Strange Magic (DVD Review)

PG – 99mins – 2015


CRAZY LITTLE THING CALLED LOVE

Palmed off onto their smaller Touchstone division and quietly released onto minimal screens Stateside in the doldrums of last January, this colourful Lucasfilm fairytale musical – part of the lucrative package which Disney paid $4billion for back in 2012 – was plainly earmarked to fail. I was determined to show my support for George Lucas’ first post-“retirement” gig, but this left UK screens in the blink of an eye following a delayed release a couple of months ago.

I was beginning to notice a discerning trend.

Not to be dissuaded, I have been on the lookout for signs of a region 2 DVD release, though the internet still remains schtum on any concrete information. Eventually, I relented and plumped for a region 1 copy, and was none-too-surprised to see the shoddiest, laziest, most amateurish cover art I have possibly EVER witnessed. It’s quite an accomplishment to go to the effort of “designing” a new cover (as opposed to sticking with the poster art) which looks so half-arsed.

Good to know the distributors had such astronomical faith in their product…

So, is Strange Magic as diabolically unwatchable as the Mouse House clearly believes? No, of course not. It isn’t perfect – not as visually smooth or splendid as a Pixar film, with a less-than-stellar voice cast – but it’s inventive and diverting family entertainment which made me crack a smile on at least a couple of occasions, even if it never quite feels like a completely polished product.

But then the mistier, lower resolution which plagues all U.S. DVDs could be partly to blame for that.

From the mind of George Lucas and based upon Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Strange Magic is a classically-routed, universally-recognisable story of good vs. evil in a fantasy realm populated by cute and crazy CGI creatures – Star Wars for girls, as George has previously stated – but with songs and a rather barefaced message about the virtues of true love conquering all.

Awwww.

But as simple as the message may be, the plot is altogether muddlier (much like the SW prequels, albeit with less trade n’ tax), comprising a busy cast each with clashing agendas. On the side of the light there is broken-hearted fairy princess Marianne (Evan Rachel Wood) who has sworn off love, despite the best attempts of her father, the Fairy King (Alfred Molina). Her sister, Dawn (Meredith Ann Bull), meanwhile, is happy to give her heart to ANY man, yet is oblivious to the affections of her BFF, Sunny (Elijah Kelley).

In the neighbouring kingdom of the Dark Forest, the prickly Bog King (Alan Cumming) has captured the Sugar Plum Fairy (Kristin Chenoweth) and ordered the destruction of all primrose bushes in an attempt to eradicate the concoction of any love potion, all the while resisting the meddling of his matchmaking mother, Griselda (A Very Murray Christmas’s Maya Rudolf).

Before the impending Spring Ball where Dawn hopes to find a groom, lovelorn Sunny sets off into enemy territory to retrieve some primrose petals and rescue the imprisoned SPF to create a fresh batch of potion, tailed by a scrappy mouse-like imp (Brenda Chapman) who may not be either as sweet or naïve as they look…

Much like the less-than-simple plot, the songs are an ambitious inclusion. The soundtrack comprises a mixed bag of old and new; modern and classic – from Kelly Clarkson and the Black Eyed Peas to Elvis – some instantly recognisable, others mashed-up into medleys or remixed to suit the characters singing them. Some worked well (Lady Gaga’s “Bad Romance” is brilliant as the bog army’s marching theme), garnering a grin of recognition or a tap of the foot, while some felt forced for commercial appeal and too inauthentic in the film’s whimsical universe.

Ultimately, the main issue I had with Strange Magic is its uneven tone. This is for a young audience who will sing along with the remixed soundtrack; laugh at the manic imp and bumbling elf; be in awe of the magical fairies and scared by the evil cronies. So it seems somewhat incongruous to flit from such universal child-friendly accommodations, to a philandering knight (Sam Palladio) cheating on his wife-to-be by snogging another fairy, while a father is concerned for the chastity of his daughter who he openly admits is worryingly flirtatious with all men. While not outright sordid, these concepts are a little beyond the age group the rest of the film aims for.

As the tagline rather ironically states: “Everyone deserves to be loved”. Hopefully one day this “little” Lucas production will find an audience who fall in love with it – flaws and all – even if Disney are too busy in a galaxy far, far away to sell it to you…

CR@B’s Claw Score: 2 stars

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