Strange Magic may very well have been a wonderful film had co-writer/director Gary Rydstrom infused the film with a lot more strangeness and a lot more magic. Being released by Touchstone Pictures, the Disney arm that seems to be the home these days for films that are either difficult to market or difficult to watch, Strange Magic comes out of the now Disney-owned Lucasfilm pipeline and, indeed, is co-written and produced by George Lucas himself.
Most easily described as an animated Moulin Rouge of sorts, and not really worth the effort to come up with a more creative description, Strange Magic may very well appeal to young children with psychosis who will likely experience the visual representation of the voices going on inside their head.
Okay, I'm exaggerating just a bit.
Strange Magic weaves together popular songs from the past six decades into a story about elves, fairies, goblins, and a powerful potion that is at the center of a king's plan to eradicate love.
At first glance, the animation in Strange Magic is beautiful to behold but it quickly becomes tiresome as it serves no real purpose and the film's story is so badly written and characters so painfully that only if you find yourself enjoying the disconnected yet mostly entertaining music will you have any appreciation at all for everything that unfolds.
Marianne (Evan Rachel Wood) is a beauty fairy set to marry Roland (Sam Palladio), a handsome yet beyond arrogant fairy. Even in the fairy world, this is a recipe for disaster and he eventually cheats. Since this is a film targeted at kids, we aren't gifted by the visuals of a fairy affair. Marianne swears off love and becomes a master swordsfairy, while her still boyfairy crazy sister ((Meredith Anne Bull) is still as boyfairy crazy as ever with Sunny (Elijah Kelley), a lesser sort of worker elf, pining away for her. The Bog King (Alan Cumming), an unsightly creature if ever there was one, wants to eradicate love and has the assistance of the aforementioned Sunny thanks to the presence of a powerful potion.
With tunes ranging from 50's and 60's classics to such contemporary artists as Kelly Clarkson, Lady GaGa and others, Strange Magic is really a sort of kaleidoscopic film squarely aimed at your inner flower child or, minimally, those too stoned to realize the difference. It is quite the shame, really, that the film simply doesn't work because it features winning vocal work by Evan Rachel Wood, whose singing is perhaps the film's most pleasant surprise, and the usual dependables such as Maya Rudolph, Alan Cumming, and Kristin Chenoweth, the latter who has the misfortune of also appearing in this week's even more abysmal The Boy Next Door.
Strange Magic contains truly one extraordinary scene, a scene that makes me think there was an original vision for this film that attracted such an exceptional cast to an otherwise very ordinary film. It involves a certain Electric Light Orchestra tune, a tour of the Bog King's frightening domain, and a rather beautiful manifestation of the film's central theme of discovering the beauty that surrounds us. It's strange, it's magical, and it truly works.
Unfortunately, that is the exception and not the rule in Strange Magic, a film far too, ahem, bogged down by insipid dialogue, an uninspired story, and story threads that actually conflict with the film's central themes.
Dumped into the January wasteland for studio afterthoughts, Strange Magic is the kind of film that will be not so strangely absent from the movie theaters in a few short weeks when it will be followed by a DVD release that will allow you to enjoy the pleasantness of its music without the distraction of actually having to watch it.
© Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic