When a movie is billed as “From the mind of…” it’s usually meant to inspire hope and wonder, however that isn’t always the case. It usually gets used as a bait and switch for an inferior product that just happens to have a big name producer. With Strange Magic, executive producer George Lucas gives us a warped, occasionally unsettling, and often demented tone deaf animated musical that’s a narrative disaster. It’s akin to the kids from Glee dropping acid and telling young audiences that everything is fruitless and life doesn’t matter.
This film transports us to a strange land where a group of goblins, elves, fairies and imps manage to coexist except when matters of love are involved. There’s a quest and battle over an irresistible love potion and everyone looks for their true love, all while the soundtrack drones on endlessly with tired pop songs. It’s kind of like A Midsummer Night’s Dream by way of Moulin Rouge only way, way worse.
The primary message in this movie is that you can only find happiness in life as long as you find someone to spend it with. That’s horseshit to begin with, but that’s really all the film has to go on. It’s a destructive, depressing message to be sharing at any age, but it’s worse here since the entire thing seems to be targeted at seven year old girl. The story in Strange Magic barely made any sense, the musical numbers use some of the most horrid arrangements of pop-culture classics known to man. Every member of the cast strains mightily to carry a tune, and anyone who can actually sing is barely used at all. Meredith Anne Bull, Alfred Molina, Peter Stormare, Maya Rudolph and Evan Rachel Wood all doing okay considering what little they have to work with in the leading roles, but when the likes of Alan Cumming and Kristin Chenoweth are relegated to background work and tasked with salvaging the whole thing, you’re in the midst of a botched production. It’s a mess in every sense of the word.
Director Gary Rydstrom comes from a background in sound design, and he should probably go back there, even though a sound designer should know how to make a musical at least sound good. He can’t bring this terribly weak screenplay home to fruition. No one probably could. There’s never any investment in the characters because they’re all trotted out in such a perfunctory manner that you feel like you’re just watching walking checklists on pieces of paper. When the second the characters break into song, the musical arrangements are so ham-handed and phony that even they can’t distract from the terrible story and characters because they’re equally as terrible. The animation is uneven, racing to keep up from song to song at break neck speed leading the film into long, uncomfortable gaps where there aren’t any songs or anything for the characters to do or accomplish, so the film just kind of spins its wheels for a while, stewing in its own flop sweat.
The story is such outdated pabulum that even the target demographic will find it insulting. I’m no expert in child development, but any youngster beginning to show signs of their own personality will find Strange Magic idiotic and if you don’t want your little girls to grow up thinking that they need a man to make them happy, then avoid this at all costs because it’s just terrible and feels more like a rock musical mashed up with a generic education film from the 1950’s and a C-Grade storybook fable. Not even the stupidest of kids are stupid enough to fall for this.
There’s nothing wrong with a good love story, but it’s framed in such a pandering way that it proves that George Lucas (who also has a story credit here) doesn’t have much left to offer. I can’t begrudge the man for any of his past successes and failures, but let’s finally be honest with one another. He has nothing left in the tank. He got lucky with American Graffiti and Star Wars all those years ago. Please, George, just count your billions in peace because we don’t need any more movies from you if this is the best you can come up with.
Audiences of all ages deserve better. But there’s great news. Paddington is still out. Go see that.