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Review: Strange Magic

January 23, 2015

By John Corrado

★½ (out of 4)

Strange Magic Poster

Audiences below a certain age might like the colours and sounds of Strange Magic.  But those above a certain age will just feel nostalgic for a time when the name of George Lucas, who executive produced and co-wrote this forgettable and thoroughly mediocre animated fantasy, was actually reason for excitement.

Although technically distributed by Disney, and being quietly pushed out through their Touchstone Pictures label on this cold January weekend, Strange Magic has nothing on the superior offerings of the Mouse House.  And Disney is right to distance themselves from this byproduct of the LucasFilm merger that is allowing them to release the seventh Star Wars later this year.

The plot of Strange Magic involves fairy sisters Marianne (Evan Rachel Wood) and Dawn (Meredith Anne Bull), who frolic in a flowery land that neighbours the dour Dark Forest, where the jilted Bog King (Alan Cumming) and his overbearing mother Griselda (Maya Rudolph) rule over the land.

But when lovestruck elf Sunny (Elijah Kelley) ventures into the Dark Forest and gets the Sugar Plum Fairy (Kristin Chenoweth) to make a love potion, which seems disturbingly more like a drug being used to take advantage of the women, he inadvertently breaks down barriers between both sides.  Although Elijah Kelly’s energetic voice work is a small bright spot in the film, this talented cast feels wasted on such uninspired material.  This is essentially a ripoff of the mediocre Epic, done as an awkward singalong.

It’s Elvis meets Beyonce for the opening musical number, a tonally wrong and incredibly off-putting mashup of “Can’t Help Falling in Love” and “Crazy in Love,” that quite literally starts the film on an awkward note.  The rest of the soundtrack unfortunately follows suit, and hyperbolic comparisons to the iconic uses of music in George Lucas’s 1973 breakout film American Graffiti are unwarranted.  Although there are a lot of good songs used in Strange Magic, with much of the budget seemingly spent on royalties, many of these tracks feel misplaced and the mashups don’t really work, making us long for the original recordings.  And a better movie.

I honestly expected more from director Gary Rydstrom, an Oscar-winning sound effects wizard and former Pixar employee.  This is a mix of styles and tones that is occasionally admirable for its ambition, but never really gels together as a worthwhile whole.  The message of love conquering all is a fine one for kids, but the screenplay follows the predictable “family film” beats, and the characters are all thinly written.  The background animation is sometimes attractive, but the characters also have a suspicious tendency to look like plastic toys.

As a whole, Strange Magic is like one of those straight to video princess movies, set to an awkward soundtrack of uninspired, Glee-style renditions of classic pop music, with a message that Frozen did better in a single song.  Younger kids might get still something out of it, and for those under ten, Strange Magic should provide forgettable entertainment.  But there isn’t much here to engage anyone above a certain age, and at a bloated 99 minutes, this troubled film grows tedious and tiresome.  It’s certainly strange, indeed, but unfortunately not very magical.

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