Is “Strange Magic” — an animated spectacular loosely based on “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” and riddled with pop songs, from Elvis to ELO — really that different from “Star Wars”? George Lucas, the man who made both, doesn’t think so.
“‘Star Wars’ was for 12-year-old boys; I figured I’d make one for 12-year-old girls,” explains Lucas, who has three daughters. “The 12-year-old boy one worked for everybody, from eight months to 88. For boys, girls, dogs, whatever, it really worked. It thought, what if we could do one like that, only more female-centric? We still have sword fighting.”
Lucas spent around 15 years working on and off the project; while he was directing the “Star Wars” prequels, he still had a team chipping away at “Strange Magic.” Things changed: At one point this tale — of nice fairies who live close to a scary forest lorded over by evil trolls and other ugly creatures — was to be entirely sung. They got it down to 70 percent.
“The driving force was, ‘Can the lyrics tell the story?’” Lucas says. The use of overlaying a movie with pop songs carries on a tradition he started with “American Graffiti.” “I love rock and roll music. What can I say? I have a big archive of music. I’ve kept it since I was 10 years old.” The songs range over the years, but include such off-beat choices as Deep Purple, not just modern hits. “Obviously for me I wanted to have the music that I liked, not music that someone else liked.”
The other big selling point for Lucas was the way it makes the unlikely, not traditionally attractive men the main love interests — while the usual handsome prince is a total cad. “What about us guys? Are we getting kicked out? Do we get to be the heroes, not the handsome ones?” asks Lucas.
But it’s more than that. It becomes gradually apparent that the main villain, the hideous Bog King (voiced by Alan Cumming), is the main love interest for the main heroine (voice of Evan Rachel Wood). And he’s quite hideous. “I wanted the Bog King to be as ugly as we could make him. We weren’t going to use a real animal. We were going to combine them to make the ugliest thing we could find,” he says. “And everyone went berserk. They said, ‘How can you possibly do this? You’ve got a cute little butterfly fairy!’”
He found people were often skeptical about whether our leads would even share a big moment. “There was some controversy around whether she kisses him. And the kiss at the end, nobody has jumped up and said, ‘This is disgusting!’ It works!” he says. “We made the most disgusting person we could create be lovable, and have her kiss him without you saying that’s not even credible. It is credible. You know why they love each other. You know why they’re together.”
That they fall in love with each other’s personalities was key. “The story is about the difference between infatuation and real love. Real love is on the inside, with someone you have common ground with. You share the same values, you share the same interests, you share the same humor — things that will last you for the rest of your lives. What the person looks like will not,” says Lucas. “If you fall in love with a boy band, that’s not going to last. If you fall in love with a football star, that’s not going to last.”
These are ideas that Lucas has found in his real life. “I went through an experience in life where I got married, got divorced, then adopted a bunch of kids and raised my kids and was this bachelor for 20 years,” Lucas explains. “I wanted to get married again. But I knew the people I was going out with were the type of people I would marry. And I thought, ‘Well, I’ll never find that person.’ I had literally given up. Then I met my wife, who is the complete opposite of me in every possible way. But inside we’re the same. It’s eerie that we’re exactly the same.
“That idea is what you’re really looking for.”