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Review: 'Strange Magic' is grating and (partly) noble

Shakespeare and ELO make strange bedfellows in a longtime passion project for George Lucas.
Strange Magic

An ugly monster (voiced by Alan Cumming) and pretty fairy (Evan Rachel Wood) play Lucasfilm

‘Strange Magic’
Director:
Gary Rydstrom
Voices of: Evan Rachel Wood, Alan Cumming
Rating: PG
2 (out of 5) Globes

Only someone who has the money to make anything could have made “Strange Magic,” a 15-year passion project for George Lucas that reads wack on paper and plays only slightly less wack on screen. It’s a love story set in another world separated by light and darkness: fairies and elves on one side; trolls and other assorted uglies on the other. “Star Wars” riffed on Kurosawa; this riffs on Shakespeare, very, very loosely reworking “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” though about the only major trope carried over is a spell that turns targets into love-obsessed lunatics. And on top of that, it’s a musical, but one where everyone sings sickeningly slick karaoke renditions of Lucas-approved pop hits, spanning from Elvis to Whitney Huston to ELO.

What follows is long-fingernails-on-the-chalkboard gratingto watch —and yet also admirable in theory, up to a point. The pluses aren’t what’s on screen, and especially what’s funneled into the ears, though the CGI animation is handsome and richly detailed, as one would expect from a project shepherded by a tech progressive with his own money bin. What’s good is in the story. Evan Rachel Wood voices Marianne, a happy-go-lucky fairy princess turned into a love-hating girl-power warrior upon being spurned by a haughty, brainless prince (Sam Palladino). She meets her match in the film’s alleged villain: a hideous creature called the Bog King (Alan Cumming), who wants to make life in this microcosmic kingdom joyless but who may be a softie at heart.

What’s interesting isn’t the notion that non-hotties deserve love too, which is little more than your run-of-the-mill wish fulfillment for frightened male nerds. It’s the message, not just for girls but for everyone, that love isn’t found in looks but in personality. Marianne and the Bog King slowly warm to each other by talking, and sometimes singing, to each other, and realizing they share the same interests. (If only their banter had more screwball verve, though you can’t have everything.) Such an act is major in an animated film, a genre often preoccupied with reasserting patriarchal norms, punishing female characters and mating them with vapid bohunks. Here, the fact that a grotesque beast and a pretty tomboy share a kiss because they actually like each other seems downright radical —if perhaps not enough to make the rest of the movie more bearable.

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