George Lucas hopes ‘Strange Magic’ will appeal to all ages

23 Jan 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

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

Sometimes that loss of faith isn’t justified – “Paddington” was much better than its distributors seemed to expect (and, in fact, did quite well in Britain over the school holidays).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). 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). 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. 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.

Like a lot of second-tier computer animation, the art is –- well, “sketchy” is definitely the wrong word, as it’s all been done on computers, but let’s say “inconsistent.” The backgrounds look terrific – verdant fiddleheads and shiny butterfly wings and speckled mushroom caps. Meanwhile, her sister Dawn (Meredith Anne Bull) longs to fall in love and seems to have crushes on several of the eligible males in their enchanted fairyland.

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. But typical of poor computer graphics, the more human the characters are supposed to look, the more inhuman they do – with lifeless marble-like eyes, spiky haystack hair and rubbery Kardashian flesh. 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.

But why does the king, who resembles a cockroach and talks like a Scot, have a mother who seems to be a slug and talks like a Jewish-mother joke?) And so the nasty king snarls, the fairy princesses squabble, various confusing creatures scamper around (and why does the imp look like a possum?) and whenever possible, another song is shoehorned in, heavy on the Elvis and baby-boomer rock. 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. And there’s a definite message in favor of fairies and elves and goblins having cross-species sex, which is progressive, I guess, and will probably be a prime pickup line at the next Comic-Con.

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. 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.”

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”).

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