When January rolls around, we can always expect movies to get released in the hopes people will go see them in between catching up on Oscar nominees and trying to replenish the cash supply after the present-buying season. Most of the time when you see the trailer for one of these movies, you have a pretty good idea of what you’re going to get. But, just seeing the poster for the new animated film Strange Magic, made by Lucasfilm and with a story-by credit to George Lucas himself, I had no idea what was going on. What is this movie? Well, do you guys want to know what it is? It’s a fantasy jukebox musical. It’s got fairies and elves and goblins and stuff all incessantly singing pop hits from the last four decades. The next question then becomes, “WHY is this movie?”
It’s pretty rare for me to know as quickly that I hated a movie as I did with Strange Magic. It was within the first five minutes when the characters were on their third different reinterpreting of a radio hit that I said “Oh… oh no. There’s 93 more minutes of this.” And there was 93 more minutes of it. No matter how hard I tried, the time was never less than the printed running time. It wasn’t a mistake; it was actually that long. I suspect that if we removed the songs (and, yes George Lucas is loaded, but the music rights budget for this movie must have been astronomical), there’d be a half-hour short film in there. The script couldn’t have been more than 35 pages.
Time for critical due diligence. In a magical world of whatever, there’s a kingdom of fairies and elves and happy stuff right next to a kingdom in shadow ruled by The Bog King (Alan Cumming) that also has goblins and monsters. The creatures are all little, so trees are huge comparatively. You get it. On the border between the two lands grows a particular flower, which the Bog King constantly has cut down because the petals can be turned into a love potion, and he hates love. The fairy princess Marianne (Evan Rachel Wood) is about to get married to the handsome and dashing Roland (Sam Palladio) who only wants to marry the naive princess for her kingdom when the king (Alfred Molina) eventually isn’t king anymore. Marianne catches Roland making out with some other fairy on their wedding day and hence calls off the wedding and becomes jaded and sword-wielding.
Meanwhile, the elf Sunny (Elijah Kelley) is in love with Marianne’s flirty younger sister Dawn (Meredith Anne Bull) who dreams about boy fairies all day. After millions more songs, Roland, still trying to get into Marianne’s…royal throne, convinces Sunny to go into the dark forest to get the trapped Sugar Plum Fairy (Kristin Chenoweth) to create a love potion for him to use on Dawn, and for Roland to use on Marianne. The Bog King has trapped the Sugar Plum Fairy because of a thing that happened which resulted in his hatred of love, even though his mother wants him to get married and be happy.
It was about this time in the movie when I realized I was actually still alive. I hadn’t died at all and was sitting in a room watching a movie with a bunch of other people. My inner monologue sounded a lot like this: “AAAAAAAAAAAAHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH!!!!!!” but I kept it pretty quiet and only expressed myself at each subsequent out-of-nowhere song that maybe pertains to love or whatever by throwing my head against the back of my seat. I may have dented both it and my head.
By time we get to the song Marianne and the Bog King sing, a Broadway version of ELO’s “Strange Magic,” a show of the newly-burgeoning romance between two characters who are jaded and dismissive of love, I began to have a Stockholm Syndrome moment. I actually thought I was sort of enjoying these two characters’ weird interactions. Every single other character could still have flown into the sun but I was enjoying these two. Then I realized I had been brainwashed by the bright colors and the omnipresence of pop music and began biting the inside of my mouth to remind me that any pain is better than what I was watching.
I recognize when a movie isn’t made for me, but I have to wonder who Strange Magic was actually made for. Little-little kids? Maybe; everything moves so fast and is bright and loud and music-y, but all the music is old, or not stuff kids would know. Also, there’s a weird thing in the movie where the characters know they’re singing and they’ve heard the songs before. It’s not like part of the musical suspension of disbelief; they just sing songs to each other. You know what, this movie can’t be for kids because it’s kind of racist. The elves are depicted as short and dark skinned, and all the voices of the elves are done by African American actors, which offsets all the tall, angular, very white fairies. At the end of the movie, there’s a very strong indication that the king of the fairies doesn’t want his daughter marrying an elf. Like, he faints at the thought of it like it’s the 1950s.
Anyway, this movie is loathsome, that’s what it is. I don’t know why it exists. Don’t see it.