Bayala – A Magical Adventure (AKA, The Fairy Princess & The Unicorn) (2019)

“The fairy world of Bayala is a magical country where fairies have been living in harmony with nature for centuries. However, one day, peace is put at risk when the evil fairy queen steals the precious dragon eggs from the place the kingdom’s magic lies. All of Bayala is in danger, but hope arises when a dragon egg is found.”

-Anonymous, Rotten Tomatoes.

According to Wikipedia, Bayala was originally a toy-line that spawned a book series, so presumably this movie is based off one or more of those books? That would make a lot of sense in hindsight because there’s a few interesting plot points that the film glosses over. At the beginning of the film we’re introduced to Surah, a Sun Fairy Princess who is kidnapped as a child by the evil Night Fairy Ophira. Surah’s kidnapping and eventual escape spans a good few years in-universe, but are told to the audience very quickly within the first 5 or so minutes of the film. I’m guessing Surah’s early years are their own entrant in the book series as it’s a solid premise for a fantasy story, but we unfortunately don’t get to experience much of it. This is a shame because I found Surah’s backstory to be far more interesting than the plot the film covers.

The main focus of the film is about resolving Ophira’s scheme to steal all of the dragon eggs in the land, because the eggs play a pivotal role in maintaining magic across all the fairy realms. When a previously hidden dragon egg is discovered a rag-tag group of fairies, including Surah, are assembled to return the egg to it’s parents… and of course, along the way they end up confronting Ophira and rescuing the remaining eggs as well.

Along the way, we see Surah struggle with not feeling like she belongs with the other Sun Fairies. In this universe there are different races of Fairies that have different abilities, with each race having their own specific wing design. Because Surah was in the Night Fairy realm when she was old enough to receive her wings, her wings look like Night Fairy wings. This causes a great deal of strife for Surah, since Ophira’s betrayal everyone gives Night Fairies the side eye. Surah’s friends and family defend her best they can, but when civilians flee at the sight of your shadow it’s hard not to feel like an outsider in your own home. Surah also has a twin sister Sera, though ignoring their wing differences they aren’t identical twins. This is never really covered in the film, maybe it is in the book series, but I wonder what Surah feels when she looks at her twin sister and sees a Sun Fairy Princess who the general populace looks up to and respects. Probably doesn’t help her mindset when she has a prime example of the Princess who fits in to their community.

Adding to all that, Surah has seemingly also gained the magic of the Night Fairies, specifically the ability to cast the same very powerful storm-based magic that Ophira frequently uses. At first Surah has issues controlling this magic as the connection of it to Ophira makes her feel like it’s evil, and that she herself may become Evil one day.

I’ve talked a lot about Surah so far, but she really is the most interesting part of the film! It’s just a huge shame that the film doesn’t really capitalize on what an interesting character she is. Surah’s struggles inform a lot of her motivations, but the majority of the plot is focusing on the plight of the dragon eggs, the characters journey to return the dragon egg to it’s parents, and the journey that the other fairies go on to attend the “Dragon Feast”, which is a sort of ritual/party that the Fairies attend to welcome in the new born Dragons. While Surah and her group try their best to not draw any attention, they of course get spotted by Ophira and things get a little complicated as they try and outmaneuver her. This is one of those films where summarizing it all makes sense and feels like it’d be a pretty good story… but something in the execution itself prevents the film from feeling like a well-paced, engaging story.

And I think that engaging part was my biggest issue with this movie, it just didn’t grab me. There’s some interesting things within the film, like all of Surah’s story and characterization, but that gets swallowed up by a film that just felt a bit dull? I wonder if maybe the pace could’ve been improved a bit, I think maybe this is another tell that the movie was based on a set of novels as what works in one medium does not necessarily work in another. Novels tend to be a bit slower paced in my experience, and being chapter based there’s a lot of little set pieces the reader encounters throughout the novel. When you have that same slow paced, episodic structure in a movie it can fall a bit flat if not handled properly.

Oh, and it should be mentioned that the titular Unicorn in this film appears for all of 10 seconds. Yes, unfortunately this film is a victim of someone’s hair-brained marketing ploy, I guess Unicorns are just more marketable than Fairy Princesses alone. It’s probably the one thing that gets mentioned in every review of this movie, because really how could you not? I wonder how many kids were disappointed because they were really looking forward to that unicorn, only for it to essentially be a background character for a very small portion of the film.

Anyways, I’ll end this off by saying I’m on the fence about whether this film would be a good fit for a movie night, as I personally struggled to maintain interest while watching it. I think it’d a decent enough fantasy for younger kids, though I’d be tempted to introduce them to the book series over the film. While I haven’t read the book series I can’t help but imagine it’s a lot more engaging.

IMDB

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