neverbeastcoverGrade: B+/A-
Entire family:  Yes, but older boys may resist
2015, 76 min., Color
DisneyToon Studios
Rated G
Aspect ratio: 1.78:1
Featured audio: English DTS-HD MA 7.1
Includes: Blu-ray, DVD, Digital HD
Bonus features: C
Extended Sneak Peek

Disney has always gone after broad audiences, so it’s no surprise that their Pixie Hollow Fairies movies have moved steadily in the direction of more action in an attempt to attract boys to this little girls-only club.

In 2014, Tinker Bell and the Pirate Fairy folded the usual fairy fare into a rousing prequel to Peter Pan—a recipe for adventure that included more extended scenes of peril via pirates, swashbuckling, and that famous crocodile. Now, Tinker Bell and the Legend of the NeverBeast introduces a “monster” to Pixie Hollow in what can best be described as a fairy misadventure that borrows liberally from Aesop’s fable of “Androcles and the Lion” and Disney’s own Beauty and the Beast— with a third act that reminds you a little of Ghostbusters.

“Not enough,” my teenage son says, explaining that as long as nobody gets destroyed it won’t appeal to boys, because boys don’t think the same way that girls do. They don’t want stories about following your heart versus following the rules of the community, or about a monster that’s really just misunderstood. They want real monsters and real battles. Body counts.

I’m not so sure. I think if we had put on NeverBeast when our son was younger, it would have held his interest. He was into animals at the time, and there are plenty of them in NeverBeast. One of the Blu-ray bonus features even highlights animal wrangler Jeff Corwin. Although the characters are all female fairies, Tinker Bell takes a back seat this time and animal fairy Fawn (Ginnifer Goodwin) gets the spotlight. She’s frankly easier for boys to like, if not identify with. If boys liked the slightly spacy younger sister from Frozen, they should like Fawn, who is animated, full of excuses, and determined to confront dangerous animals just to help them.  

 

NeverbeastscreenThere’s plenty of humor here, too. In an early sequence Fawn is nursing a baby hawk back to health. When everyone freaks out and reminds her that hawks EAT fairies, she says, “Naw, he’s just a baby,” and with perfect comic timing the baby hawk pecks at her head.

I’ve seen all the movies in this series—Tinker Bell (2008), Tinker Bell and the Lost Treasure (2009), Tinker Bell and the Great Fairy Rescue (2010), Secret of the Wings (2012), and the last two—and I’d have to say that NeverBeast is the best Tinker Bell movie yet.

The animation is as beautiful and strong as the other entries, but the plot is more involved and there’s more emotional content in this latest Pixie Hollow offering. In fact, there’s even a Bambi’s mother moment—which, sigh of relief if you have very young children, turns out to be only momentary. It’s more complex than the other fairy movies in that it illustrates that sometimes people aren’t bad, they’re just misinformed or misunderstood. And sometimes doing the right thing is complicated by not being absolutely sure of what the right thing IS.

But it will be obvious even to the youngest viewers that when you are kind to someone or something—as Androcles and Fawn were when they removed a thorn from the paw of a ferocious creature—that kindness may well be rewarded. And sometimes things that appear scary really aren’t all that bad. Looks can be deceiving, and that’s something else that will resonate with younger children.

As for the boys, they may look distracted during a second-half “sag” when everything seems to be going fairy-friend lovely, but that third-act Armageddon will snap them back to attention. Meanwhile, the original audience for the Pixie Hollow Fairies series will find this considerably more perilous than the other movies, but hey, all’s well that ends well. Could it be any different with a Disney fairy movie?

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