Despite its title, “Tinker Bell and the Legend of the Neverbeast” cares little for the iconic fairy who was introduced in J.M. Barrie’s classic “Peter Pan,” and who has since spawned her own Disney movie-and-merchandising franchise, of which this is the sixth full-length feature. Relegating Tinker Bell to peripheral supporting status, Steve Loter’s animated saga instead focuses its attention on one of her many fairy friends, Fawn (voiced by Ginnifer Goodwin), a plucky sprite who learns, through her adventure with a mystical creature known as the Neverbeast, that it’s equally important to follow your heart as well as your head. A colorful and cheery fantasy that duplicates its series predecessors’ cutesy humor and feel-good message making, it’s apt to garner moderate interest from very young fans both during its limited-engagement theatrical run and subsequent homevideo release, though anyone over the age of 7 will likely find it too immature by half.
In the magical forest grove of Pixie Hollow, Fawn is chastised by stern scout Nyx (Rosario Dawson) and noble Queen Clarion (Anjelica Huston) for recklessly looking after animals that pose a potential threat to fairies. If that issue first arises thanks to Fawn’s efforts to nurse a wounded hawk back to health, it peaks with her discovery of a giant creature with large fangs, a coiled tail, and gray fur streaked with black stripes whose thunderous roaring stems from a thorn in his paw. After remedying that ailment, Fawn begins assisting the big fluffy beast — whom she names Gruff — with his mysterious work erecting immense towers out of boulders, all of which is dramatized via playful montages set to the soundtrack’s many indistinctly sweet, soaring female pop songs
As voiced by Goodwin with sunshiny positivity, Fawn is a standard-issue Disney heroine, defined by her spunky charm and endearing rule breaking, and decked out in oh-so-short dresses that accentuate her long, slender figure and legs. Her fairy comrades (voiced by Dawson, Mae Whitman, Lucy Liu, Raven-Symone, Megan Hilty and Pamela Adlon) are similarly one-note archetypes (the caring one, the flighty one, the “Southern” one, the exasperated one, etc.) who pop up now and again to aid Fawn in her eventual quest to protect Gruff once Nyx discovers an ancient prophecy that says he’s destined to become a horned, winged destroyer of Pixie Hollow. Together, these fairy protagonists define the film’s overarching blandness, which also extends to competent CG animation brimming with bright hues, round character features and just enough aesthetic flair to give the proceedings some lively fantastical verve, if far from the expressive detail of Disney/Pixar’s finest works.
As Gruff starts transforming into a less-than-friendly-looking monster, “Tinker Bell and the Legend of the Neverbeast” employs visuals — of whirlpooling green clouds, menacing lightning strikes, and Gruff boasting shorn-off demonic horns that more than faintly recall Ron Perlman’s Hellboy — borrowed from a more adult blockbuster-cinema playbook. During these darker late passages, Loter’s film comes off like a training-wheels variation of apocalyptic cinema, designed to get its preadolescent audience ready for the end-of-the-world superhero and sci-fi spectacles they’ll soon be sold by the Mouse House and its big-studio ilk.
Nonetheless, the story’s celebration of not judging books by their covers, having faith in others’ inherent goodness, and risking personal safety in order to help friends keeps the action in firm kids-entertainment territory — or, at least, in the wheelhouse of very young girls who haven’t yet graduated to the more tween-oriented fare peddled by the Disney Channel’s cartoons and sitcoms.