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How My Daughter Inspired a Disney Movie

Loter's daughter Calista and friend.
Steve Loter’s daughter Calista and a very, very large dog.

I spent one afternoon a few months ago hanging at Disneytoon Studios with director Steve Loter, who’s behind the movie Tinker Bell and the Legend of the NeverBeast. It’s the sixth feature-length film in the Tinker Bell series, and centers around Fawn, an animal fairy who befriends a big mysterious furry creature known as the NeverBeast. Following is the story behind the story, in Steve’s own words, which he shared with me that day. 

I’m from Brooklyn, New York. I grew up in a household with no pets of any kind. None. No dogs, cats, mice, hamsters, cockroaches. Nothing. And because we never had any pets around, I grew up with a fear of large dogs. I’m not talking about little lapdogs. I’m talking about those dogs that are like horses.

But now many years have passed and I have a family of my own. My 7-year-old daughter, Calista, loves one thing above all else: very large dogs. She’ll see a neighbor walking his dog down the street and she’ll run up it. She’s the kind of girl who will wrap her arms around that dog in a big, loving hug. As a parent, I’d freak out at first. I’d say, “Is your dog OK to pet?” But once my fear subsided, I realized something really important: My daughter has an open heart. I asked her about it and she shrugged her shoulders and said, “All animals are my friends. Why wouldn’t they be?” In fact, the bigger they are, the more love they have to give as far as she’s concerned. That really touched me. I knew then that was the story I wanted to tell. That was the emotional heart I needed to show an audience.

My daughter’s perspective on animals — and the world — became Fawn’s point of view. I watched her playing with her friends. I looked at her attitude — her soul — and it’s become part of Fawn.

Like my daughter, Fawn instantly falls in love with this big, misunderstood creature, who may feel scary at first. But the thing about Gruff is that he should seem familiar in an odd way. He has a tail like a possum that moves like a cat’s, cow-like ears that seemingly flick flies out of nowhere, big eyes like a dog’s and feet like a hippo. Children instantly see traits that they can latch onto—they can see their own pets in Gruff. They can relate to Fawn.

I, however, relate to Nyx, who’s Fawn’s adversary in a way. But she’s not bad per se. Nyx, who’s extremely protective of Pixie Hollow, is really me in my moments as a helicopter parent. So it was particularly important to me that Nyx did not come off as a villain, because that would mean that I’m a bad parent. She comes from a completely different perspective than Fawn. They are, in essence, the reverse of each other. One thinks too much with her heart, the other only with her head. They could learn a lot from each other.

Gruff of TINKERBELL AND THE LEGEND OF THE NEVERBEAST
Gruff

I wanted to portray a character whose heart is in balance with her head because they both work in tandem for a happy life. But Fawn, just like Calista, loves all animals unconditionally. She’ll help any animal that needs her. But sometimes she thinks too impulsively. So our story is about how she learns to find that balance. Hopefully, we can all learn to find it.

To me, it’s all more than just a story. The relationship between Fawn and Gruff had to feel real. It had to feel like a relationship that’s not just between an animal fairy and a big scruffy monster — it could be between a father and a daughter or two good friends. I think that if you look to life experiences as inspiration for your art, you’ll never go wrong because it will always ring true.

Steve Loter, whose directing credits include “Kim Possible,” “The Legend of Tarzan” and Nickelodeon’s “Penguins of Madagascar,” lives in Southern California with his wife, two kids, a dog, two cats, two fish and three chickens.

 

“Tinker Bell and the Legend of the NeverBeast” is available on Blu-Ray™, Digital HD and Disney Movies Anywhere.

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