Strange Magic is one of those movies that you walk into with minimal expectation; maybe the trailer was not impressive, maybe the soundtrack did not quite draw you in, but it’s got a name on it that you can’t ignore – Lucas. You decide to give it a shot, jump on the bus downtown, and sit in a large empty theater with a bag of well-buttered popcorn. Only one other person takes a seat.
The film opens with a shot reminiscent of the classic and beloved Disney storybook – only this is a map, unrolling to reveal our setting with such stirring names as the Dark Forest to guide us to the right emotions. The narrator we’ll never hear from again tells us about these two lands, divided by a border of primroses – a primary ingredient for love potions. As we travel by map to the happier of the two lands, we meet the princess, who starts the film off with a well-sung but not quite understandably-placed rendition of “Can’t Help Falling in Love”, originally sung by Elvis Presley and the reggae band UB40. The princess, named Marianne, introduces the audience to the Lucas version of Prince Charming from Shrek; Roland is self-obsessed, attractive, and incredibly concerned with acquiring an army. No less than two scenes later, the audience discovers the happy couple isn’t really all that happy, but that’s dangerously close to spoiling basically the rest of the film. Cue the only other person in the theater leaving.
The story is based on Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, pulling the love potion, a feisty imp, and a forest together into a strange and exasperating story. Most of the plot was driven by obvious and expositional dialogue, which was a trend that continued throughout the film; such phrases as “If I had a love potion…” and “I am evil” feature prominently in my memory, along with the unnecessary delivery of the “moral” of the film delivered by the Fairy King, who looked suspiciously like a slightly younger Lucas. In addition to poorly written dialogue, or perhaps because of it, the film attempts to have the audience feel attached quickly to these rather two-dimensional characters, with little success – almost each character was a formulaic trope seen in many fairy tale and young adult movies. Princess Marianne was the “different girl”, characterized by clumsiness, until her heart is broken and she becomes the “tough girl” who swears off of love – complete with heavy eye make-up and a new wardrobe. Her sister, Princess Dawn, is the flirty “Hopeless Romantic”, characterized by flirting with practically every man-fairy she sees. Then, the audience is introduced to Dawn’s “best friend”, Sunny the elf, who is predictably in love with her. Even the villain, voiced by the fabulous Alan Cumming, fits into an extremely common mold and resulted in a rather weak villain.
At this point, the audience of one is thirty minutes into the film and has just checked the time.
The soundtrack, while not promising to begin with, was further disappointing to the audience with poor placement and a not-quite-right feel. Songs, as a rule of thumb, should be sung when simply speaking isn’t enough; even “fun” songs, sung by funny sidekicks or even main characters, can work if the songs are relevant to the plot and help the story. Each of the voice actors carried the songs well, especially Alan Cumming and Kristin Chenoweth, but beautiful voices can only take the audience so far. There was immense pressure put on “Can’t Help Falling in Love” and the duets were strained, if not entirely forced. Alan Cumming, a talented singer, was limited by his inexcusably lame villain songs consisting of the same line – or synonymous lines – repeated ad nauseam. “I have been mistreated. I have been disrespected. I have been trespassed” constitutes over half of what should have been a totally evil number à la Scar from The Lion King. The only musical number that was enjoyable, and worth hearing, was Kristin Chenoweth’s amazing rendition of “Love is Strange” – which is probably why it was featured in the credits.
With the restrictions of poor writing and oddly placed and chosen songs, the actors themselves held up what was left of the film. Evan Rachel Wood (Battle for Terra), as Marianne, gave the audience a strong and emotionally charged voice that gave her character whatever three dimensionality was possible, with greats like Maya Rudolph (Griselda, the Bog King’s mother), Bob Einstein (Sunny), and Alfred Molina (The Fairy King) rounding out beautiful voices that made on-the-nose dialogue almost worth hearing. The cast was well-chosen, creating a voice for each character that was exactly the voices you would expect upon seeing the character, and each actor lent some comedy to an otherwise dry script.
The animation – styled incredibly like Shrek and Epic – was on par. From the fairies’ skin to Roland’s wavy locks to the Bog King’s shredded yet still functioning wings, the animation was well-textured and gorgeous to watch on a big screen. The most beautiful animations, aside from all of the beautiful and highly realistic fairy wings, were the scenes with the Sugar Plum Fairy (Chenoweth), who was more of a spiritual being and used most of the magic in the film. Each scene with her was absolute art to watch, and to listen to, combining particle animation with fantastic color and well-created natural elements – like a fiery orb or a bubbling water effect. Ultimately, if the words coming out of each beautiful character’s mouth were as beautiful, Strange Magic would almost be considered an artistic achievement in film.
In an empty theater, with little distraction, this film was probably best experienced just once – and at the relatively cheap price of an eight dollar ticket. While the film had moments of entertainment, and even a few laughs, I found myself checking the time one too many times for this to accurately be called an entertaining film. It was largely predictable, increasingly exasperating, and – despite a wonderfully talented cast – utterly odd.
Edited by: Morgan Stradling