Fairies, unicorns and dragons are a recipe for success in any child-friendly film. Nothing quite captures the imagination of the younger viewer than these mythical beings being brought to life on screen. Directors Aina Järvine and Federico Milella’s animated fantasy The Fairy Princess and the Unicorn delivers as its title suggests in a simple, sweet and innocent way, complete with cute animals that would not look out of place accompanying any Disney hero(ine).
The diverse fairyland of Bayala and its magic is under threat from a decay called ‘the wilt’, after wicked shadow fairy leader Ophira (voiced by Liza Ortiz) stole all the dragons’ eggs that supply its magic. Ophira also kidnapped sun fairy Princess Surah (voiced by Madison Mullahey) as a child, raising her with her shadow fairy cousin Princess Nuray (voiced by Rebecca Becker) and slowly mutating her sun wings into shadow ones, so that she can only fly at night like the other shadow fairies.
After discovering Ophira’s wicked ways, Surah tries to escape and is saved by male shadow fairy Jaro (voiced by Gregory Max) and Nuray. Reunited back in sun land with her twin sister Sera (voiced by Jessica Web) and older sister, crown Princess Eyela (voiced by Sara Petersen), Surah warns them of Ophira’s plan to rule all the lands. A glimmer of hope for the return of the magic comes after a dragon egg discovery by hapless fairy Marween (voiced by Olivia Manning). This sparks the start of an adventure to return the egg and its baby occupant to the dragon parents, before Ophira captures it.
Given its far lower budget than a Disney Pixar blockbuster, The Fairy Princess and the Unicorn is delightful in its colourful and often detailed charm. It looks lovingly rendered by the creative team with a bright, cheerful palette to draw in any fairy fan. Indeed the dragons’ scaly skin is as detailed as some of the rich foliage in parts that would impress any Avatar enthusiast.
However, as much as the fairy faces of Surah and Sera are as smooth and pert-nosed as Frozen‘s Elsa or Anna, it is abundantly clear to see where the bigger bucks are invested in the latter: The fairy faces lack a fluidity of character or expression, however much their voice stars try to make up the difference.
As spirited as the lead characters are, there is something quite disappointingly methodical in the film’s narrative approach too. Sadly, there is nothing vaguely original that happens to differentiate this from your average offer on any kids TV channel. It is the usual fantasy narrative checklist; the battle against good and evil, the threat to the homeland, the environmental analogy, and even strong female leads. As welcome as the latter is for all young girls out there, it is no longer that remarkable and requires the characters to do something a little more unique and memorable long after the credits roll. Gone are the days of trailblazing animated heroines like Elsa, Anna or Moana. It all feels really tired, and coupled with plot lag in the middle, resulted in the younger viewers’ attention waning.
The Fairy Princess and the Unicorn is saved a little by its almighty end battle scene that again, although impressively rendered, is somewhat the expected norm for this genre to see justice prevail and right any wrongs. That said there are enough worlds and settings throughout this to keep children entertained, as well as determined little characters with their own quirks and comical animal sidekicks to keep the status quo alive.
Narrative fatigue aside, there will never be enough fairies, unicorns and dragons to satisfy any child in the world. The Fairy Princess and the Unicorn feeds that fantasy, passion and intrigue when there is very little real magic in the world as present. It also shows a fighting spirit in the face of adversity that appeals to anyone watching, all within a fairy bubble of hope. And if the kids immediately ask to watch it all over again, the filmmakers must be doing something right and have captured young imaginations. It just needs more unicorn presence next time – as the title does suggest.
The Fairy Princess and the Unicorn is out now.