In Strange Magic, we find George Lucas, one of the greatest creative minds of the twentieth century, attempting to bring the greatest literary mind of the Elizabethan era, Shakespeare, to the big screen in the most unusual way: through an animated kids’ movie. This has perhaps never been done successfully. For Lucas, Shakespeare’s fantasy fairy world seen in Midsummer Night’s Dream was just the ticket to creating a compelling children’s film.
What STRANGE MAGIC is about?
Does the inventor of the Star Wars universe succeed? In some respects, yes, admirably, and in others, the artistic experiment falls short. Here is the revised story in a nut shell: Marianne is a fairy about to be married when she learns that her true love is cheating on her.
She has a close call when she enters the Dark Forest, a place that has become a despairing land of shadows due to the Bog King’s relentless desire to obliterate love.
He is set on destroying the primroses that will help others to fall in love via a love potion created by the Sugar Plum Fairy. The Bog King is quite disturbing with his cockroach/scorpion-like appearance, yet even one as forlorn as he may be destined for love. The characters express the spectrum of emotions via pop songs (as in Moulin Rouge) ranging from 1960s hits to Beyonce and Kelly Clarkson.
What’s not to love about STRANGE MAGIC?
It’s a tall order to rewrite Shakespeare, and in this regard it might have been better for Lucas to stick more closely to the source material. The reliance on pop hits to tell the story wasn’t in itself a problem to me (my daughter especially seemed to enjoy the fairies singing songs she recognized), only that there were so many of them back to back. The song choices, while favorite familiar melodies, were all over the place. Some jokes fell flat or could even make you cringe: Maya Rudolph as the Bog King’s mother saying, “I see my life flashing before my eyes…I was hot!”
I also wasn’t crazy about the infidelity portrayed in the opening scenes, when Marianne catches her “true love” Roland smooching another woman. It’s a theme that’s too mature for this film’s target audience of seven year olds.
What’s to love about STRANGE MAGIC?
What I really like is the exploration of the nature of love in the typical Shakespearean comedy of errors tradition. Who is affected by the love potion, and who experiences real love, is constantly in flux, and that does keep things interesting. The message of not basing love on appearance alone is a positive one. Much of the animation is gorgeous (the fairy wings are exquisite).
Lucas’s Star Wars prequels came under relentless criticism for its stagnant storytelling, but let me say this: I really like what he’s trying to do with Strange Magic, and I hope he experiments further with other animated films based on the lessons learned from this venture. In spite of the instance of infidelity, I am recommending the movie for age six and up.