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.