“It’s fairies and monsters, but it’s kind of based on a true story,” explains Director Steve Loter of the latest Disney Fairies adventure, TINKER BELL AND THE LEGEND OF THE NEVERBEAST (out March 3), meeting with a group of writers inside DisneyToon Studios in Glendale, California earlier this month. While her name is in the title, this may well be the least Tink-driven film in what The Hollywood Reporter once called “Disney’s Stealthy $300M Franchise,” now six feature films deep. Where the genesis of the NEVERBEAST actually lies is not even within DisneyToon Studios, but with Loter’s young daughter and her love of animals. “The movie was inspired by my daughter,” says Loter, detailing his lifelong fear of “very large dogs” – something that his daughter loves very much. In fact, NEVERBEAST is very much a movie crafted by Loter and Producer Michael (Makul) Wigert out of love for both of their own daughters.
“The bigger they are, the bigger the love they have to give,” she told him. “That’s the story. Fawn, the animal fairy [voiced by Ginnifer Goodwin]. Loves animals unconditionally. She takes care of animals and she encounters a creature that can be perceived of as a monster and her open heart’s gonna’ be put to the test.”
“Nyx the over-protective Scout Fairy [voiced by Rosario Dawson] is me,” Steve continues. “She was a very easy character to write for because that’s the helicopter parent that I am. I’m the parent that you go to the park — and you’re on the monkey bars and I’m concerned not only about falling off the monkey bars, but what germs are on the monkey bars. Once I realized that’s my perspective on the world – that maybe I’m thinking with my head too much and maybe I need to relax and think a little more with my heart and my daughter’s the opposite of that… I realized there’s my antagonist and protagonist. But I wanna’ point out that Nyx is not a villain. Nyx has a point of view. She’s right about it. She’s trying to protect Pixie Hollow. She believes in this strongly, and it was really important for me that it was a point of view that was real and believable and realistic, because if she came off as a villain then I would have come off as a bad parent. [NEVERBEAST] really is my family life with some names changed to protect the innocent. “
Nyx’s point-of-view is that something different – something BIG and unknown – could potentially spell doom for the residents of Pixie Hollow, and her “action hero” team of Scouts is a new element being introduced into the Disney Fairies lore this time around. Her strong opinions are largely driven by misunderstanding of Gruff – an animal the likes of which have not been seen before… at least, not by anyone still alive.
In discussing the design of Gruff the Neverbeast, I told Loter that a lot of us in the press group had been talking about his facial similarities to Falcor from THE NEVERENDING STORY, and how several of us would like to ride him – this, after coming face-to-face with a life-sized sculpture of the animal.
As to whether or not Falcor was any kind of inspiration, Loter chuckled and offered the following…
“I love NEVERENDING STORY — one of my favorite films is MY NEIGHBOR TOTORO. I love Maurice Sendak. I’m sure that all of those influences and my childhood — ‘cause I loved all that stuff as a child — all kind of found its way into the DNA of the character. I just picture in my head the Gruff that I love and I think he’s a combination of all the things I loved as a child.”
“We were incredibly fortunate in that the initial pitch that Steve did to John [Lasseter, head of Disney Animation] 4½ years ago is the film that we ended up making,” says Producer Michael Wigert. “Little events bounced a little bit, but for the most part the introduction of Fawn, Fawn discovering Gruff, Nyx, Tinkerbell, all of that interaction remains true to the ‘goodbye’ at the very end. That was the entire story. That was the pitch and John fell in love with it.”
“He was like, ‘I know exactly where you’re going. That’s the film we’re going to make.'”
Disney’s TINKER BELL AND THE LEGEND OF THE NEVERBEAST is available on Blu-ray, DVD, Digital HD and Disney Movies Anywhere on Tuesday, March 3, 2015.