Friday, September 18, 2015

Strange Magic

***DISCLAIMER*** The following review is entirely my opinion. If you comment (which I encourage you to do) be respectful. If you don't agree with my opinion (or other commenters), that's fine. To each their own. These reviews are not meant to be statements of facts or endorsements, I am just sharing my opinions and my perspective when watching the film and is not meant to reflect how these films should be viewed. Finally, the reviews are given on a scale of 0-5. 0, of course, being unwatchable. 1, being terrible. 2, being not great. 3, being okay. 4, being great and 5, being epic! And if you enjoy these reviews feel free to share them and follow the blog or follow me on Twitter (@RevRonster) for links to my reviews and the occasional live-Tweet session of the movie I'm watching!  Prepare to have that ELO song stuck in your head thanks to this movie...or, if you want it, click this link!

Strange Magic – 2 out of 5

George Lucas gets a lot of hate thrown at him due to the prequels.  Even though I dislike Jar Jar Binks immensely and found the casting choice of Hayden Christensen to be a giant mistake, I don’t really hate the prequels (I stand firm there are some awesome things in it like the battle between Anakin and Obi-Wan on Mustafar and the beginning of the Clone Wars) and, not to mention, the guy is responsible for creating one of the biggest things in pop culture that has kept my heart a flutter for so long.  Without Lucas, StarWars never would have happened and I never would have had a character like Han Solo to look up to.  Lucas might not be the best at taking his vision and making them a reality but the guy is definitely a gifted storyteller—he just needs help to make those stories come to life.  So, how did Lucas do coming up with this non-Star Wars story Strange Magic?  Eh…not so good.

At least the film is pretty to look at.

Loosely inspired by Billy Shakes’ A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Strange Magic tells the tale of a fantasy realm where fairies rule in the light and terrifying monsters rule in the dark.  There, the Fairy King’s daughter; Marianne (Evan Rachel Wood), is set to marry the brash and cocky Roland (Sam Palladio).  Her heart is soaring with anticipation to the point she is singing but that heart is about to come crashing to the ground when she finds out Roland is cheating on her and only wants to marry her for the power that comes with it.  Broken, Marianne gives up on love and vows to never let her heart break again.  Meanwhile, her sister Dawn (Meredith Anne Bull) is the fancy of a young man named Sunny (Elijah Kelley) and he will do anything to get her to love him…even get a love potion from the Sugar Plum Fairy (Kristin Chenoweth); who, sadly, is kept prisoner by the vile Bog King (Alan Cumming); a creature who wishes to rid the world of love.  Well, Sunny mucks things up after he gets the love potion and it results in Dawn being taken prisoner of the Bog King.  Now Marianne must step up to save her sister but, along the way, discovers that her heart is still capable of love…but it’s just in the last place she would think to look.

Yes, Sunny, we get it.  The movie is all about love.

Visually, Strange Magic is a beautiful film.  The animation looks great and is filled with colorful characters, rich backgrounds and fantastic character design—except when it looks like Roland has vampire teeth—

I mean, look at those!  Those canines are definitely developing into
blood sucking apparatuses.  His pale appearance isn't helping either.

This was the strongest aspect the film had for me.  Heck, even the fact it was based on the Shakespeare comedy A Midsummer Night’s Dream spoke to me because I’m in a Shakespeare troupe (Shameless Plug:  Follow me on Twitter to find out when I’m performing and, if you live in the Milwaukee area, can come out and see Shakespeare like you’ve never seen it before—we do it drunk and completely improvised and without rehearsal).  However, the film falters on a lot of its aspects and made for an experience that wasn’t too memorable or that entertaining the entire ride.

From a voice acting standpoint, the cast did their jobs well.  Aside from the main cast, supporting characters were brought to life by such talented individuals as Alfred Molina, Maya Rudolph, Bob “Super Dave” Einstein, Peter Stormare, Kevin Michael Richardson and Tony Cox but, ultimately, the acting and the animation weren’t the parts that hurt the film.   

Gotta say, though, the Bog King looks kinda badass.

