By: Addison Wylie
Strange is right. Magic? Not so much.
Oscar winner Gary Rydstrom takes a stab at feature length directing and writing with animated musical-fantasy Strange Magic, a movie that shouldn’t be anyone’s “first” for anything. It begins as a novelty act with some redeeming moments of punchy animation and terrific duets, and then pushes its luck too far.
The story (conceived by Star Wars’ George Lucas) gives audiences two opposing territories. There’s a light land inhabited with happiness, love, and fairies, and a dark forest filled with slimy and scaly creatures you would find under a log. Maybe that’s why they’re called “Bogs”. Along the border of the dark forest are primroses, which are believed to be a major ingredient when cooking love potions. The Bog King, however, is possessive of these flowers; even though he has no desire to find or use love to his advantage. The fairies – along with some secret schemers – are enticed by the power of love, but still have no concept of how great it can be. Soon enough, Marianne (a fairy princess voiced by Evan Rachel Wood) has a broken heart, and an adventure begins as Sunny (an elf voiced by Elijah Kelley) is sent to track down a bottle of the potion.
Strange Magic has been inspired by William Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, although Rydstrom’s family-friendly lark is a bit of Gnomeo & Juliet and Shrek thrown into the same cocktail shaker as corny contemporary embarrassments like From Justin to Kelly.
The film is hysterical in every way – minus the hilarity. Marius de Vries plays the role of music director/composer on Strange Magic. In the past, he’s proved himself to be a gifted individual. For those wanting a sample of his résumé, de Vries worked with director Baz Luhrmann on Moulin Rouge! and Romeo + Juliet. The music were integral parts to those movies and contributed to Luhrmann’s fantastical face lifts. Strange Magic, however, doesn’t have that same energy. It often feels like it’s being driven by an amateur DJ not realizing how to seamlessly integrate pitchy pop songs so they fit within the story and sound appealing to the audience’s ear. In Moulin Rouge!, the familiarity of Elton John’s “Your Song” was whisked away because Ewan McGregor’s version took on another poignant context. The gimmicky songs in Strange Magic are only here to stimulate kids who might have heard their parents sing this stuff before. Adults will be rolling their eyes at the pointless uses of instrumental rock covers, which include Heart’s “Barracuda” and, yes, The Doors’ “When You’re Strange”. It may have taken more effort, but Strange Magic would’ve had a more welcoming appeal and more confidence in itself if Rydstrom, de Vries, and the team of screenwriters gave the audience more originality.
The earthy animation, while occasionally attractive, looks as if it was banking on Epic to pave the way for it. Funnily enough, visually, it suffers the same problems as Epic – beautiful during the day, borderline repulsive when the viewer is taken under the shade. Unfortunately, we spend a lot of time in the dark forest with dingy characters who look as if they’ve all been sharpened by knives and rolled in cow pies.
The only way Strange Magic would’ve been acceptable if it was a fifth of its length and performed by actors in costumes at a theme park. This is the sort of fare that occupies toddlers between other attractions. They watch it, they bounce up and down to the cheery music, and then they carry on with their day – begging Mom and Dad to buy them a plush Minion. They will not be begging their parents for a plush Bog King.
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