As Disney's first animated film to arrive in theaters since "Frozen," "The Pirate Fairy" will and should be scrutinized to see whether the refreshing feminism in the Oscar-nominated fairy tale represents a fluke or a new direction for the studio.
So far, so muddled. "The Pirate Fairy" features an enormously likable protagonist in Zarina (voiced by Christina Hendricks), the would-be Marie Curie of pixie dust, if only her scientific curiosity were encouraged. When her forbidden experiments go awry, Zarina is forced into exile. Happy to take her talents where they're appreciated, the budding alchemist joins a human pirate gang and makes their ship fly.
"The Pirate Fairy" is the fifth installment of the "Tinker Bell" series, which means Peter Pan's once mischievously perverse sprite (Mae Whitman), now domesticated into nondescript niceness, must be shoehorned into the plot. She and her Spice Girls-like posse chase after Zarina to bring her back into their fold.
Director Peggy Holmes' glittery romp offers plenty of pretty spectacles, but true flights of fancy — as when the fairies make an imaginary man walk and dance by manipulating an overcoat, tricorn hat and buckled boots — are far too rare. Still, the later fight scenes boast a witty jauntiness that say a whole lot more about girl power than the characters' shallow emotional journeys.
"The Pirate Fairy." MPAA rating: G. Running time: 1 hour, 18 minutes. At El Capitan Theatre, Hollywood.