“Strange Magic” is a cartoon fantasy cooked up from a half-baked idea from George Lucas.
The hook in that this tale of fairies fighting goblins over a love potion is that every minute or three, some fairy, elf or goblin bursts into song. Those songs cover over sixty years of pop music history, from Elvis to ELO (the title tune), The Four Tops to Lady Gaga. And since they’re covered by everyone from Evan Rachel Wood to Alan Cumming and Broadway baby Kristin Chenoweth, parents will have a “Who WAS that?” puzzle, something to while away the time with as their kids doze off in the seats next to them.
The story, cooked up by Lucas and allegedly based on “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” concerns fairy princess Marianne (Wood), who has caught her intended, the warrior Roland (Sam Palladio) cheating on their wedding day. She’s over men, and sings a little Kelly Clarkson to prove it.
She armors up, so any chance the smarmy Roland had is gone, unless he can get some primrose-based love potion from The Dark Forest. That’s where the goblins, led by The Bog King (Cumming) have imprisoned the Sugar Plum Fairy (Chenoweth, natch), who knows how to make Love Potion #9.
The short, trollish elf Sunny (Elijah Kelley) pines for Marianne’s sister Dawn (Meredith Anne Bull) and takes the quest for the potion in the hopes of wooing her with it.
And that’s all there is to it, aside from the Bog King’s mommy (Maya Rudolph) issues, and a sea of songs.
Wood singing “I Can’t Help Falling in Love With You” is better than Bull’s take on “Sugar Pie Honey Bunch (I Can’t Help Myself”), and Kelley’s rendition of Bob Marley’s “Three Little Birds (Don’t Worry About a Thing”) works. A wan version of “I Can’t Live, If Living is Without You” makes you wonder why they wasted a song with so much urgency on a situation and performer simply not up to it.
There isn’t a laugh in this thing, not one. Shakespeare is nowhere to be found or felt in its inspiration.
However, it does play as a nice proof-of-concept reel for Industrial Light and Magic. The animation — butterfly winged fairies of great detail, skin so translucent you can see light through it, skin with freckles — is impressive.
The character design, however, never achieves “cute.” It’s creepy, pretty much across the board — just human enough to be a turn off. .
And that story is a reminder that when you’re as big a deal as Lucas, it’s hard to find somebody who will tell you that new idea for a movie needs more time in the mixing bowl, and oven, before filming begins.
MPAA Rating: PG for some action and scary images
Cast: The voices of Evan Rachel Wood, Alan Cumming, Elijah Kelley, Kristin Chenoweth, Alfred Molina
Credits: Directed by Gary Rydstrom, script by David Berenbaum. A Touchstone release.
Running time: 1:39