Well, obviously you need to go out big. a huge, "save the world" scale event. You need to be able to use all the neat tricks your animation studio has learned over the years, so you're going to want some neat creatures to animate. You're going to want at least one big name guest actor to do a voice.
And you're going to want to shelve the main star of most of the movies for a character who has, to this point, been woefully underdeveloped.
Yeah, I know, it doesn't have the title on it, but that's a pretty great poster.
So, out of all the fairies, the two that have had the least amount of real "presence" is the series are Fawn and Iridessa. Now, I get why Iridessa might have been relegated to background status for most of the movies (the "coward" character is never really a popular one to write for, and rumors abound that Raven-Symone was difficult to work with), but Fawn was, by far, the most "normal" and therefore most "boring" of the main cast.
What did we know about her? She was an athletic tomboy who could laugh with the others and sometimes give as good as anybody ever got (being the one who needled Vidia repeatedly about being a tinker fairy in The Pirate Fairy). But she wasn't fussy, dumb, trouble-making, snarky, or anything else, so she was kind of...bland.
It makes it all the more surprising that she would become the star of the last film in the series, especially when you consider they give her a new voice actress (Ginnifer Goodwin) and a complete character redesign. You've seen her in screenshots before, completely covered and looking like a tomboy. Now she has possibly the girliest, most "fashionable" dress, something that I'm aware upset some of the fans of the series since they lost their "sole tomboy." Check her out now.
First off, that's a pretty great redesign, but I get why people were upset. Second, there's a great moment in one of the deleted scenes that seems to focus on all the changes Fawn went through. After she debuts her new dress and the other fairies comment on how great she looks, Vidia's sole response is "Are we sure that's really her?"
I wish it had been left in.
The movie itself also gives her a pretty big personality change. Instead of appearing to be the most sensible one, she's now a lot more like Tinker Bell. She breaks the rules, winds up risking the lives of those around her, and is frequently getting into trouble. Again, "Are we sure that's really her?"
The whole thing opens with a green comet/meteor shooting past Neverland, bathing the whole landscape in light and awakening something deep in a cave. After that we get a great opening sequence showing Fawn living up to her tomboy roots (parachuting down on leaves, tumbling and rolling with animals), we get her attempting to surreptitiously smuggle a baby hawk out of Pixie Hollow. It fell from a nest, and Fawn, being unwilling to NOT help an animal in need, tended its wounds. However, after involving Tinker Bell in her efforts to sneak the bird out, they get discovered, and the cries of the baby hawk lure some adult hawks to the area.
This is where we meet our other new character, Nyx (voiced by Rosario Dawson!), a scout fairy who, along with her team, are the real fighters of the series. They're actually able to chase the hawks off with some pretty bad-ass fighting skills. Nyx and Fawn are immediately antagonists for each other, as Nyx is determined to do whatever it takes to protect Pixie Hollow, and Fawn always "leads with her heart instead of her head."
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However, Nyx and the other scout fairies are also aware of the creature and are determined to either capture it (or worse) and do research of their own. As Fawn is preparing to present "Gruff," as she's named the creature, to the Queen, Nyx is already there sharing a story about a creature called the "Neverbeast." She believes it brings doom to Pixie Hollow every thousand years by sprouting horns, wings, and then bringing lightning down across the land. Realizing she can't just present said creature before the Queen before proving that isn't what he's like, the idea is scrapped and Fawn tries to figure out what to do.
A storm does start to roll in, however, leading the good guys to try to get to Gruff before the "bad fairies" do, but during the process Gruff severely injures Tinker Bell. Fawn realizes how dangerous Gruff is, and aids in a full effort to capture the Neverbeast before its work is completed. Of course, this being a Disney movie, it turns out the creature is simply misunderstood. This leaves it to Fawn to free Gruff and try to help him get his work done before the storm destroys everything.
Well, if I'm being really honest? This might be my favorite from the series as a whole. It doesn't have anywhere near the character interaction as the last one, but we get a movie from a completely new perspective, and the changes they made to Fawn might be a bit derivative from Tinker Bell, but there's enough unique moments in there to really make her something special. Her interactions with Nyx are priceless, as she keeps doing different animal impressions to "help" figure out what made a roaring sound in the woods (spoiler alert: it was Gruff).
The bonding process between Fawn and Gruff is great. I'm going to spoil something here, but at the end of the movie, when it's revealed that Gruff needs to go back into hibernation for another thousand years, the movie just rips your heart out when the fairies realize "We're never going to see him again." It's the only time this whole series had a real emotional impact on me, and the "farewell" ceremony that's held for Gruff had me sniffling a bit.
Nyx is a rather complex character. She has a great design for a new character, and the stripes on her costume really stand out. We're supposed to hate her, because she's "mean" and "angry" and "a cold, ruthless bitch" but it's sort-of the same deal we had with the father from The Great Fairy Rescue. We, the audience, know she's wrong in this instance, but there's absolutely no reason to think she isn't right EVERY OTHER TIME. If you came across documents that indicated that a strange creature nobody's seen in ages might be responsible for bringing death and destruction down on your people, you might want to have that checked out, too! Why does she not like Fawn? Well, Fawn has been shown to risk the lives of other fairies in her attempts to help animals!
