Animated ‘Strange Magic’ feels cobbled together

23 Jan 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

‘Strange Magic’ casts a musical spell, but as a movie it misses.

Dawn (voice of Meredith Anne Bull) is crazy for love, while her sister Marianne (Evan Rachel Wood) takes a different stance in “Strange Magic,” a madcap fairy tale told through popular songs from the past six decades.(Photo: LucasFilm) An oddly tone-deaf jukebox musical and computer-animated fantasy, its target audience seems unclear. “Strange Magic,” directed by the Oscar-winning sound designer Gary Rydstrom from a story by George Lucas, is set in a world of fairies, elves and goblins.There are good things in the animated musical fantasy Strange Magic: the ultradetailed, photorealistic animation; the name-that-tune pleasures of a mashup-jukebox soundtrack; fine vocal performances from the notion of fairies having misadventures with a love potion in the woods from A Midsummer Night’s Dream and the growingly popular, Glee-ful musical approach of Happy Feet, Pitch Perfect and Moulin Rouge! (on which composer and musical director Marius de Vries also worked).If Lucasfilm had bought Disney instead of the other way around, the smash hit “Frozen’’ might have turned out like “Strange Magic,’’ a jaw-droppingly terrible animated musical that mismatches George Lucas’ inane story about a pair of fairy princesses to an oddball selection of the “Star Wars’’ creator’s favorite pop tunes. Kids aren’t likely to know or care much about the bulk of its love songs, which span six decades. (Producer-writer George Lucas has said his goal was to use lyrics from his favorite tunes to tell a fairy tale about two creatures from warring magical worlds who fall in love.) The story feels pieced together from a host of sources.

It also borrows the lack of characterization and other discomfiting deficiencies from the more notorious works of George Lucas, who generated the story. It has echoes of Shakespeare’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” as well as “Frozen” and the fantasy film and book “FernGully.” The result is a peculiar hodgepodge with jarring musical interludes. 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 did choose the songs) then sketched out his story idea of a kingdom divided (Lucas gets that credit too). So I started working on it and I was doing other things at the same time but I decided that I would just keep plugging away on this thing and that’s really what the inspiration was.

As winnowed by the music director of “Moulin Rouge!,’’ this vanity production’s eclectic playlist runs the gamut from the Presley’s “Can’t Help Falling in Love’’ to Deep Purple’s “Mistreated,’’ with “I’ll Never Fall in Love Again,’’ “C’mon Marianne,’’ “Love Is Strange,’’ “I Can’t Help Myself (Sugar Pie, Honey Bunch),” “Tell Him,’’ “Wild Thing’’ and many more thrown in for bad measure. Purple-winged fairy princess Marianne (voiced by Evan Rachel Wood) is about to marry the winged Roland (Sam Palladio) when she catches him kissing another fairy.

Director Gary Rydstrom, making his feature film debut, has spent much of his career designing or re-mixing the sound for big movies, including Lucas’ “Star Wars” Episodes I, II and the coming J.J. With character designs, settings and action sequences that are generic at best, “Strange Magic’’ fails to charm, and the most amusing thing is that the princess’ potbellied father (voiced by Alfred Molina) resembles Lucas himself. I like music, I love working with music, so the idea of maybe trying to make a movie where the story is told in music, but existing music, fascinated me. Abrams-directed “Episode VII — The Force Awakens.” David Berenbaum (“Elf”), Irene Mecchi (“The Lion King”) and Rydstrom wrote the screenplay, or, as I think of it, came up with words to fill the space between songs. With direction credited to his longtime sound expert Gary Rydstrom (Kevin Munroe was reportedly helming as far back as 2010), this cold mess “from the mind of George Lucas’’ (as the poster says) is being dumped in the dead of winter by new owners Disney under its Touchstone Pictures label.

BFF elf Sunny (Elijah Kelley) pines for her – it seems unthinkable for the beautiful fairies to love the simple, shall we say, less-beautiful, worker-class elves (who look more like troll dolls anyway). I’ve been in this world before between “American Graffiti” and also “Labyrinth” and “Willow” and things where, you know, musical fairy tales, I love them, and I just wanted to see if I could make one where we all know the music but the words tell the story. Meanwhile, the unsightly Bog King (Alan Cumming) wants to eradicate love, which means when Sunny acquires a passion potion to aid Roland’s schemes, there’s a-gonna be a fight. Elijah Kelley: The experience in the booth is, number one, it’s a workout because you can’t play a character like Sunny and not be over the top and not be boisterous and just not be energized. There are covers of about 25 hits from decades present and past, including “Barracuda,” “Bad Romance,” “Trouble,” “Love Is Strange,” “I Wanna Dance With Somebody (Who Loves Me),” “Stronger (What Doesn’t Kill You)” and “Crazy in Love.” Imagine most of these songs delivered with lyrics twisted to fit the tale.

The film is aimed squarely at kids, despite the prominence of 1950s and ’60s hits such as “Love Is Strange” and “Tell Him.” There are also heaping helpings of Kelly Clarkson, Black Eyed Peas, and just a dash of Lady Gaga. I grew up singing in church, I’ve done musicals, I’ve done musical theater before so that was, I won’t say it’s a piece of cake, but it felt like home. At once disarming and calculated, “Strange Magic” is a film of commodified feelings, evoking memories of other experiences — whether of Shakespeare, the original songs or authentic enchantment. Cumming proves yet again that he is an extraordinarily versatile talent, and Wood is a revelation as a singer, given the opportunity to show more range and expression than in Across the Universe.

Always feisty, Marianne grows rebellious, and when her sister gets taken by the Bog King and his minions —in retaliation for Sunny stealing the love potion — Marianne goes to the forest to rescue her. The fairy king cheerfully humiliates his betrayed daughter in front of the whole community by throwing her together with the cowardly climber who messed around on the eve of their wedding. At the very end, a tacked-on message delivered by Marianne and Dawn’s father is so obvious that one hopes that parents would have imparted it to their children early on: “Never judge someone by how he or she looks.”

FOX411: When you approach something like “Strange Magic,” which is a new world you created, do you always look at it as creating a world, not just a movie? To a gorgeous reworking of Electric Light Orchestra’s hit used as the title song, Bog King takes Marianne on a tour of his initially frightening domain, revealing the beauty within.

She’s thrilled too, eager to say her “I Do’s” to the charming prince Roland (Sam Palladio, best known as Gunnar Scott, one of the rising country stars in the ABC hit “Nashville”). Kelley: Your process is really ridiculous though, if you think about all the movies that you do, like the worlds that you create, it pretty much makes the movie an… easier story to tell. Dvorkin, winner of the 2011 CMA Media Achievement Award, is also host of “Fox 411 Country,” “Star Traveler,” “Fox 411 Big Screen,” and “Fox on Reddit.”

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