At its core, Strange Magic wants to be a musical and, while there’s nothing wrong with that in principle, the execution of this desire was something left to be…um…desired.  Any and every clichéd love song from the pop music charts from the last five decades makes an appearance.  Everyone from Elvis to Heart to ELO to the Four Tops to Whitney Houston to Kelly Clarkson gets the cover treatment from the cast and while the songs aren’t performed badly, I couldn’t help but feel that since none of the tunes were originals that it made the whole film feel lazy.  Why write original songs when you can just pump out the dough to get something other people wrote.  Sure, there is a charm to this dynamic and some films have made it work but I wasn't feeling it with Strange Magic.

I don't know what the heck this thing is but can I get one as a pet?

Another execution that harmed the product for me was how they handled the film’s plot and characters.  For example, Marianne has the potential to be a really strong and powerful character but her transformation of a broken woman to a fiercely independent warrior feels very cliché.  We are introduced to her and she is a stereotypical film-version of a girl in love.  She clutches her chest and spins around in circles as she sings.  We get the cute, “LOL I’m awkward” moments where she bumps into things because she’s too in love to see straight and then we get the even more by-the-books plunge back to reality when she learns that Roland is a mega-tool.  Marianne then decides to ditch the dresses, put on dark eyeliner and pick up a sword to show that she’s not into the girly things anymore.  This final transformation is developed entirely through a song and, like a lot of things in this movie, it’s not a bad concept but I couldn’t help but think it made Marianne feel like a character that is completely different from what she was at the beginning—and I literally mean a totally different character, not that she developed into someone new organically.  

In Love Marianne.

Not In Love Marianne.

Marianne had no hints that she was a badass with a soft side or even the type who wears her heart on her sleeve but is tough-as-nails at the same time.  Seemingly very little care was taken with her hurt transforming her and it just felt like the writers were making a character who is only capable of being a one-dimensional archetype and can only be them one at a time.  These two very distinct Mariannes are kinda/sorta morphed into one, Voltron-esque Marianne at the end but it still never feels organic or natural.  I wanted to like Marianne and feel for her but her lack of depth made her unappealing in every form she took.  In all probability, there is someone reading this that is yelling, “It’s a flippin’ cartoon, dude.  Don’t look so deep into it.”  When you have Pixar making things with complex and sympathetic characters, having lackluster people like Marianne as your lead makes things a tad hard to watch.

I wanna make something clear...Marianne, in all her love-sick revelry, picked up
what that furry thing is catching (its child), sang to it and just dropped it
and was going to let it fall to its death.  The parent had to reach out to catch it
and this was in the beginning moments of the film.

This same level of laziness is seen when the hearts of certain characters that I won’t name because of spoilers are changed and they learn the beauty of love.  They sing a song and then they change.  While this is expected in musicals and that usually how plots are developed in these types of things, they never felt as convincing as other musicals and they lacked the fun that often comes with this genre.  Part of this has to do with how poorly crafted the characters are but most of this has to do with the fact, like I stated earlier, of an utter refusal to have original music and, instead, use already known hits to tell the emotion of the characters to make any progression and it made any and all development feel insincere and lazy.  It felt about as deep and as authentic as a person who proclaims that the Top 40 hit they are hearing on the radio is “about them.”  At no point did I feel like I was engaging in what the characters were feeling but rather seeing these characters engage in karaoke.  It just felt empty and hollow.

However, these two and their rendition of "It's Raining Men" was pretty awesome.

Strange Magic isn’t terrible and I can easily see this become a movie that will find its audience and become popular in certain circles in the future but it just wasn’t for me.  While the animation is good and the voice acting is never disappointing, the film feels vacuous due to poorly established and developed characters and an overuse of pop songs to convey emotion and plot.  While it’s neat that the film tries to put a modern day spin on a very Shakespearian tale and it’s cool that it’s capable of feeling both old and new school, I couldn’t help but feel there was a better way to bring a Shakespeare-esque story to the youth of today.  Still, points for trying.  You may now go back to endlessly complaining about how you hate the prequels.

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