Strange Magic

Posted by Joel Copling on January 24, 2015

"Strange Magic" is an enormous contradiction, right from the get-go. It purports to be a children's story, but director Gary Rydstrom's screenplay with David Berenbaum and Irene Mecchi is fraught with sexual and gender politics. It wants to be a jukebox musical, but the songs are often at energetic odds with the morose imagery and misused to the point of annoyance. It wants to impress with ambitious vision, but the character designs, while detailed, are strange, closer to the Uncanny Valley than this viewer was comfortable with. The plot is a string of incidents as thin as dental floss, and the characters themselves range the gamut from annoying to creepy.

Marianne (voice of Evan Rachel Wood) is a wood nymph approaching her marriage to the hunky Roland (voice of Sam Palladio)--that is, until she discovers he is quite the ladies' man. She runs away and immediately goes through a rebellion phase (i.e. she applies Goth eye shadow to her eyes) and swears off men, much to the chagrin of her father, the Fairy King (voice of Alfred Molina). Meanwhile, Roland wants his woman and hires elf Sunny (voice of Elijah Kelley) to find the Sugar Plum Fairy (voice of Kristin Chenoweth), currently locked away in the Dark Forest and the Bog King's (voice of Alan Cumming, for some reason) enchanted prison, to brew up an outlawed love potion that will make Marianne see the light.

Yes, you read that synopsis correctly: The film is partly about a would-be king basically trying to roofie his bride into loving him. If that wasn't creepy enough, the love potion quite literally acts as an aphrodisiac for the hormones, making Marianne's sister Dawn (voice of Meredith Anne Bull) break out into song (in this case, the Temptations' "I Can't Help Myself (Sugar Pie, Honey Bunch)") every time she sees a character with whom she becomes unexpectedly taken. There are a few clever touches, such as an atmospheric use--more than once--of Ingrid Michaelson's arrangement of Elvis Presley's "Can't Help Falling in Love," but mostly, "Strange Magic" is no fun at all. In fact, it is decidedly dispiriting and off-putting.

Film Information

Evan Rachel Wood (Marianne), Meredith Anne Bull (Dawn), Kristin Chenoweth (Sugar Plum Fairy), Alan Cumming (Bog King), Robbie Daymond (Fairy Cronies), Bob Einstein (Stuff), Llou Johnson (Pare), Elijah Kelley (Sunny), Alfred Molina (The Fairy King), Sam Palladio (Roland), Maya Rudolph (Griselda), