Once upon a time Tinker Bell was a force of nature. J.M. Barrie’s creation won hearts and the life-sustaining applause of captivated children with her fierce loyalty to Peter Pan. But in the intervening years Disney have grown angry with Tink (how else to explain her fate?) and now she is consigned to a prequel prison called Pixie Hollow and forced to appear in sad little annual features. Each more banal than the last. Fortunately in this latest outing Tinker Bell has only a tenuous connection to the Neverbeast and her good friend Fawn (Ginnifer Goodwin) takes the lead. The unprecedented result is a Tinker Bell film that won’t drive you to leap into the jaws of a crocodile.

The new chapter begins as  Fern’s unconditional love for her animal friends wreaks havoc across the fairies’ haven. Firefighting the furry carnage is Nyx (voiced by Rosario Dawson) – the scout fairy protector of Pixie Hollow – a pragmatic force of nature, baffled and infuriated by Fern’s antics. Gentle chastisement from Queen Clarion has Fern vowing to do better but her good intentions are shattered by the visit of a comet and a distant roar. Tending the wounded paw of a mysterious beast she finds in the woods, Fern loses her tender heart irrevocably. But Nyx is aware of a darker side to the creature – finding his likeness in the pages of Pixie Hollow’s history – at the heart of an ancient myth with a devastating ending.

Nyx and the scout fairies determine to capture the NeverBeast before it destroys their home. Fawn must earn the trust and help of Tink and the girls to rescue the NeverBeast and lead him to safety. But the NeverBeast – as stubborn as Fawn and equally misguided – has a mission of his own. He labours day and night to assemble strange rock piles, as a strange storm draws ever nearer. Soon even the kind hearted fairy friends begin to question whether The Legend of the NeverBeast isn’t a true story after all. Doubts cleave the group apart as lightening cleaves the darkness. Nyx and her team battle to defend the realm from the approaching danger and The NeverBeast takes to the skies…

As in Edgar Wright’s “Village of the Year”, Sandford, so everything in Pixie Hollow is seemingly done for the greater good. From the alarmingly Stepford season changes to the negation of personality, maintaining the smiley status quo is paramount here. The underlying message of the previous films has appeared to be: be yourself, but not too much. Any excess individuality swiftly lopped and pollarded until the rebellious fairy conforms to the herd and all the hollow pixies can party like it’s 1999. Thank goodness then for The Neverbeast, with his gruff exterior and overwhelmingly Totoro charm. Director Steve Loter was keen to take this feature across more dramatic emotional terrain and he has succeeded.

After a teeth gnashing opening song, the story picks up pace. Fern is a fun character for children to engage with – her kind spirit and naughtiness will win hearts. The NeverBeast, however, is the undisputed star of the show. Though he must battle the eerily bland animation and cheesy dialogue that surrounds him, to win audience attention, he succeeds. The ambiguous nature of his building project and the infamous legend introduce welcome peril and the already forgettable Tinker Bell is easily forgotten when Fern shares screen time with her beastly chum. It continues to be agony to hear the sonorous tones of Angelica Houston shoehorned into trite dialogue and a generic cartoon wrapper. However, like Tink (Mae Whitman), one gathers she is present merely as meat in the room and star power for the credits.

With a bold and refreshing take on a fairy story Steve Loter and Tom Rogers have breathed life and human interest into a flailing franchise. The screenplay is flabby, the fairy chums still look like Texan lapdancers and Tinker Bell is AWOL for 95% of the runtime but somehow it doesn’t matter at all. Against the odds – and as something of a Christmas miracle – this is an entertaining and moving little feature with a lot of heart. Oh, and just a warning (and a mild spoiler…) – to avoid the heartbreaking sobs HeyUGuys overheard at our screening it would be advisable to explain the concept of hibernation to smaller audience members before booking your tickets.