As billions of movies, books, TV shows, internet blogs, and hand puppet shows can attest to, love is an endearingly popular subject. The problem is that love stories are hard to write. Misguided attempts include flimsy chemistry because there’s no build up; a relationship upgrade through questionable circumstances; and the dreaded, dreaded love triangle threatening to dramatize a series with misguided tomfoolery. One wrong move and the whole Jenga tower falls apart. Lucasfilm’s animated musical Strange Magic approaches the material with an eclectic blend of banal storytelling and free-spirited moxie.
The land of Strange Magic is split into two kingdoms: the beautiful Fairy Kingdom and the dank, ugly Dark Forest. Keeping them separated is a stream of primroses, its petals a key ingredient in concocting love potions. Marianne is a lovestruck fairy whose wedding day comes crashing down when her fiancée—the dashing knight Roland—cheats on her with another girl. Heartbroken, Marianne vows to never trust or love again, transforming into a bitter cynic who can’t stand the lovey-dovey attitude of everyone around her. Eventually, a chain of events causes the dreaded Bog King to kidnap Marianne’s sister Dawn in exchange for a love potion. Marianne must rescue Dawn and perhaps rediscover what she had forsaken long ago.
Strange Magic’s premise is trite enough that lingering DVD copies are practically destined for bargain bin aisles. The paper-thin plot is further hampered by its one-note characters. The film unsubtly recites the Power of Love with such frequency it’s less a motto than it is indoctrinated propaganda. The non-stop singing quickly grows old enough that you’ll pray they’ll shut up and talk for more than five minutes. The gorgeous animation does nothing for the unappealing character designs, horribly merging realism and caricature to create an unholy concoction worthy of the Uncanny Valley.
The setting is completely arbitrarily when you realize how little it plays into the movie. There’s no political conflict, star-crossed lovers scenario, or anything that takes advantage of two opposing lands. Its “anyone can fall in love regardless of appearance” theme is flexible enough that the background is nothing more than window dressing.
The love potion provides a decent object for the heroes and villains to fight over, but its mere existence is rendered moot once the antidote is revealed (I’ll give you three guesses on what that is), leaving me stumped on why it was created in the first place. I am pleased the love potion is never once used as a cure-all matchmaker though. Strange Magic clearly states such magic is not conducive to a good relationship and deals head-on with the moral consequences of brainwashing people for love.
I’ll also give the movie credit for handling Marianne’s attitude towards Roland. They never pretend he’s anything but a shallow jerk and at no point does she ever fall for him again. Too many movies rely on the main female protagonist blissfully unaware that her love interest is a selfish dope until the last minute, so it’s refreshing that Marianne has a clear head.
However, Strange Magic‘s biggest sin is its pacing. The plot progresses, but the movie drags its feet building up subplots. At one point, the story switches from Marianne to secondary character Sunny the elf, who haphazardly triggers the main event, tries to win Dawn’s heart, and wards off an annoying imp creature (whose only discernible purpose is to waste time). All that frittering means the actual romance falters: Marianne and the Bog King meet halfway through the film and instantly develop an affection through sword fights and shared cynicism. It’s hard to their instant chemistry when the only thing they have in common is how much they hate love. Even the fairy tale backdrop can’t justify the limited time it took for them to confess their feelings.
I was ready to chuck this movie in the garbage bin, but then something strange happened: I began to warm up to it. The songs stopped grating in my ears and I started to dig the characters. Soon I was looking forward to the catchy songs, the hammy performances, and the overt corniness of the whole thing. The lackluster plot did nothing to sap its energy. The boring characters burst with energy as they let their emotions carry the story to its cheesy conclusion. Every member was over-the-top kooky and every song infectiously delightful. Marianne and the Bog King’s uncoordinated romance didn’t matter anymore; I just wanted these two crazy kids to hook up because they had the right amount of sexual tension to carry them through. I couldn’t help but smile at the how overwhelmingly charming it was. The movie pours its little heart out enough to lend it a rare quality over its bargain bin cousins: a soul.
Strange Magic is available on DVD and digital media releases. Bonus features include a brief documentary on the making of the film which barely scratches the surface at only five minutes. “Magical Mash-Up” is a four minute featurette showcasing various animatronics and storyboards. Curiously, the movie is not available on Blu-ray despite being animation absolutely suited for high-definition. Presumably, the crummy box office sales prevented Strange Magic from receiving one. A shame, really.
Strange Magic’s flimsy presentation is matched with a can-do attitude. It’s earnestness in the face of defeat means it’s worth a one-day rental. It is a flawed guilty pleasure, but sometimes there’s still value in silly love songs.