Let me start this review by saying that I am a grown man who typically enjoys action and horror films, alongside heavy metal music. That said, I was absolutely captivated by this offering from Disney. So, when I popped online to see others’ opinions on the film, I was dismayed to see how many folks panned this film as being a “downer,” or according to one reviewer, “dark and twisted.” So, from the objective standpoint of one who is usually not into this sort of thing, let me try and dispell some of the confusion and concern for potential viewers, be they children, parents watching with children, or just odd adults like myself.
Spoilers ahead. You’ve been warned. In this film, the animal-talent fairy named Fawn encounters a strange and injured creature in the forest. Because of her reputation for bringing dangerous creatures into Pixie Hollow, due to her empathetic nature, Fawn resolves to keep this large, mysterious, and intimidating beast hidden from the Scout fairies, who are already unhappy with Fawn’s prior antics involving a hawk. The beast, whom Fawn names Gruff, has a tendency to gather and stack rocks, thus shaping large towers of stone. Fawn helps in this activity, partially for fun, and partially to satiate her curiosity about Gruff’s intentions once his towers are done.
Meanwhile, Nyx, the stern leader of the Scout fairies, begins combing through fairy lore for references to Gruff, whom she only knows as the menacing shape she’s seen glimpses of in the wilderness. At last, she finds that this creature is known as the NeverBeast, who awakens every thousand years to call down a massive storm with his great stone towers, and thus destroy Pixie Hollow. What ensues is a tumultuous, catastrophic sequence of events wherein even Fawn begins to doubt Gruff’s gentle nature, when indeed the storm does arrive as foretold, and Gruff takes on a horned and winged form. But, in the end, it is revealed that Gruff is not the cause of the storm. In fact, he awakens every thousand years to absorb the energy of the storm, and thus keep Pixie Hollow safe. In a daring flight, he and Fawn manage to halt the storm, but Fawn is left near death, and Gruff revives her with stored up electrical energy from his body, restarting her heart. It is only then, once the fairies have come to know and love Gruff, that they realize he is utterly exhausted and must now go back into hibernation until the next storm comes, which will be in another thousand years. They will never see him awake again; by the time he awakens, they will all be dead. Each fairy, including the Scouts, thanks Gruff for his service, and Fawn bids her friend a last, tearful goodnight.
The meaning of this film is multifaceted, and surprisingly poignant for a movie whose suggested viewing age is 4 years-old. First and foremost is the classic, but always welcome, moral that one should never judge a person’s heart based on their appearance. The large and intimidating Gruff is a kind soul, who puts himself in harm’s way to protect even those fairies that fear him. Meanwhile, Nyx the Scout Captain seems like a hard-headed bully, but it is imperative to remember that she is doing her job in the way she truly believes is best. She is not a villain, nor is Gruff. There are no “evil” people here, just mixed priorities, miscommunication, and dangerous presumptions that set good people (or fairies, as the case may be) at odds, even though they all have good intentions.
A secondary, but no less powerful moral, is the notion of sacrifice and loss. This film will make young viewers, yet unfamiliar with loss, ask some serious questions. With Fawn’s near-death experience, and Gruff’s one thousand year-long hibernation, children will have a few curious inquiries about what it means that by the time Gruff awakens, all of the fairies he knew will be gone. There will be teary eyes and sniffles for many viewers, myself included. But the concepts that this film leads young viewers to consider are utterly worthwhile, and they’re packaged in a delightful, amusing story that will bring more smiles than tears, and that will definitely be on repeat in some households for quite a while yet.
This film is not dark or scary. There is a definite tone-shift after the first fifteen minutes or so, wherein the plot goes from a lighthearted frolic to a meaningful conflict of wills, but that is nothing to fear. If you are willing to take the time to sit with your children, watch this film, and answer the serious questions it may spark, then Legend of the NeverBeast will become a family favorite in no time at all!