‘Strange Magic’ casts animated spell with pop tunes and fairies

23 Jan 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

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

I know what’s on George Lucas’s iPod. 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. The Star Wars creator has a story credit and an executive producer role in this animated musical romp, and the fact that Disney is releasing it suggests it was part of the price the Mouse House had to pay for taking over the Star Wars galaxy. 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. The animated jukebox musical borrows its basic themes of unrequited love and love potion shenanigans from Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream.

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. Marianne’s sister Dawn (Meredith Anne Bull), meanwhile, has eyes for every male in the forest except her best friend Sunny (Elijah Kelley), who longs to be more.

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. And so Roland and Sunny hatch a plan to visit the Sugar Plum Fairy (Kristin Chenoweth) and obtain a love potion guaranteed to solve all their problems.

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. 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.

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,” “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. 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. The one who imprisoned her, the Bog King (Alan Cumming), presides over the Dark Forest and is nasty and bitter about love, having been spurned years before. The musical choices are pretty much what you’d expect of a Boomer in love – Elvis, Burt Bacharach, the Four Tops, the Four Seasons, the Troggs’ Wild Thing, a bit of Queen and Deep Purple, and (because he has kids) Kelly Clarkson and the Black Eyed Peas. 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.”

Lucas may have been at the forefront of special effects with the first Star Wars, but the animation here is merely passable, with a sameness to the characters that suggests they’re all using the same hair products. Palladio is to be commended for keeping up the Elvis impersonation without ever stooping to a “thankyouverymuch.” But the Scottish-born Cumming for some reason starts out sounding American, and becomes more brogue-y as the film goes on. 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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