By Ron Fleming
|Dawn and Marianne in Strange Magic.|
Being a lover of movies that are so bad they’re good, I took up the challenge of seeing Lucasfilm's new animated jukebox musical, Strange Magic. Tim threw out the suggestion to us here at The Mouse Castle and it was met with the sounds of crickets. I picked up the gauntlet in hopes that my Lucasfilm-loving boyfriend might tag along with me. Hmm. He’d never heard of it and after I sent him a link to view the trailer he flatly told me he had no interest.
I knew then that I was in for a real treat. I hoped for a movie so bad it was good. Instead I got a movie that was so bad it was just bad. That said, the movie has ambition. It just fails in nearly every regard.
Strange Magic is loosely based on William Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream and oh, if it were only a smidgen as enjoyable as that play. The story is by George Lucas with a screenplay credited to three writers: David Berenbaum, Irene Mecchi, and Gary Rydstrom. Did I mention it’s a musical? Well, it is only in the sense that it uses pre-existing pop songs to drive plot and character. It’s a device that seldom works as songs in these kinds of musicals were never meant to serve a purpose different from their original intent--and they don't work effectively here either. The songs are a grab-bag of styles over decades of music used in such a manner as to become an incoherent jumble.
|Marianne and Roland.|
|Dawn and Sunny.|
And more's the pity because the animation by Lucasfilm's Industrial Light & Magic is stellar. The world presented here, especially in the opening montage, is fully realized in a wide array of creatures, plant life and other exquisite details. The opening flights of Marianne and the Bog King are so immersive and fantastical that I was surprised the film wasn't shot in 3-D. This is a sequence that practically begs for it for all the right reasons. My one complaint about the character animation is in the details of character design. The fairies are based on humans, obviously, and they all have cartoon like triangular heads in the Disney mold--oversized eyes, tiny mouths, etc. Nothing wrong with that. They're cartoon characters after all. But the problem lies in the realistic rendering of skin. Skin tones look natural, some characters even freckled, but it all leads to that uncomfortable Uncanny Valley, that place between real and cartoon, that makes me squirm.
|The Bog King.|
Now, the Bog King is a wonderful creation from start to finish. He’s tall, lean, and resembles an insect somewhere between a grasshopper and a cockroach. He has an iridescent glow through his ruddy browns and Cumming superbly voices him. Cumming knows exactly just what kind of movie he’s in and he injects his lovelorn character with believability, menace, and some real heart. The Bog King is the only character with any real personality at all. Cumming also gets to show off his rock star voice by singing Deep Purple’s “Mistreated.” It’s a camp delight. It was the one moment where the film almost got back on track. Almost.
|Marianne and the Bog King face off.|
Surely, the comedy is for the kids in the audience but even they weren't laughing. I was the lone single adult at my 9:30 AM Saturday morning screening. I chose to see Strange Magic then because of the cheap ticket prices before noon (yes, I paid to see this!) and because this particular theater has very comfortable recliner seats. At least my discomfort was comfortable. When the film was over I stood up and noticed that the little girl with the family next to me was dead asleep. The two tots behind me were also curled up taking naps. I’m betting their parents wished they had done the same.