Strange Magic Review
A TOTAL ECLIPSE OF THE HEART
William Shakespeare’s works have been iconic, moving, and poignant in all matters of storytelling and classic literature. From Romeo and Juliet to Macbeth to Hamlet to Henry V, Shakespeare’s tales of love, betrayal, rivalry, madness, revenge, and illusions of social commentary have been common threads and themes that the famous poet / play writer has used in his art of storytelling. Even though the great William Shakespeare died centuries ago (400 years as of 2016), his numerous works have lived on throughout the years and through various media facets, including countless stage productions, repurposed literature (both original and modernized translations), and numerous dramatized versions on both TV and film. Interestingly, before selling his company to the Walt Disney Corporation in 2012, George Lucas’s Lucasfilms had one last film in production, an animated feature inspired by Shakespeare’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” called Strange Magic. Does this spritely movie speak with a cultured thespian voice or is it cartoon calamity of classic literature?
In a magical place far, far away, the land is divided between realm of the fairies and the realm of darkness, with a special flower (a primrose) that grows on the border that’s used to make a magical love potion created by the Sugar Plum Fairy (Kristen Chenoweth). After witnessing Roland (Sam Palladio), her dashing betrothed husband-to-be, kissing another fairy, Marianne (Evan Rachel Wood) turns her back on romance, hardening her heart and fashioning herself as a warrior princess. Unfortunately, she’s unable to protect her royal sibling sister, Dawn (Meredith Anne Bull), who’s accidentally hit with a freshly made love potion, targeting the villainous Bog King (Alan Cumming) for a lifelong commitment of love and romance. While this action delights Griselda (Maya Rudolph), the Bog’s King’s nagging mother, the ruler of the realm of darkness doesn’t want anything to with love, having felt its sting before. As Roland takes an army into the dark woods to save Dawn, the threat of war looms as Marianne jumps into action, along with helpful elf Sunny (Elijah Kelley), to face the Bog King, and discovering that they have more in common than original perceived.
THE GOOD / THE BAD
Like many of my generation, I had to read several works of Shakespeare’s plays in middle and high school. Some were easy to read because they were adapted with modern English translations (Romeo and Juliet), while others I was forced to read in Shakespeare’s original text (Hamlet and The Tempest). Regardless, Shakespeare’s works are truly remarkable and are hailed (even to this day) as classic pieces in the world literature. As for the movie (Strange Magic), I vaguely remembering seeing the trailer and other promotions in theaters, but I passed on seeing the movie, choosing to see the HBO’s Game of Thrones: The IMAX Experience instead. After initial talking about it with my good friend over at Reviewing All 54 Disney Animated Films And More! and reading her review for Strange Magic, I still wasn’t convinced on seeing the movie. However, I recently watched the animated movie (via the Starz movie channel) and (after much debate) decided to write my movie review on it. Unfortunately, Strange Magic, while visually appealing and with its heart in the right place, is overtly ridiculous, musically annoying, and a passable animated tale of Shakespearian lore.
As I said above, Strange Magic is inspired by Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, telling an imaginative story of mischief and matters of the heart collide in a mystical forest realm. Yes, romance is definitely in the air, with its cast of colorful characters running and / or flying around, while proclaim their affection / disdain for the strange and alluring emotion of love. Star Wars creator George Lucas conceived that very same idea for the movie, while pouring Shakespearean nuances into an animated feature, as relative newcomer director Gary Rydstrom brought that vision to life. Unfortunately, the fault doesn’t lie in their intentions (which sounds good on paper), but rather lies in its execution.
In a nutshell, Strange Magic is about love and everything that surrounds it (however you take it). Some characters want, while other don’t. And that’s pretty much the story and there lies the problem. Its narration is too thin (even for an animated movie) as its various fantasy character try their hand at the game of love throughout the entire movie. It just simply lacks weight and a proper plot. Even common elements for an animated feature are present, but are in short supply. Adventure / action are here, but lacks heroism and excitement, villainy is accounted for, but never fully realized, and even comical relief (whether by its characters or sight gags) are pretty much DOA. In short, beyond love and romance, Strange Magic is a one-dimensional and predictable story.
Adding on that is its numerous musicals songs. Again, while Lucas and Rydstrom’s intentions are in the right place, it falls prey to the total saturation of trying to “hip” and “cool” with iconic pop culture songs. Hearing songs like Beyoncé’s “Crazy in Love”, Kelly Clarkson’s “Stronger”, Four Tops’s “Can’t Help Myself”, The Troggs’s “Wild Thing” in a movie full of fairy tale creatures is ridiculous to the point of being completely silly. And to make it worse, the songs just keep coming on and on. The movie is literally overstuffed with songs and could’ve told its story (in its entirety) in one hour rather than a 99-minute feature. Perhaps if the movie utilizes the idea of “originality” when comprising songs (i.e. creating original pieces) it must’ve worked in its favor. However, Strange Magic just becomes a nonsensical rolodex of music from someone’s IPod that’s been put on shuffle.
Animation-wise, Strange Magic is extremely beautiful to watch and proves to be the greatest strength of the entire movie. Bright colors are vibrant, dark shades are deep, and the quality of the animation is actually pretty good, even compare to more recent CG animated movies (Nut Job, Norm of the North, etc.). It may not compare to a Disney / Pixar style of animation, but the movie (for what its worth) is truly a visual feast for the eyes.
The voice cast in Strange Magic certainly rise to challenges of trying to infuse their respective characters to life, while blending a kaleidoscope of music from various decades. To that effective, I commend them. However, some voice talents are better than some and some are downright deplorable (almost grating). Leading the charge are the story’s protagonist and antagonist, finding Evan Rachel Wood’s Marianne and Alan Cumming’s The Bog King proving to be the most entertaining in the vocal performances. The pair hit their mark in the musical renditions and do have some form of chemistry with each other’s characters. Behind them is Meredith Anne Bull’s Dawn and Kristen Chenoweth’s Sugar Plum Fairy, who both provide a great vocals ranges in singing as well as some great comedic timing.
Other characters like Peter Stomare’s Thang and Bob Einstein’s Stuff (The Bog King’s two comical lackeys) as well as Alfred Molina’s Fairy King (Marianne and Dawn’s father) don’t leave a strong enough impression for a viewer to care about them. Lastly, characters like Maya Rudolph’s nagging Griselda, Sam Palladio’s cocky Roland, and Elijah Kelley’s annoying Sunny are grating to listen to as their respective characters, bringing no joy to the ears when their voices are heard on-screen.
Just like how Huey Lewis and the News sang it “The power of love is curious thing” and intended the power of love is a curious thing in the animated tale Strange Magic. Director Gary Rydstrom and George Lucas have created a film that’s visually beautiful and does have its “heart” in right place for a kid friendly feature. However, in the grand pantheon catalogue of animated movies, it’s a pretty forgetful movie, eclipsed by better films that have come before it. From its lackadaisical narrative, to its over indulgence of pop culture songs, its goofy characters, and its DOA comedy, Strange Magic is a kooky and strangely conceived animated tale that doesn’t have a great appeal, even with its heightened visuals and Shakespeare overtones. Honestly, save your money on purchasing the DVD / Blu-Ray (or digital download) of Strange Magic and instead pick up a copy Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream from your nearest Barnes & Noble store. You’ll be glad that you did.
2.3 Out of 5 (Skip It)
Released on January 23rd, 2015
Reviewed on January 26th, 2016
Strange Magic is rated PG for some action and scary images