Having spent a lifetime creating one of the most successful franchises in cinematic history, what is the next logical step? Retirement, possibly? Yes, Strange Magic is George Lucas’ and Lucasfilm’s gardening leave. But even with that caveat, it’s difficult to find anything to love about this film.
The plot may be loosely based around the story of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, but this script would have Shakespeare turning in his grave. Every line is brutally blunt, stripped of emotion and delivered with teenage awkwardness that leaves audiences asking: “The Star Wars prequels weren’t this bad, were they?” Natural, engaging story progression is left in the dust as the film eagerly darts between dated and sickly musical numbers, with things simply happening to fill the gaps. Any remote chance of empathy is quickly killed off by an increasingly abrasive voice cast whose forced accents induce cringes at every turn. The film’s running time is mercifully brief, but still feels far longer than it has any right to be.
Strange Magic doesn’t fare much better in the aesthetics department. While clearly aiming for a visual style akin to Burton or Del Toro, the film more closely approximates the endless stream of straight-to-DVD Tinkerbell animated spin-offs – never better than uncanny and usually just grotesque. At any given time, the film oscillates between cartoonish and photo-realistic, without ever settling, and that strips the characters and their world of any weight, both physical and emotional. Admittedly, there are some interesting design elements at play here, such as inventive uses of flora and fauna, and a well-choreographed dance-off, but nothing that hasn’t been done before and done better. Although it’s refreshing to see a strong female protagonist leading this plot at first, much of Marianne’s initial role is lost to Sunny the elf and the Bog King. It’s just one more element the film attempts to add, but with no real care or effort.
When all’s said and done, it’s unfortunate that, for a story about appreciating people based on more than just looks, Strange Magic is hard to look at and increasingly hard to listen to as well. As retirement plans go, it’s as though Lucasfilm is building the extension they always said they’d get around to: noisy, incongruous, and no-one really wanted it in the first place, but at least they’re having fun.
Strange Magic is released in selected cinemas on 21st August 2015 and available on DVD and digital media.
Watch the trailer for Strange Magic here: