I recently took my 4 year old daughter to see Disney’s Tinkerbell and the Great Fairy Rescue at the cinema. It was just after the NZ Skeptics annual conference which due to a lack of alternative arrangements she had been forced to attend (to be fair she had spent most of it sat at the back watching movies on a portable DVD player…). Anyway, as she had been so good I thought she deserved a treat.
So back to the movie. For those who may not have had the pleasure, it centres around a little girl who believes in fairies. She manages to befriend one (Tinkerbell) who explains to her how fairies are responsible for pretty much everything around us: they paint the wings of butterflies, pollinate all the flowers and are even responsible for the seasons. In fact, there is a scene in which the young girl mentions the real cause of the seasons and Tinkerbell laughs and replies ‘that’s what we fairies want you to believe’. Anyway back to the plot. The young girl’s father is a scientist who seems to study butterflies. We’ll come back to that in a minute. In a nutshell, he manages to capture one of the fairies and the others have to rescue her before he gets her to London’s Natural History Museum and reveals the existence of fairies to the scientific establishment.
I had the impression that it was going to be some sort of buddy movie, you know, working together to rescue their friend, blah blah blah. Oh, how wrong could I have been? Anyway, back to the young girl’s father, the scientist. Obviously he is white and male, so that’s the first stereotype box ticked. To be fair he wasn’t wearing a lab coat so perhaps Disney should get a point for that. He is however, completely driven by the importance of his work (another box ticked?). So driven that he completely ignores his young child (there is no mother in the film so the impression is that he is a solo parent) while obsessing over his butterflies. He is annoyed that his daughter believes in fairies (cue lots of yelling along the lines of ‘show me your evidence’). He gives her a journal and asks her to start documenting the natural wonders around them. Naturally she fills it with nonsense about fairies. He gets angry and they have an argument, blah blah blah. Then he captures a fairy and realises how closed minded he has been.
The real message of the film, and one repeated so often I felt we were being bludgeoned over the head by it, is: you don’t need to understand, you just need to believe. I’ll repeat that: you don’t need to understand, you just need to believe. I came out of the cinema feeling like I had been punched. Now call me a conspiracy theorist, but I am a firm believer that science is under sustained attack by extremely powerful and well funded lobby groups. Creationism vs evolution, fossil fuel guzzlers vs climate change. But Disney? The more I think about it, the more it makes perfect sense. While lobbying governments is obviously a very important tactic, influencing the next generation is potentially a more powerful strategy.
I feel like the scales have been lifted from my eyes! In fact, I can’t believe I was so naive not have seen it before. I am thankful that my daughter is only four and seems not to have grasped the film’s take home message. She also has parents who will counter all that nonsense. But what of older children who will have taken that message on board. And what if they have no one to give them a reality check? It’s almost too scary to contemplate.