Strange Magic

Posted on January 24, 2015 at 5:25 pm

Copyright 2015 Touchstone Pictures
Copyright 2015 Touchstone Pictures

Despite the big names behind it, including George Lucas, who came up with the story and produced, it feels like a straight-to-DVD, about the level of Disney’s Tinkerbell series. It’s bright, colorful, self-affirming, and bouncy. And, likely to be appreciated more by the adults than the kids in the audience, there is a Glee-style mix, or, perhaps re-mix, of assorted songs from the 60’s through today. But that isn’t enough to make it work on a big screen.

It is supposedly inspired by Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, but the only similarities are the forest, the fairies, and the love potion.

It takes place in an enchanted world that is divided in parts, whose generic names are characteristic of the dim pilot light of the creative imagination at work  here.  The happy, colorful Fairy Kingdom is ruled by a king (Alfred Molina) with two daughters.  The Dark Forest is ruled by the gnarled, bitter Bog King (Alan Cumming) who hates the idea of love because it is chaotic. “Love is dangerous.  It weakens.  It rots.  It destroys order.  Without order, there is chaos.”

The fairy king’s oldest daughter is the brave and responsible Marianne (Evan Rachel Wood), who, as the movie begins, is thrilled that she is about to marry the handsome Roland (Sam Palladio). She flies through the kingdom singing a sweet, girl pop version of the Elvis classic, “I Can’t Help Falling in Love With You.”  Her younger sister is Dawn (Meredith Anne Bull), who has good intentions but is impetuous and a little naive. Her best friend is an elf named Sonny (Elijah Kelley), who patiently listens to Dawn talk about her various crushes and does not let her know that he is in love with her.  They have a cute duet to Bob Marley’s “Three Little Birds.”

Marianne discovers Roland kissing another girl and breaks their engagement. But Roland wants to be king, and that means he must persuade Marianne to be his wife. He persuades Sonny to cross the border into the Bog King’s domain to get a love potion from the Sugar Plum Fairy (Kristin Chenoweth), who was imprisoned by the Bog King. Sonny agrees so he can get some for Dawn, to make her fall in love with him. Sonny has a lot of adventures on the way to obtaining the potion, and the Sugar Plum Fairy insists on getting out of her cage in return for her services. Sonny gets the glowing green potion, but just as in Shakespeare, it does not work as intended.  The Bog King captures Dawn, demanding the potion as ransom.  Marianne flies in to the rescue, but so do Sonny and Roland, creating some confusion and misunderstandings.  And a lot of singing.  The well-chosen tunes include: “What Do You Get When You Fall In Love?,” “Marianne,” “I Want to Dance With Somebody,” “When You’re Strange,” “Love is Strange,” “Sugarpie Honeybunch,” “Crazy Little Thing Called Love,” “Tell Him,” and “Wild Thing.”

There is an unexpectedly endearing romance, and the usual kids-film messages about the importance of what’s inside us.  But the light-weight storyline is weighed down by sub-standard design and low-level animation that relies too much on algorithms and not enough on imagination.

This is where looks do matter, and this film cannot overcome the clunkiness of its design.

Parents should know that there is some fairytale peril and violence, including some scary creatures, some mild gender humor including an accidental same-sex kiss portrayed as gross (really? In 2015?), and brief potty humor.

Family discussion: Why did Marianne and Bog have trouble trusting others? Why did Bog start to be nice?

If you like this, try: “The Book of Life” and the Tinkerbell series of DVDs.

Related Tags:


Animation Fantasy Musical

8 Replies to “Strange Magic”

  1. This film fell out of and back into production several times over the better part of the last decade. I wonder if the animation style reflects the time in which it was started. Let’s say I had inside knowledge/exposure to it up until just about two years ago, and I had no idea it was a musical.

    1. Fascinating, Matty J. I know movies often evolve dramatically through the development process, I saw early concept art for “Bolt” and “Tangled,” both of which ended up very different from the original concept. This one could have used a couple of more rounds of development. While I enjoy films that play with or transcend genre, this one’s unevenness seems unintended.

  2. The fact that this review pointed out a same-sex kiss as something parents should watch out for {as opposed to any other type of kiss} is downright offencive.

    1. Hey, Warrior Cats, thanks for writing! This is a very LBGTQ-friendly site and I often point out same-sex (and interracial) relationships as positives when they are positively portrayed in films. In this one, the same-sex kiss is an example of homophobic humor that I found troubling, which I thought I made clear in my description; “accidental same-sex kiss portrayed as comic.” I think parents should be alerted to incidents that portray an inadvertent same-sex kiss as gross and embarrassing, don’t you?

  3. Actually, as perceived in that light, I see exactly what you are saying! Thank you for your patient and intelligent response.

    1. Thank you for being vigilant about bigotry! You alerted me that what I wrote was not clear, so I have added more information to the review. Thanks again and please write again any time you have questions or comments.

  4. I hear from more sources than just this one that this movie is pretty poor so is unlikely to be seen by many {I’m an animation buff who keeps up on these movies, or I might never have known about it} playing same-sex-relationships for laughs somehow still seems just fine to do in children’s films, which seem to lag behind other types of movies in keeping up with the times.

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