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Immersed in Movies: Talking Gruff from ‘Tinker Bell and the Legend of the Neverbeast’

Immersed in Movies: Talking Gruff from 'Tinker Bell and the Legend of the Neverbeast'

The latest and perhaps the last of the Tinker Bell movies from Disneytoon Studios, The Legend of the Neverbeast, arrived May 3rd on Blu-ray, Digital HD, and Disney Movies Anywhere. It’s a very personal story for director Steve Loter (Kim Possible), who was inspired by his daughter’s embrace of big dogs. Loter grew up without pets and was particularly afraid of large canines until his daughter’s kindness helped him overcome his fear. The movie revolves around the open-hearted Fawn (voiced by Jennifer Goodwin) and her discovery of a beast that is not really so monstrous. But her compassion nearly destroys Pixie Hollow. I recently spoke with Loter and producer Makul Wigert (Secret of the Wings).

Bill Desowitz: There are so many familiar qualities about Gruff: The Gruffalo and Where the Wild Things Are immediately come to mind.

Steve Loter: It’s all part of the DNA, it all weaves its way into the subconscious, I guess. But we didn’t consciously draw on them in the design.
BD: But it’s part of the same message of learning not to fear what’s different.
SL: You can’t tell a book by its cover. And actually a more prevalent theme for me because it’s connected to the family is that you have to think with your head and your heart. The balance. Double the value.
Makul Wigert: You want to be compassionate yet you still need to be smart and think through the consequences. And at the beginning of the film, Fawn isn’t thinking through the consequences. She’s harboring this hawk and it escapes and causes widespread panic throughout Pixie Hallow. And by the end of the film, she’s learned to think through what she’s doing.
BD: You also looked at comic books and graphic novels for the look of the storm that threatens Pixie Hollow. Talk about that.
SL: I’m a huge comics nerd and I looked at a variety of stuff. I think the ’90s was a comic renaissance and introduced a new series of artists that were so creative and imaginative. Mike Mignola, who has a history with Disney, was one we looked at. But we looked at a lot of really interesting comic book styles from the ’90s.
BD: The climactic storm is so striking. I was immediately reminded of Fantasia.
SL: Sure, “Night on Bald Mountain,” absolutely. I remember seeing that as a child and I love the monsters. Yes, as a child, I thought the dancing mushrooms were cute, but tell me more about  Chernabog.
MW: We intentionally wanted it to be a striking element of the film. And Steve talked about how important color is to the movie, and having this rich, vibrant world coming to Pixie Hollow, and then stropping the color out as we introduce Gruff.
BD: And the storm offers this strange, psychedelic green. It is reminiscent of Mignola and Hellboy.
SL: Yes, it’s somewhat off putting. It doesn’t feel natural or real or right. When you meet the beast, it’s a cold world — it’s dangerous. But when Fawn and this creature start to bond, you start bringing in the primary colors, making them more saturated as the relationship grows. But his eyes have that eerie green, which is a precursor of what comes later. And that’s the first thing that Fawn sees and we use the eyes a lot for reflection. That was crucial in his becoming the perceived monster when the first signs of the green clouds come over the horizon. And then when the storm comes in, that eerie green touches everything. And everything becomes a monochromatic green.
BD: And it’s interesting that you used Disney in Zurich to do R&D on the tail.
SL: Yeah, and the muscle aperture. It was really important that Gruff felt real. If he didn’t then the story wouldn’t work. So he had to look real, move real and sound real by using all those exotic animal sounds: the camel and the lama and the dog, the cat, and the hyena.
BD: Do you have a favorite moment?
SL: My favorite sequence is called “Starry Night,” where Fawn realizes that Gruff has to go away from Pixie Hollow for his own safety. They’re on a rocky cliff edge and looking out at the stars and Fawn points out the constellations. I love that scene and it was created to solidify the emotional connection between the two characters. And it came late in production but it really connected the film for me. And visually there’s a full, straight-on shot — unusual for an animated film — and Fawn is sitting on his nose. And it’s all very symmetrical. And solidifyies that because Gruff’s fur fills the entire frame. Fawn is tiny and right dead center in front of these big, green, beautiful eyes. So that got to me that we made the relationship work.

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