It’s hard not to feel that Strange Magic would have been so much more ground-breaking in terms of storytelling ten years ago. But Frozen’s already swept in and blazed the trail on highlighting familial love with female leads and princes with ulterior motives. Meanwhile Maleficent explored a kingdom divided into the light and the dark around a character burned by what they thought was love. Not that these elements aren’t welcome. They just don’t feel as refreshing as they could in this movie.
Now I know that George Lucas and Lucasfilm worked on this film for fifteen years before releasing it because it was a side project and also because Lucas wanted to push the development of animation technology. And it definitely has been pushed. The faces (and teeth) of these characters look very real – so much so that they’ve reached the uncanny valley. There was one point in particular the elf, Sunny, turned his head to the side and I had to remind myself that it wasn’t a real person’s face. Once you get past the creepiness, there’s a lot of other technical achievements to take in, especially in the lighting.
And yet, the movie is still missing some oomph. Yes, that’s a technical term. It has this great message about everyone deserving to be loved and the idea of superficial love versus connecting with someone. But the weight and gravity just aren’t there. Both the faerie Marianne and the Bog King have these powerful songs that come right from the gut, performed beautifully by Evan Rachel Wood and Alan Cumming. The vibrancy just doesn’t resonate the way you’d expect it to though. It’s odd. Maybe it’s all the borrowed elements or the fact that the characters literally aren’t grounded most of the time or maybe there’s just not enough bass.
Speaking of both those actors, they provide nuanced spoken voice performances that made both of their character arcs believable. Most of the other characters are too shallow to believe they were developed for a decade though. Marianne’s sister Dawn spends a good chunk of the movie under the influence of a potion and that’s severely limiting to her development. Bog King’s mother Griselda is a stereotype with tunnel vision. And the Sugar Plum Fairy is just plain grating. Perhaps she’s perpetually annoyed by knowing the skill she’s known for doesn’t compare to real love. I don’t even want to talk about Marianne and Dawn’s father who looks like George Lucas but provides an opposite message from what Lucas seems to be going for.
The music is fun though. The jukebox musical concept is nothing new, but it was amusing to figure out what song was happening next based on the opening notes. There were a few more modern songs in there than I was expecting based on the interviews, but I’d say 95% of them were fitting choices. They even use a few well-known songs as instrumentals, including a quiet, but clever association between an antagonist and a Lady Gaga song. A few edits for comedic effect and a few more jokes could have made the movie more fun overall though.
George Lucas’ statements about making this movie for girls since he made Star Wars for boys will unfortunately most likely hurt this movie in the end, because Strange Magic really is geared to everybody regardless of age or gender identity. In the end, Strange Magic is a technical achievement with some interesting storytelling elements that just doesn’t fly as high as you’d expect it to but it’s not a bad movie.
Strange Magic was part of Strange Age of Tomorrowland World Awakens, my top ten movies to see in 2015.
But wait, there’s more! There are Star Wars influences, Shakespeare, and further female character thoughts to talk about so keep your ears peeled for a new episode of Fangirl Chat, where I’ll be joining the discussion on Strange Magic as well as Into the Woods.
Kay grew up wanting to be an astronaut. After seeing Star Wars, she wanted to be Princess Leia, Han Solo, and an astronaut. Life’s taken her on a bit of a different path, but she’s still a Star Wars fangirl at heart who enjoys surprising people with how geeky she really is. Currently a voice actor, photographer, and artist who also consults in communications and marketing, Kay spends the little bit of free time she has reading, writing, learning and, of course, making pew pew noises. She would pick up more jobs and hobbies if she was a Time Lord. You can follow her on Twitter.
Kay is FANgirl's resident geek fashion expert and co-host of the Hyperspace Theories podcast. She reviews books and movies for the site with a heart for storytelling and a mind that likes to analyze. Kay's been a guest on various podcasts sharing her love and knowledge of storytelling, film-making, fashion, and of course, Star Wars.
Most days are filled with her work as a creative services professional - designing websites & branding, photographing, voice acting, editing, and more. Kay spends the little bit of free time she has reading, costuming, and, of course, making pew pew noises. She would pick up more jobs and hobbies if she was a Time Lord.