“Strange Magic” is a new children’s animated musical. The movie is filled with fairies and elves, bright colors and magic along with dozens of familiar songs. Another familiarity is the face that brought you Strange Magic, George Lucas. A face not exactly associated with musicals or fairies, though still the man behind the film.
The lack of association however is justified. Lucas stated that for Strange Magic he was hoping to return to a past film of his, American Graffiti. Despite his intention, Strange Magic is still not a film you would expect Lucas to have created, nor would you want him to attempt again.
Strange Magic relies heavily on the strange and little on the magic. The film itself is gorgeous, with detailed and elaborate animation that gives a surreal life like quality to the environments and the characters. Each location in the film has specific designs that make it uniquely their own within the film and for the genre in general. If only the rest of the film had received the same loving attention.
The film is a musical intended for children, so the expectations for the plot began low, and stayed low throughout the course of the film. There are lovely moments tied to the main plot of the film, such as minor character arcs or morals the film wishes to tell. Overall however, the plot is generic for a children’s movie and would have been decently pleasant.
Had it not been for all of the music.
Of course Strange Magic is a musical and therefore music is expected. But the sheer amount of music is staggering and a little nauseating at times. There are at least a dozen if not more songs the main characters sing and it feels like a minimum of three a scene for the entire film. While each song is well known and not inherently bad, their use in the film was lack luster at best. Many of the songs held little context to the current moment in the film, others occurred at inappropriate times for story flow, some were mashed together with other songs that just didn’t match, and none of the songs cohesively moved from one to the next. Even the background score used the instrumental version of well-known songs.
The sheer frequency at which the audience is bombarded with songs is actually incredibly jarring. When there’s not music, there’s fast paced dialogue steam rolling right in to another song. Meanwhile the animation and environment though while gorgeous, are cluttered and busy. Adding this to the multitude of musical numbers, the lightning fast dialogue, and the abrupt scene changes you can come away from the film feeling just two words; sensory overload.
Personally the film left me nauseous and physically exhausted by the time the credits rolled around, my head felt light and spinning which is not the way you want to come out of a movie experience. I’d like to point out that while I felt overwhelmed by the movie, I am neurotypical, and those that are neurodiverse may have a rougher time than I had viewing this film.
Issues with musical scoring aside, though there were many, the film is not awful. Though it’s not fantastic either, it does have all the potential to be a good movie. Of course since the film releases January 23, 2015 the potential can’t be brought to fruition, but the film can be appreciated for what it tried to be. The characters are unique in the sense that the writing team was able to make characters you form attachments to almost from the moment they appear on screen, devoting you to their storyline throughout the chaotic film. The humor is quick and punchy, some jokes appealing more to adults than children, and some more to children than adults; though none of the adult geared humor is adult due to content, simply comprehension.
Strange Magic isn’t perfect, though it’s hard to nail down a film that is. The film has glaring flaws but the question you always want to ask of a movie is, did it entertain you? The adults may walk away from Strange Magic entertained though confused, but children should be captivated by the bright colors, designs, the familiar songs, and the film’s charming take on a common storyline.
While children should be happily entertained by the movie, it might be more the speed of an older child, seven or eight years of age and older. While younger children have all the potential to enjoy the movie, there are moments throughout the film that take place in one of the movie’s key locations, “The Dark Forest” that have visuals and characters that may frighten younger children. Though children of all ages should be warned that large, realistically designed insects of all kinds make appearances in the film. So if a child has a particular fear of insects they may want to avoid seeing Strange Magic in theaters where twenty-foot tall centipedes are not out of the norm.
Overall the movie is uniquely charming with lovable characters, beautiful designs, a fast and chaotic blend of dialogue and score, and the subtle traces of Lucas’ creative direction. Children will probably enjoy the film more than their chaperones, though adults looking to see it on their own shouldn’t be disappointed too horribly. Adults might have fun searching the film for the Star Wars reference that appears, whether intentionally placed or not. It’s definitely a film that sticks with you, for better or worse, and may end up on the shelf of strange but endearing cult classics beside such films as the Labyrinth.