Before George Lucas collected billions by selling his studio to the Walt Disney Corporation in 2012, there was one last movie in production. Strange Magic is a CG-animated endeavor conceived by Lucas and directed by Gary Rydstrom (the famed sound man who worked on the Star Wars films).
Strange Magic plays up many of the themes and visuals Lucas used to build an empire over the last 45 years. Unfortunately, it emerges as an ambitious but overstuffed take on Shakespeare by way of a jukebox musical.
Photo courtesy of Lucasfilm
Strange Magic grows tiring, losing its novelty and, eventually, its point.
In a mysterious kingdom far, far away, there is a divide between the land of the fairies and the realm of darkness, with a special flower growing on the border that’s used to make a love potion powerful enough to work on anyone.
After watching Roland (voiced by Sam Palladio), her dashing betrothed, make time with another fairy, Marianne (Evan Rachel Wood) turns her back on romance, steeling herself into a warrior.
However, she’s unable to protect her sister, Dawn (Meredith Anne Bull), who’s hit with a batch of the love potion, targeting the gruesome Bog King (Alan Cumming) for lifelong commitment.
While the match delights Griselda (Maya Rudolph), the Bog King’s concerned mother, the leader of the dark doesn’t want anything to do with love, having also been burned before. When Roland takes an army into the deep woods to save Dawn, Marianne jumps into action, facing the Bog King on a personal level.
Inspired by A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Lucas dreams up another fantasyland of crazy characters and weird creatures, with the game of love played around this world. Some want it, others don’t, leaving the bulk of the movie to duets.
Adventure is present, but Strange Magic is primarily about the quest for tenderness, not heroism, with fluttery feelings often purged through song. In fact, the entire effort is practically wall-to-wall singing.
The hits keep coming. And coming and coming. Rarely does the picture stop to take a breath, conjuring a bizarre selection of mash-ups that pair songs never meant to be stitched together. Hits such as “Crazy in Love,” “Can’t Help Falling in Love,” “Bad Romance,” “Stronger,” and, appropriately, ELO’s “Strange Magic” are passably interpreted by the cast, with Wood putting in the most vibrant effort.
The clash of genres and personal ability is interesting to watch for the first half, but the sheer speed of music delivery grows tiring, losing its novelty and eventually its point. Character beats are smothered by the soundtrack. Soon enough, Strange Magic becomes simply karaoke, killing the musical expression Rydstrom and Lucas are looking for.
The animation is quite detailed and enjoyable, with a textured world to study while the movie chases DOA comedy and struggles to sell an iffy “looks don’t matter” message. It’s only a shame Strange Magic isn’t a more precise picture to support the sophisticated visuals.