‘Strange Magic’: Quirky animated tale

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How strong is the George Lucas brand? Once upon a time, back in the ‘70s and early ‘80s, he was venerated as a cinematic deity. He had created the space opera, “Star Wars,” which broke the record, since surpassed, as the biggest grossing film in film history. He followed up by creating another iconic franchise, “Raiders of the Lost Ark.” Lucas languished in creative semi-retirement for 22 years, He then returned with his “Star Wars” prequels. The films were plagued by embarrassingly rotten narrative, tone-deaf dialogue, and the racist stereotype of Jar Jar Binks. Lucas’ once auspicious brand was desecrated. Can it ever be restored?

Inspired by Shakespeare’s classic “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” Lucas’ story idea was whipped into shape by a troika of screenwriters, Gary Rudstrom (who also directed), David Berenbaum, and Irene Mecchi.

“Strange Magic” is the third animated film produced by Lucasfilm, following “Twice Upon A Time”, and “Star Wars: The Clone Wars.” Although the film it dominated by its musical component, the filmmakers jettisoned their original notion of having the entire dialogue sung.

Marianne (Evan Rachel Wood) is the spunky daughter of the Fairy King (Alfred Molina) and is his heir. She is vaguely attractive. However, her looks are clearly eclipsed by those of her preternaturally handsome fiancée, Roland (Sam Palladio). Does the narcissistic Roland actually love Marianne or does he simply lust over the prospect of sharing the power that she will eventually yield?

On their wedding day, Marianne has a rude awakening. She espies Roland in the forest, making out with a random female. Shocked and appalled, Marianne cancels the wedding. She forswears that she will never succumb to the stirrings of the heart. Her sentiments are expressed by the tune, “I’ll Never Fall in Love Again.”

Years pass. Marianne may have closed down her heart, but her younger sister, Dawn (Meredith Anne Bull) is boy crazy. She seems oblivious to the fact that Sunny (Elijah Kelley), a dark skinned dwarf, is smitten with her.

The Spring Ball is about to take place and Dawn is excited by the prospect of meeting a beau. By contrast, Marianne is still embittered. She doesn’t even want to even attend the event. Only the supplications of her father induce her to make a perfunctory appearance.

Guess who decides to show up? Yes-it’s Roland purporting to be contrite and imploring forgiveness. He and Marianne engage in dueling versions of “C’mon Marianne” and “Stronger (What Doesn’t Kill You).” Clearly, Roland still wants to wear the royal crown and sit on the throne. Despite his good looks, Marianne now seems refractory to his putative charms.

What is Roland’s solution? He dispatches Sunny to the Dark Forest to seek out the Sugar Plum Fairy (Kristin Chenoweth). She is capable of making a love potion that will win the affections of Dawn and Marianne. However, for reasons that are not immediately apparent, the Sugar Plum Fairy has been imprisoned by the Bog King (Alan Cummings).

The Bog King is hideous to behold. In terms of appearance, he is the antithesis of pretty boy, Roland. Unfortunately, the Bog King also has a nasty temperament to complement his ugly looks. The efforts of his mother, Griselda (Maya Rudolph), to find a bride for the Bog King are all for naught.

How will Sunny’s unrequited love for Dawn and Roland’s scheme to put Marianne under his spell pan out?  Mirroring Shakespeare’s classic romantic mix-up, “Strange Magic” takes the standard set up for a fairy tale and turns it upside down, filling it with plenty of confusion. There is an object lesson here that looks aren’t the most important component of a loving relationship.

This film is far too scary for young children. However, for school agers and older, the heterodox storyline and unusual animation style of “Strange Magic” boasts a quirkily engaging quality.

*** PG (for some action and scary images) 99 minutes

Nathan Lerner sees over 200 feature films a year. He welcomes feedback at lernerprose@gmail.com.


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