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such a nasty woman | by maryann johanson

Strange Magic movie review: bad spell

by MaryAnn Johanson

Strange Magic red light

Apparently this was inspired by A Midsummer Night’s Dream, but it has about as much in common with that as Burger King does with Macbeth.
I’m “biast” (pro): nothing

I’m “biast” (con): nothing

(what is this about? see my critic’s minifesto)

Strange Magic is the first animated feature George Lucas has had a hand in since 1988’s The Land Before Time, and he should have left well enough alone.

Lucas gets a story credit and served as executive producer, but this has the whiff of a vanity project for cowriter and director Gary Rydstrom, making his feature debut. Yes, legendary sound designer Gary Rydstrom, who’s won seven Oscars in that field and has created some of the most memorable movie noises ever for films including Terminator 2, Jurassic Park, and Minority Report, but who, the evidence of this movie suggests, has no business writing and directing a movie. (I dread to imagine what the script looked like before Disney vet Irene Mecchi, who helped craft Brave and The Lion King, came in to assist.)

Behold the story of two fairy princesses of the Uncanny Valley– er, I mean, Fairy Kingdom. Marianne (the voice of Evan Rachel Wood: The Conspirator, Battle for Terra) and her sister Dawn (the voice of Meredith Anne Bull) are both obsessed with romance in various ways. There’s also a fairy knight called Roland (the voice of Sam Palladio: Runner Runner), who wants to marry Marianne so he can be king one day and have his own army, because who doesn’t want their own army; and sad elf Sunny (the voice of Elijah Kelley: The Butler, Hairspray), who is in love with Dawn, who doesn’t see him that way because he’s not a pretty sort of Lord of the Rings elf but somewhat more troll-like. Fortunately for the boys, love potions are a thing here, though they can only be made with a primrose petal, which is found only on the borders with the Dark Forest, and made only by the Sugar Plum Fairy (the voice of Kristin Chenoweth: The Boy Next Door, Rio 2), whom the Dark Forest’s Bog King (the voice of Alan Cumming: The Smurfs 2, Burlesque) has been holding captive because he can’t stand all this romance crap.

I know how he feels. As soon as a movie induces you to sympathize with its villain, it’s a lost cause. And I was identifying with the Bog King before he was even introduced onscreen. For if there is a pop song from the past half century that includes the word “love,” someone will break out in an annoyingly chipper rendition of it here (in between silly woodland fantasy creatures enacting goofy slapstick routines). The various romances the develop are beyond implausible, the animation is creepy where it’s intended to be adorable, and dear god, the singing, always the singing. This is a plastic accretion of pop culture detritus that feels calculated to sell toys… and it fails even there, since no tie-in merchandise appears to have been produced. (We can be thankful for small favors.) Apparently this was inspired by A Midsummer Night’s Dream, but Strange Magic has about as much in common with that as Burger King does with Macbeth. I should have but slumbered here.

See also my #WhereAreTheWomen rating of Strange Magic for its representation of girls and women.

red light half a star

Strange Magic (2015)
US/Canada release date: Jan 23 2015 | UK release date: Aug 21 2015

MPAA: rated PG for some action and scary images
BBFC: rated U (mild fantasy violence, very mild threat)

viewed on my iPad

official site | IMDb
more reviews: Movie Review Query Engine | Rotten Tomatoes

If you’re tempted to post a comment that resembles anything on the film review comment bingo card, you might want to reconsider.

  • Hank Graham

    “Story by George Lucas”

    Not exactly playing to his strengths, is it?

  • RogerBW

    Love potions are a means to rape.

    I’m reminded of another film where George Lucas encouraged one of his crew: Black Angel, which was a 25-minute short made by Roger Christian (art director on Star Wars). It was shown before The Empire Strikes Back in the UK among other places, and it’s recently been re-found and is on youtube. And… it’s very pretty, for a microbudget, but it has absolutely nothing to say.

  • Love potions are a means to rape.

    Yes, and I was on the lookout for that here, but fortunately the movie gets nowhere near such a thing happening.

  • Hank Graham

    “Love potions are a means to rape.”

    Well, first of all, while I take your point (and who could miss it in these days of what we’ve learned of Bill Cosby?), I also don’t completely agree with you.

    The attraction of love potions is much less the sexual power idea (let’s christen that the “Cosby”) and much more that emotional turmoil we all fall into when we’re young and inexperienced and find that we’re pursuing someone who is totally uninterested. And at that point, man and woman, we all wish a little that there were some magic that could change that.

    That emotion is much more universal than the few Cosby’s that are out there. I also think you can define a lot of a person’s character at how they deal with that pain.

    And think back to “Midsummer Night’s Dream,” where Shakespeare used the love potion to reveal how silly we all get when our emotions are carrying us away. The point was love potion as a means to rape, but love as a gateway to the halfway point of insanity.

    (And a complete and utter digression, cause I do that as a defining characteristic, here in Seattle the Bath House Theater once did a fantastic, doo-wop/rockabilly production of MND, and played against the text itself in doing so. Because one of the jokes of the play is that the young lovers are pretty damn interchangeable, and Shakespeare was lampooning us all with that. But in this production, when her father demands of Hermia why she prefers Lysander to Demetrius, what possible difference there is between the two–and we’ve already seen Demetrius, wearing white socks, white shirt with pocket protector, and glasses–it packs quite a laugh when Lysander shows up, in black jeans and a black leather jacket, and suddenly the audience can, indeed, see a difference.)

    Consider also the many other tales of love potions and philters and what have you, which litter fantasy writing all the way back to the Greeks. Hell, Joss Whedon used a love spell as the wellspring to one of the best episodes of “Buffy, the Vampire Slayer.” (Season 2, “Bewitched, Bothered, and Bewildered)

    Just a thought.


  • Hank Graham

    NOTE: The previous post is best read while listening to “Love Potion No. 9.”

  • LaSargenta

    5 paragraph, last sentence, typo.

  • As with so many aspects of a story, it’s how the story using a thing that matters. Love potions can be problematic, or not.

  • Hank Graham

    Oops! Absolutely right–it should be “NOT love potion.”

  • Dark Blaze

    Love this movie! Its in my top 5. Love the way they put the music and story. My six year old and I watch it at least once a day. She hasn’t watched a movie like that since frozen. She even knows their lines. I think if George Lucas didn’t write it ppl wouldn’t be so hard on it. He did a great job on it and star wars.

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