George Lucas had the right idea. Present an animated story, loosely based on A Midsummer Night's Dream by Shakespeare, give it the Moulin Rouge treatment with popular songs from the last six decades mashed up and you’ll have a family movie that the entire clan can get behind.
Unfortunately, this is an animated film that truly only works for the youngest of audiences. For everyone else, there are simply too many eye-rolling producing opportunities and a series of glance-at-your-watch moments.
As teased in the Strange Magic trailer, Lucas’ world (directed by Gary Rydstrom, screenplay by David Berenbaum, Irene Mecchi and Rydstrom from a story by Lucas) is a fantastical land where the light and dark of the world are literally separated by a primrose border that neither dares to cross.
Marianne is a fairy princess who appears to be living the dream and about to marry the fairest and (supposedly) bravest in the land. Things happen and that doesn’t quite work out. Soured on love, Marianne (Evan Rachel Wood) is determined to live her life without finding a hand in matrimony, all to the dismay of her royal father.
Leading the dark side of the forest is a monstrous looking creature named Bog King (Alan Cumming). His wish is to see that love is removed from the entire land, including where the light does shine with hope. But when an elf (Elijah Kelley) wanders into the dark land in search of an item that when made into a potion will send love everywhere (borrowed heavily from A Midsummer Night’s Dream), the two worlds will collide, songs will be sung and love found, lost and perhaps even found again.
The song selection is quite solid and entertaining. Imagine a soundtrack where Elvis Presley’s Can’t Help Falling In Love exists side by side with Bob Marley’s Three Little Birds and Kelly Clarkson’s Stronger. Finding songs from the landscape of pop music of the last six decades that have lyrics that drive Lucas' story had to be a supreme challenge.
We just wish that as much attention was paid to the story itself. It’s kind of all over the place and one can see how it was inspired by Shakespeare’s romantic farce. Yet, Strange Magic strays from that path more often than not. Other than the use of fairies, the love potion and mystical creatures messing with the hearts of those who inhabit our story, we felt little connection to the Bard’s classic.
Wood is perfectly cast as the strong female heroine who doesn’t need a man to feel fulfilled (not a bad message to all you parents of girls) on any level. And she can sing brilliantly. Cumming matches her in that vein but manages to do a simultaneous juggling act of maniacal villain, frustrated leader and one who lives for the supreme existence of order. Of course as we all know, love is anything but orderly. And when he sings, Cumming also does a balancing act. He triumphantly emits sensitive balladeer as well as arena rock power vocalist.
So, how is Lucas as a storyteller, circa 2015? Let’s just say that his heart is in the right place. Our Strange Magic review just finds that the entire effort is misguided.