It's just THIS time she's clearly wrong and THIS time she needs to listen to Fawn and she's evil for not doing so.
Everything about the animation is stepped up in this movie. The studio has improved each and every time that they make another one of these films, and this one is no exception. Just look at the background nature scene during this shot:
That's gorgeous. That's up there with some of the best animation I've seen when it comes to backgrounds.
It's not just the set pieces that are brilliantly animated. Characters have little movements that go with when they talk, and their whole bodies are much more expressive. Fawn has a lot of moments where she does quick, jerky movements, but they're jerky like how someone might actually move, not "bad animation jerky."
But by far, the animation shines when it comes to Gruff. I listened to an interview with the director where he was talking about the specialists they were working with to make sure muscles pulled skin correctly, that hair flowed correctly, that Gruff's body reacted to gravity correctly. It all shows, and Gruff is an amazing character in this film.
There's also talk about the fact that they had to create brand new technology to animate scenes in order to keep
The rest of the cast all get their usual moments to shine and a few great lines each. Vidia gets her snarky moments (after Gruff sneezes, Rosetta is horrified, "My MOUTH was open!" "It's ALWAYS open!"), Iridessa gets to panic like she usually does, Silvermist remains absolutely precious, and Rosetta gets her prissy moments (as well as one moment where she arches her back and shows off a pretty full figure for a Disney character whose name isn't "Jessica Rabbit"). Tinker Bell does get more show time than the rest of the background characters, but it's still really just a cameo compared to Fawn's amount of screen time. She's sharp, though, and she and Fawn play off each other well ("You're up to something. Don't give me that look. I invented that look.")
You know what? Unless I mention it in the next part, just assume everything about this film is great.
Okay, well, there's a few things. I'm a bit disappointed that there's no appearances by any of the big characters from the previous films. I'd have at least expected an appearance by Zarina or Periwinkle (especially if this was going to be the last movie). We also don't get any appearances by Bobble and Clank, which is weird because they're some of the only characters to appear in every movie up to this point and get real dialogue in each one.
I personally can't really comment on Fawn's redesign, but I do get why people were bothered by it, as I said above. I know that Brave really resonated with a lot of girls who weren't quite as "girly" as a lot of the other Disney Princess films portrayed girls as being, and I remember the big outcry when Disney added Merida to their "princess line-up" but had her "beautified."
I'm not sure why they felt the need to suddenly swap out voice actresses when there was only one film left. Granted, Angela Bartys didn't have that much dialogue in the last few films (or any films, really), but it does feel a bit mean to suddenly drop her the moment she could have been a star.
That being said, Ginnifer Goodwin does a fine job, and after listening to her for a while, it really didn't bother me that much. She plays "plucky, optimistic and goofy" pretty well, something that I never really got to see her do on Once Upon A Time.
I am upset that the "waking the fairies up" scene was cut, but happy it was included in the deleted scene. All I'm going to say is that "Vidia's teddy bear" would have made an already great movie even better.
That's really about it.
Okay, so you're thinking "I'm not going to watch a movie about fairies because I'm a dude, and I say things like "do you even lift?" and do manly things like punch bricks and laugh at people getting hurt." Well, tough guy, go watch this movie. And don't be surprised when you cry at the end. Like a baby.
Seriously, I Googled the reviews, some of them are actually titled "Legend Of The Neverbeast Makes Grown Men Cry."
While it misses a lot of the additional structure from something like The Pirate Fairy (it's a pretty straight arrow plot of "action opening, friendship building, exposition, action sequence, ending.") but while it is straight-forward, there's lots of fun little moments that keep things moving forward. Plus, the heart of the film really is the bonding between Gruff and Fawn, and without that, the movie would really fall flat.
There's part of me that wonders if the ending was intentionally left sad because this is, in all probability, going to be the last of the Tinker Bell movies for the near future. It was a touching goodbye, and I know it left me wishing there would be more movies with those characters on that caliber of film-making.
There are so many things that Disney did right with this franchise, it's puzzling how they never pushed it quite as hard as I would have expected. What I initially thought was going to be a quick cash grab wound up being some great short movies that dug their hooks into me deep. With a spectacular voice cast, sharp animation, and ideas never really presented in a Disney film before, I wish these had been played up more for full theatrical releases instead of just DVD releases.
Pixie Hollow at Walt Disney World has already been closed, and the characters just have a "meet them!" area towards the main entrance. The Disney Store has a lot of the merchandise on sale pretty cheap. It feels like Disney's taking something that was pretty magical and sweeping it under the rug to pretend it never happened.
I'm going to miss this series, and might even toss one of the films in to watch every now and again when I just want something to make me smile.
I'm going to leave you with the animated short that came with the movie. It's a pretty clever use of language done in the same style as Wakko Warner doing the states and their capitals (using the same music, in fact!), but it's a lot of fun.