Tuesday 2 June 2015

Tinker Bell and the Legend of the Neverbeast

I would like to start this review by pointing out that I am in no way the target audience for this film. I'm a 26 year-old bearded guy with a penchant for early 2000's pop-punk music and the Tomb Raider videogame series. I like microwavable pizzas and denying all knowledge of what I said to your mate at that hipster bar last Friday night. You may well ask yourself what business I have watching a film aimed at 4 to 11 year olds, let alone reviewing it, and as I sat down to the opening credits, I was asking myself the same question.

 Tinker Bell and the Legend of the Neverbeast, out now on DVD and Blu-Ray, is part of the Disney Fairies franchise, a set of computer animated movies produced by DisneyToon studios, which specialise in direct-to-video feature films. Now, most of the time when I hear “direct-to-video” I think of budget horror movies, starring bug-eyed actresses with no talent, who just happened to be very friendly with the director. More than friendly. Biblically friendly. So, I was quite apprehensive, not only as to how much effort was put into the story of The Legend of the Neverbeast, but also as to the quality of the animation. 

However, within the first minute of the film starting I was in awe of how beautifully Neverland had been rendered. You can see rays of sunlight reflected in the splash of the stream, the wind rustling in each animal's fur, and you can see reflections in the eyes of each character. Everything was so lovingly crafted that my apprehensions melted away and I was tentatively engaged in the adorable animated universe of Tinker Bell and her posse. Although called Tinker Bell and the Legend of the Neverbeast, this story centres around Fawn, one of Tinker Bell's sisters from another mister, and her, sometimes misplaced, affection for anything with fur. Or talons. Or fangs. Actually, it seems that the more a creature wants to devour Fawn, the more she wants to take it home, set it in a wicker basket under the stairs and call it 'Little Lord Fluffykins,' which, as the film progresses, we come to realise is one of her most admirable traits.

Everything is peachy in Pixie Hollow until a Nostradamus-esque comet streaks across the sky and sets in motion an ancient prophesy that a winged demon will surround the hollow with stone towers and call down green lightning from the sky, destroying anything that isn't evil, or at the very least, morally questionable. And then it plays out as your regular rom-com. Fairy meets beast. Beast ignores fairy to build towers made of stone and spit. Fairy stalks beast until beast stops accidentally-on-purpose destroying her bedroom. Fairy aristocracy discovers existence of beast. Fairy and her friends shelter beast from the fairy military and ultimately cause collapse of fairy society. Positively Shakespearean.

Okay, all jokes aside, that is a very glib description of the basic storyline, except for the ending (this is Disney, darling!), which, although positive, is surprisingly emotional, especially for a story about fairies and fluffballs. But it's not the story that makes this a true Disney feature, it's the way it's told. From the very first interaction between Fawn and Tinker Bell, we are exposed to that classic Disney humour, the true spirit of any film, that keeps our minds and hearts engaged. Everything about Tinker Bell's world is whimsical and innocent, but presented with so much wit that it's impossible not to fall in love with every creature. There isn't any of the nudgewink innuendo humour from other Disney films that you don't pick up on until you've grown up, it's entirely sincere, with all the humour that's aimed at parents or guardians being in the expressions and voice of the characters.

The animation style is very similar to that of Disney's 2010 film Tangled, where the subtlest of eye movements or fraction of a pause for comic effect can instantly instil laughter in anyone watching, and there was more than one occasion where I surprised myself by bursting out laughing, just from how perfectly one fairy glanced sideways at the absurdity of her friend. But the aspect of the film that truly makes it magical is the voice acting, which is absolutely on point. By the end I was living for the throw away one liners that came from Tinker Bell or her friends, which added a depth to the film that took it from bog-standard animated tale to a piece of Disney magic.

 Is this an instant Disney classic? I'm afraid to say it's not. The short running time and somewhat predictable storyline mean that it simply can't compete with the Disney legends of Beauty and the Beast and Toy Story. With that being said, however, there is a charming, if slightly cliché, lesson to be learned from this adventure, 'don't judge a book by it's cover.' Fawn is the only character that listens to her heart when first confronted by the Neverbeast, and in the end, it is her acceptance of everyone for who they are, not what they look like, that saves the day. Combining this with an adorable heroine, gorgeous scenery and an innocent but delightfully playful sense of humour make the Legend of the Neverbeast a hidden gem that will entrance younger audiences, and might even make fans of some big kids too. All you need is a little faith, trust and pixie dust.

Tinker Bell and the Legend of the Neverbeast gets a magical 4/5.


Dale Smith

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