesota): I don't find anything positive in this series.
MASTERS: Zipes is a fairy tale expert at the University of Minnesota. He's a purist. He doesn't approve of Disney in general, and he doesn't care for "Harry Potter." Historically, he says, fairy stories are often mysterious and dark. Ideas about how fairies look are varied, but Zipes thinks the ones Disney created are all wrong.
Prof. ZIPES: They are all sexy-looking, Barbie doll types who are rather banal, as far as I'm concerned.
MASTERS: Zipes also complains that Disney stories deal with uninteresting and irrelevant problems, like whether a magic egg breaks.
Prof. ZIPES: A good fairy tale is something that wants to communicate ways to deal with very deep problems that both children and adults have, with regard to the environment, to the world around them.
MASTERS: To Zipes, it's obvious that Disney's goal is to turn little girls into little consumers. But Disney executive Kathy Franklin says the fairy line gives kids a chance to exercise their imaginations.
Ms. FRANKLIN: The beauty of Disney fairies is we have diverse characters with really unique personalities. And we believe that girls are going to identify with these fairies but then use that as a jumping off point for exploring who they are.
MASTERS: As for author Gail Carson Levine, she doesn't feel that she's sold out, as Professor Zipes alleges. She says she was given lots of control over the fairy world, though Disney supplied drawings and some general ideas. But she wonders about one of her favorite authors, J.M. Barrie, who created Tinker Bell more than a century ago.
Ms. GAIL CARSON LEVINE (Author): My chief worry is that Barrie would be spinning in his grave, and, you know, he may be.
MASTERS: When it comes to fairies, it's always been hard to decide what to believe.
Kim Masters, NPR News.
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