STRANGE MAGIC: 3 ½ STARS. “an animated jukebox musical set in a fairy world.”
Everyone knows the children of George Lucas, Han, Luke and Leia, will be closing out the year with the December release of “Star Wars: Episode VII – The Force Awakens.” What is perhaps less well known is that another Lucas fantasy kicks off 2015.
Lucas was inspired by “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” to create the story for “Strange Magic,” an animated jukebox musical set in a fairy world where you can never judge a book by its cover.
Evan Rachel Wood stars as the voice of Marianne, a tough Pat Benatar-type fairy with colourful wings, leather lungs and an attitude. She wasn’t always like that, once she was a gentle fairy princess engaged to the handsome Roland (Sam Palladio) but his unfaithfulness broke her belief in love and now she is alone.
Over in the Dark Forest the Bog King (Alan Cumming), a bad-tempered cockroach looking creatures whose skeleton is more exo than endo, has also lost faith in love. “Love destroys order,” he says, “and without order there is chaos.” To make sure love does not taint his kingdom he imprisons the Sugar Plum Fairy (Kristin Chenoweth), maker of love potions.
The fairy and dark forests collide when a bootleg batch of Sugar Plum’s potion leads to kidnapping and a showdown—and sing-off—between Marianne, the Bog King and their followers.
“Strange Magic’s” story is old fashioned. It’s “Beauty and the Beast” banged together with some Shakespearean farce and even a hint of “The Dark Crystal,” but there is nothing old fashioned about the presentation. The lush animation will blow the retinas off your eyeballs. The creature design owes a debt to Jim Henson and movies like “Labyrinth,” but they are marvelously realized with state of the art CGI and inventive voice work.
Director Gary Rydstrom fills the screen with memorable images, from Marianne splayed across a bed made of a rose bud to the wild kaleidoscope psychedelia of the film’s finale.
Your eyeballs will dance, and with a wall-to-wall musical score made of pop hits from the past fifty years, you might expect your feet to follow, but it’s here the movie doesn’t always deliver. It’s all well and good to transform “I Can’t Help Falling in Love With You” into a Broadway style belter but the abominable Muzak version of “Crazy Little Thing Called Love” would have been better left in the vault. The soundtrack plays like a K-Tel album of love songs—everyone from Elvis and Bob Marley to Heart and Lady Gaga are represented—has a Moulin Rouge-ish feel but isn’t quite as effective as Baz Luhrmann’s megamix.
“Strange Magic” takes some simple ideas—beauty is only skin deep and love conquers all—and sprinkles them with fairy dust to create a musical that plays like “Moulin Rouge” for kids.