The funny thing about “Strange Magic” is that it perfectly sums up what my issue is with the lack of creativity in…Broadway. I am serious: To get a good example of how another entertainment industry is so utterly failing I had to go to a new animated movie, from Star Wars guru himself, George Lucas. I’ll get to Lucas in a moment, but for now let’s discuss the Broadway thing. If you go to Broadway now not a whole lot has changed. There are still lots of lights, stars headlining billboards, all advertising live stage productions. What has changed is that there is a lack of originality to be seen. Half of the shows are musical adaptations of Hollywood movies, while the other half are ‘jukebox musicals,’ where stories are written around song catalogs to popular artists with dubious results (“American Idiot” being an exception of course).
“Strange Magic” manages to somehow come off like a cross between both. It’s as if Lucas wanted to make “American Graffiti” for the modern world, took various elements from various animated films in the past, and wrote the story to support a weird mixture of oldies with modern pop songs (the characters go from singing “Can’t Help Falling in Love” by Elvis Presley to “Stronger” by Kelly Clarkson as if they are in the same ball park). In fact, I’m just realizing it now, but the film’s title may be based on the popular song by Electronic Light Orchestra. Never mind, that may be coincidence since the song doesn’t appear in the film as far as I can tell. The songs are performed with lots of energy, but they seem to come and go at random. Sometimes the songs don’t even get finished, leaving an awkward feeling for everyone watching.
Likewise, the story is written in such a way to support the songs that most of the events are confusing and it’s not clear why some things are happening the way they are. In this case the story revolves around characters wanted a love potion for various different reasons. Some want to use the potion for true love, political power, or to destroy it. And yes, “Love Potion Number 9” IS sung, though what that has to do with the potion itself is up for debate! The characters themselves aren’t developed that much better. The villain literally breaks out into song a couple times singing “I’m evviiilllll,” while one of the princesses asks her sister if she thinks the man that is marrying her loves her for her. Her sister’s response sums up the level of thought put into all aspects of the screenplay: “Of course he loves you! What’s not to love? You’re so…lovable!” In “Frozen” we got to see the development of a major character escape her lonely life and shun her life’s regrets through the Oscar-winning (and for many parents overplayed) “Let it Go.”
In “Strange Magic” our heroine finds out her fiancé is cheating on her and transforms into a sword wielding goth chick (who appears to be a lesbian, but the film isn’t willing to go that far it seems). There is nothing that really works about “Strange Magic” except for the songs which, again, reminded me of the state of Broadway. The goal on stage is not so much about good acting or storytelling. It’s to get a familiar name on the poster and sing songs that people are familiar with well enough to get them to feel like they got their money’s worth. “Strange Magic” feels just like this…the problem is they got their industries mixed up. The movies cannot mask this level of average the way a stage production with lots of spectacle can (just see “Nine” for a perfect example). This leads me to believe this film is going to fail miserably with the public. Unless, of course, they enjoy it like I did. Yes folks, despite the poor star grade at the bottom of this review (and believe it me deserves it), this is a movie that is so bad and ill-conceived, that I couldn’t help but laugh many times throughout it.
It’s a special kind of bad that seems so unknowledgeable about its awfulness, so misguided in what it is trying to do, that there is nothing one can do but sit back and just laugh. If you can’t do that then you are either missing out of the joy of reveling in other people’s misery, or you are a far better man than I am. When he sold Lucasfilm to Disney a few years ago, George Lucas made the comment that he was going to be making more experimental films, stuff that likely wouldn’t appear in the theater. It appears with “Strange Magic” the issue was that he couldn’t get it on Broadway, so instead he put it in the multiplexes, where it feels completely out of place. I hope he continues to experiment because I think he’s been playing it safe for far too long. He just needs one of those experiments to work at one point, or else he could become the new Edward D. Wood Jr.; a man directing films so bad they are funny, yet never realizing how bad they are.
P.S. Though it wouldn’t make much of a difference in the quality of the film, the animation is choreographed in such a way that it seems like it was done with the idea of it being shown in 3D. There is no 3D option though, which makes certain shots in the film look all the more unusual. I’m not sure if making it only in 2D when it looks like it was supposed to be displayed in 3D is a con, since it just saves the family members the $3 surcharge, so I’m just going to make it a side note curiosity and call it a day.