Tink's triumph: Disney dusts off the 55-year-old fairy -- to shining results


While the nubile talents in the High School Musical franchise have gotten all the attention lately, the pixie brand, based on a nymph dating to the Cold War, has been bubbling for a few years, and today, merchandise from the fairies outsells HSM by a margin of three to one. All this fuss is over Tinker Bell, the sprite from Disney's animated version of Peter Pan, which came out in 1953. While Zac Efron pumps up his biceps to look prettier, Tinker Bell is still dressed in those nifty, hip-hugging dresses popular when Janis Paige was a star.

The royal Disney product category remains the Princesses, which rakes in some $4 billion a year, but the Mouse is working hard to boot up another girly franchise, which so far has raked in $800 million. In 2005, Disney dusted off the old duster and began releasing a series of books based on Peter Pan's testy sidekick. Taking a page from the comics, Disney gave Tink a story that began before Peter, and teamed her up with a few new fairies bestowed with X-Men powers, such as the ability to control water. Once kids were versed in these new, ethnically mixed Disney characters (Silvermist, Fawn, Iridessa, and Rosetta), rare in that they weren't launched on the silver screen, a successful line of Pixie Hollow toys followed.

And just in time. On Oct. 7, Merrill Lynch downgraded Disney stock, saying that economic woes will dent its profits, and now the race is on to put some solid infrastructure behind the Tink craze. That includes an array of profile-pumping "Disney Fairies" exercises including a website and a tie-in with the U.S. Department of Energy. On Oct. 28, a new computer-animated DVD movie starring Tinker Bell was released. No longer mute, the old gal, who has been AARP-eligible for five years, now talks with a cadence and a vocabulary that recalls that other Disney character with magical profit abilities: Miley Cyrus.