“Strange Magic,” the new animated musical fairy tale from the mind and the mixtape of George Lucas, is indeed strange. What’s missing is the magic.
The first animation feature film collaboration since Disney bought Lucasfilm in 2012 plays very much like a long music video, albeit a relatively harmless, PG-rated one.
Listening to “Strange Magic” — because you do find yourself listening at least as much as watching — it’s as if Lucas handed over a list of his favorite romantic pop ballads (he chose the songs) then sketched out his story idea of a kingdom divided (Lucas gets that credit too). With colorful beauties on one side and beasties on the other, the endgame is set up to overcome all differences with, cue music, a “Crazy Little Thing Called Love.”
Supposedly Lucas was inspired by Shakespeare’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” but if that’s the case something’s been seriously lost in translation — emotion, love, lyricism and laughter to start.
Marius de Vries, the man behind the music of “Moulin Rouge,” is “Strange Magic’s” composer and musical director, which is not an insignificant role considering the film is all about the music. There are covers of about 25 hits from decades present and past, including “Barracuda,” “Bad Romance,” “Trouble,” “Stronger (What Doesn’t Kill You)” and “Crazy in Love.”
Imagine most of these songs delivered with lyrics twisted to fit the tale. And vice versa. How else to explain the use of “C’mon Marianne” and the fact that one of the movie’s leads — the fairy warrior princess voiced by Evan Rachel Wood — is named Marianne?
DIRECTED BY: Gary Rydstrom
STARRING: Evan Rachel Wood, Elijah Kelley, Kristin Chenoweth and Meredith Anne Bull
RATED: PG GRADE: D
RUNNING TIME: 99 minutes
Her opposite number is the Bog King, some sort of unsightly flying insect played by Alan Cumming who rules Dark Forest. Currently on Broadway starring in “Cabaret,” Cumming is unfazed by anything the musical maestros throw at him.
The computer-generated animation’s digital clarity is blinding, particularly on the light, bright Fairy Kingdom side. When it shifts to the Dark Forest, it’s so menacing that dimmer would have been better.
As the film opens, Marianne’s dad, the Fairy King (Alfred Molina), is thrilled his daughter is getting married to the charming prince Roland (Sam Palladio, one of the rising country stars in the ABC hit “Nashville”). She is too, until she discovers he’s a jerk and calls off the wedding.
Meanwhile the elf Sunny (Elijah Kelley) has a serious crush on Dawn, Marianne’s sister. Sunny’s the first link in a long chain reaction: Picking the forbidden primroses will anger the Bog King, but Sunny needs the petals for a love potion to make Dawn fall in love with him. The Sugar Plum Fairy (Kristin Chenoweth) is the only one who can make the potion, but she’s locked up in the Bog King’s dungeon. It’s the perfect time for a war.
To recap: The look of the animation has limited charm. The story is primarily a string of life lessons for little ones, impossible to miss.