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

Interview: Meredith Anne Bull of “Strange Magic”

Posted on January 21, 2015 at 3:57 pm

Bog King (voice of Alan Cumming), Griselda (voice of Maya Rudolph) and Marianne (voice of Evan Rachel Wood) are part of a colorful cast of goblins, elves, fairies and imps in "Strange Magic," a madcap fairy tale musical inspired by “A Midsummer Night's Dream.” Released by Touchstone Pictures, “Strange Magic” is in theaters Jan. 23, 2015. Strange Magic © & TM 2014 Lucasfilm Ltd. All Rights Reserved.
Bog King (voice of Alan Cumming), Griselda (voice of Maya Rudolph) and Marianne (voice of Evan Rachel Wood) in “Strange Magic.” Strange Magic © & TM 2014 Lucasfilm Ltd. All Rights Reserved.

Meredith Anne Bull stars in this week’s release “Strange Magic,” an animated musical fairy tale based on a story by George Lucas. She plays Dawn the “young, naive, unaffected and thrilled with life” younger sister of the heroine, Marianne, played by Evan Rachel Wood. She has done voice-over work before, but this was her first time as the voice of a feature film animated character. She says she felt very comfortable working in a recording studio, which is a challenge for some actors who don’t have a musical background. But it was a challenge to create a performance alone in a recording booth, “without the other actors around you to interact with. Sometimes the director will feed you lines and sometimes you are out there on your own and you have to pull from your imagination.” She did get to see some of the movie’s visuals, especially more recently. She began working on the film in 2011, before most of the animation work had been completed.  And the storyline changed over the year. But in the last year she got to see some short clips and had a better idea of what the final version would be like. She says her favorite fairy tales are “Red Riding Hood” and “Goldilocks,” which she thinks is “hilarious.”

Bull told me she originally auditioned for the part of Marianne, singing “Thriller” and “Like a Virgin.” They asked her to read for Dawn, though she says it is Marianne who is more like her in real life, more independent, with more of a dark sense of humor. “But they saw some part of Dawn in me. They’re more to her than being irresponsible and flying off the handle. She’s sensitive, and she really cares about her sister.  Sometimes she can be self-centered, and she lets her sister down at one point, but you see how much she cares about what her sister thinks of her.  She’s not just happy all the time, though that is certainly her go-to emotion.”

The movie has an assortment of contemporary songs, including a duet with Elijah Kelley, Bob Marley’s “Three Little Birds.”  “They’re not like the typical Prince Charming and Princess.  She’s like three feet taller than he is!”

She says the best piece of advice she ever got was from Kelley, who told her not to be intimidated, no matter who she was working with.  “This was kind of my first big film.  I was not exactly intimidated but a little squirrely to be around these people who are very established.  Elijah talked to me about not being intimidated — we are all people, we all have families, we all have insecurities and disappointments.  You should never let anyone make you feel less than you are.”

Related Tags:


Actors Animation Interview Musical
THE MOVIE MOM® is a registered trademark of Nell Minow. Use of the mark without express consent from Nell Minow constitutes trademark infringement and unfair competition in violation of federal and state laws. All material © Nell Minow 1995-2024, all rights reserved, and no use or republication is permitted without explicit permission. This site hosts Nell Minow’s Movie Mom® archive, with material that originally appeared on Yahoo! Movies, Beliefnet, and other sources. Much of her new material can be found at, Huffington Post, and WheretoWatch. Her books include The Movie Mom’s Guide to Family Movies and 101 Must-See Movie Moments, and she can be heard each week on radio stations across the country.

Website Designed by Max LaZebnik