Alex Yarde goes out on a limb (see what I did there) in his review of Strange Magic, George Lucas’ fractured fairy tale riff on A Midsummer Night’s Dream.
“News from the Mushrooms.” Strange Magic is Strangely…Magical!
Strange Magic, a new animated film from Lucasfilm Ltd., is a bit of a hodgepodge. It’s a madcap fairy tale/musical written and executive produced by George Lucas. Inspired by Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, this outlandish concoction is admittedly a familiar take on well-trodden paths in children’s movie themes on being yourself, true love and judging a book by its cover.
They took 60 years of pop songs, threw in a smattering of goblins, elves, fairies a disturbingly creepy possum-like imp, and HUGE dollops of other enchanted forest tales (think Epic & Fern Gully) then blended them with thoroughly predicable misadventures with the factions battling and just as often sing toward the inevitable “we’ve all learned a valuable lesson” and a psychedelic ’70’s crescendo.
Despite this, Lucasfilm Animation Singapore and Industrial Light & Magic came up with, at least in this reviewer’s opinion, an entertaining little children’s film. It’s far from an animation classic and I don’t expect a “Strange Magic 2” will be in the works, but Lucas & company’s last effort before being acquired by Disney will do a journeyman’s job of delighting young kids and the young at heart on a cold winter afternoon.
The setting is in a divided enchanted kingdom: one half light and one shadow. Primrose flowers separate both lands and are used to make potent love potions in the Fairy Kingdom. Plucky Marianne (Evan Rachel Wood) and her flirtatious sister Dawn (newcomer Meredith Anne Bull) live a carefree existence on the Fairy side until Marianne is betrayed on the eve of her wedding by the vain and vapid Roland (Sam Palladio). When she calls the wedding off , her father King of the Fairy Kingdom (Alfred Molina), firmly lands in Roland’s corner believing she needs a husband to rule. A lovesick, friend-zoned Elf (Elijah Kelley) pining for Marianne’s younger sister Dawn, and encouraged by scheming Roland, sets events in motion that incurs the wrath of the villainous Bog King (Alan Cumming), who presides over a Dark Forest devoid of love.
The main cast did a splendid job given the thin material. Palladio imbues pretty boy Roland with smarmy charm wavering between Elvis Rockabilly and “Mc Conaughey-ish” southern swagger. Wood’s Marianne is wonderfully realized, bristling with girl power and Wood has pipes! She reminded me so much of another feisty female character I loved, GoGo from Disney’s Big Hero Six, I half expected her to shout “FAIRY UP!!” After she dumps Roland, she goes fairy Goth, ditches her gowns and petal crown for “leaf woman” warrior garb and trains herself in Jedi fashion (blindfolded naturally) to become a fencing badass. I know who my daughter is going to love emulating.
Alan Cumming, who is always excellent and elevates everything he’s in, fills the role of the Bog King nicely. His power ballad renditions of the “Cop Rock” style numbers are delivered with conviction and panache. His damaged heart slowly melting made me enjoy his Bog King more than I should have.
In the third act, fierce fighting ensues after the invasion of the Bog Kings lair and sparks, both from steel joined and the likeable leads, fly predictably. There is some wanton destruction that very small kids may fret about but all works out with the show-stopping appropriately trippy ending sequence featuring the 1975 title song.
Let’s not kid ourselves folks; though Strange Magic is based on Shakespeare, it ain’t Shakespeare. The plotting is scant and primarily delivered by the confusing mix of pop songs (After the tenth rendition of “I Cant Help Falling In Love With You”, I had had enough)
An impressive roster of very talented supporting roles including Maya Rudolph & Kristin Chenoweth, did solid jobs with the material and songs. Gary Rydstrom‘s kept things moving as this film is briskly paced for low attention spans. He co-wrote the script such as it is, with David Berenbaum and Irene Mecchi from Lucas’ story.
So bottom line: Is Strange Magic perfect? No. But I’ve never let perfect be the enemy of good. Not every animated feature will hit that sweet spot, like a Happy Feet or Incredibles with parents, critics and kids, nor do I think they have to. If you approach this film with reasonable expectations you may, like myself, walk out of the theater pleasantly surprised. So, I’m going to bundle up my wee ones and see this film again. I want to experience it through THEIR eyes and discuss with them what they thought of it. Some times children are the best movie critics because they still experience the magic of the Movies.
Strange Magic, in theaters now.
Rated PG, 99 minutes
This review was originally posted at GeekGirlAuthority.Com
photo credit ~ Lucasfilm Ltd.