Once upon a time in a land of riches and prosperity, a land just over the bridge of golden gates, past the hills of Marin, there was a kingdom called Lucasfilm. King George was an inspiring leader, capable of showing his kingdom worlds seen and unseen, near and far, in the future and in the past. His people groveled at his feet, praising his name and comparing him to the great storytelling kings of the past. But to this king, his greatest accomplishments were his heirs, a prince and three princesses.
While the king’s stories were universal, the fairer folk didn’t seem as interested as the lads who paid to listen to them over and over, across a plethora of mediums. Recognizing that his princesses might want a different kind of tale, the king decreed that he would create a story for all of the princesses in the land. Hear ye, hear ye! King George’s latest story is here and this is the name it begets: Strange Magic.
But behold! Shortly after announcing his latest tale, King George did the unexpected. Longing for a life of relaxation and frivolity, the king sold his kingdom and all of its stories to an even bigger kingdom. A kingdom with multiple castles, talking animals, superheroes, themed destination travel and more princesses than they know what to do with. This kingdom, being fair and just, agreed to continue the story in hopes that King George’s good name would bring the kingdom more wealth.
Strange Magic is a mash-up of a lot of things. First and foremost the story, a combination of William Shakespeare’s comedy A Midsummer Night’s Dream and any version of Beauty and the Beast (but mostly the Disney version). Next is a mash-up of music, stretching as far back as the 1960’s to songs as recent as “Bad Romance” by the Lady Gaga. There’s the mash-up of characters, bringing almost every magical being you can think of (except dragons) into one setting. And lastly the mash-up of two worlds divided by what makes them different.
Two realms exist side-by-side, a kingdom of light and a kingdom of darkness. Everything in the Fairy Kingdom is beautiful with lots of color. Everything in the Dark Forest is, well, dark. Marianne is a fairy princess whose heart is broken by her cheating fiancé. After swearing off love, she becomes overprotective of her flirtatious sister Dawn. However, a chain of events cause Dawn’s friend Sunny to sneak into the Dark Forest to get an illegal love potion. And once the potion is unleashed, it will take the most powerful force on earth to set things right.
The film starts off weak, with unimaginative renditions of “Can’t Help Falling in Love” and “I’ll Never Fall in Love Again.” The slow start is also attributable to the character design of Marianne. She’s painfully skinny, her eyes seem alien and her butterfly wings never seem to match her flight path. Her look takes longer than it should to get used to and the first twenty minutes feel like a Disney Fairies movie gone wrong. However, once the story begins to establish itself the film becomes much more enjoyable.
One of the highlights is when Dawn’s friend Sunny, an elf with the hair of a troll doll, faces off against a mischievous furry imp and their game of chase is fun to watch, especially when it becomes a chase for the potion. Speaking of the love potion, the only character capable of conjuring one is the Sugar Plum Fairy, who has been imprisoned by the Bog King. She is voiced by the incredibly likable Kristen Chenoweth (Wicked) and easily became my favorite character in the film. Her design is very creative as well, less a fairy (no wings) and more an iridescent mermaid that can float through the air. Chenoweth delivers the best song in the film ("Love is Strange"), which is so memorable it is reprised during the credits.
The Bog King’s transformation was well executed, with great voice work by Alan Cumming (Romy and Michelle’s High School Reunion) and a slight modification in his design as his mood softens (hint: it’s his eyes). And his stereotypical Jewish mom is voiced by Saturday Night Live alumn Maya Rudolph, who provides some of the bigger laughs. There are some obviously unfunny jokes, many of which repeat and fail to land every time. However the biggest laugh of the entire film is the mid-credit tag (there's also a post-credit tag with another unfunny repeated joke).
There are few things truly original in Strange Magic, but it’s nowhere near the abomination that critics are making it out to be. It’s no Star Wars or Indiana Jones or even Labyrinth, so the expectations that come with the name George Lucas should be thrown out the window of your Millennium Falcon. But if you enjoy fairytales, jukebox musicals and the “It’s what’s inside that counts” theme, then you’ll probably enjoy Strange Magic much more than you might think. So if you have enough Imperial Credits to afford a trip to the movies, Strange Magic just might surprise you.
I give Strange Magic 3 out of 5 love potions.