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Judging by its cover, Strange Magic seemed liked a surefire hit. It’s George Lucas’ first film since selling Lucasfilm and the Star Wars franchise to Disney. The early footage sold this world of fairies and goblins with striking and colorful animation. And it toted the likes of Alan Cumming singing covers of popular songs. Everything about it seemed like this could be the thing to take our heads out of the Frozen clouds. Unfortunately, I found the straight-to-DVD Tinkerbell and the Pirate Fairy far more pleasurable than this.
I don’t have kids, but I have my fair share of nieces, nephews and baby cousins, so I’ve served my time watching cheesy, animated, toddler-friendly movies. For Strange Magic, I went in hoping to see something comical and lighthearted that I’d welcome watching on repeat with the little ones after its home release. What I found instead was what I imagine an hour-and-a-half Glee episode to look like… if that episode were animated and the McKinley High students were replaced by magical creatures. Then again, that might be too much praise, because the Glee covers are catchier than the tunes on screen here.
Lucas had said that, while Star Wars was his movie for 12-year-old boys, this was his offering for 12-year-old girls. Such a statement is borderline offensive, considering how much went into his massive sci-fi world compared to Strange Magic. Instead of Jedi knights and Sith lords, we have two rival worlds of fairies and goblins. Amidst the former, we have Marianne (Evan Rachel Wood), a fairy princess who becomes a sword-swinging warrior after her heart is broken by her Prince Charming, Rolland (Sam Palladio). Now she feels she has to protect her sister, Dawn (Meredith Anne Bull), from the dangers of opening up one’s heart.
On the side of the goblins is the grumpy Bog King (Cumming), who doesn’t want anyone to fall in love. As primroses are the main ingredient to create love potions, he spends his time chopping down as many of these flowers as he can and imprisoning anyone in his kingdom who starts getting all lovey dovey. The story quickly falls down the rabbit hole and into a stoner’s hallucination of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, as both Rolland and a little gnome named Sunny (Elijah Kelley) seek out this love potion to force their ladies to give them the time of day. As expected, nothing goes as planned.
While the kids in the particular screening I attended seemed to enjoy it, I had trouble sitting through this 99-minute movie. The jokes were cheap and uncreative, there was nothing truly interesting or surprising about the story, and the music wasn’t all that catchy. Many will no doubt draw comparisons to Glee, but you have to admit that it became successful for taking already released songs and making them their own. Strange Magic, unfortunately, fails in this regard. But that’s not to say the musical performances were terrible. Kelley is one of the most impressive vocal talents, having starred as Seaweed in the Hairspray movie a few years ago. Our two leads, Cumming and Wood, are equally adept: one brings a more classically trained Broadway demeanor, while the other brings her light pop voice from Across the Universe. The cast even includes Kristen Chenoweth and the hilarious Maya Rudolph. It became painfully clear early on that the script would not properly utilize their talents.
Aside from the cast, the other aspects that Strange Magic has going for it is the striking visuals. This looks like one of the most stunningly beautiful bargain bin, straight-to-DVD releases of all time — which is why I’m shocked Legends of Oz star Lea Michelle wasn’t all over this one. Much like the primroses of this tale, the effects will attempt to seduce you with rich colors and a vast, detailed landscape filled with magical creatures. However, you will soon wake up from this spell and realize that this strange magic isn't all that magical.
Lucas said that one of the biggest perks of his Star Wars retirement was the availability to work on “experimental” projects. If whatever he churns out next is anything like Strange Magic, you can count me out. I’d rather watch Pirate Fairy 12 more times.