There was a time that “From the mind of George Lucas” was a good thing. Say what you will about the Star Wars prequel trilogy, the original three films have more than stood the test of time. And this is also the guy who gave us American Graffiti and Indiana Jones.
So what happened?
After 1989’s Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, everything the guy has touched has been varying levels of blah. And Strange Magic is no exception. To be fair, Lucas isn’t credited as the director or screenwriter here, he was only responsible for the story… but that’s enough to lay the blame for this misfire squarely at his feet.
A strangely blended musical mash of Midsummer Night’s Dream and Shrek and Across the Universe (without including the best parts of any of them), Strange Magic falls somewhere in the unenviable scale of mildly cute to downright bad; it all depends on how charitable you are, I suppose.
Set in a fairy-tale type forest, populated by bugs and talking mushrooms and saddle-ready squirrels, Strange Magic hits you over the head repeatedly with its message– “all you need is love”… which is ironic since the original idea was to set the entire thing to the tunes of The Beatles, until the price tag proved too high.
At the center of the story is Marianne (voiced by Evan Rachel Wood), a fairy who is set to marry the Gaston-like Roland (Sam Palladio), until she catches him cheating. She immediately swears off love forever (to the tune of Burt Bacharach’s “I’ll Never Fall in Love Again”). But when a love potion enters the picture, courtesy of Kristin Chenowith’s Sugar Plum Fairy, well… all bets are off. Lizards start falling in love with trolls, frogs make googly-eyes at fairies…. Even the Bog King (Alan Cumming), who looks like the hideous spawn of Groot and a stinkbug, gets caught up in the spell. It turns out the only thing that can break the love potion is a real bit of love, so it’s only a matter of time before hearts start fluttering and beauty comes to rest in the eye of the beholder.
First-time director Gary Rydstrom, who served as sound editor on Lucas’ The Phantom Menace, does a fine job, at least as far as the animation is concerned. The characters are all hyper-realistically drawn, and there’s so much dazzling eye candy that I honestly found myself wondering why Strange Magic wasn’t presented to us in 3D. But the screenplay (and, yes George, the story) is another matter entirely.
It’s more than a little head-scratching, given the fact that Rydstrom wrote it alongside David Berenbaum (who gave us Elf) and Irene Mecchi (who wrote Brave and The Lion King). Perhaps they were hamstrung by Lucas’ insipid story, or maybe they just had an off day. My guess is that they watched Moulin Rouge, then watched Ferngully, and then went to a karaoke bar. How else can you explain a fairy suddenly belting out Kelly Clarkson’s “Stronger” just moments after an elf serenades a different fairy with a bland version of Bob Marley’s “Three Little Birds”?
Strange? Sure. Magic? Not so much.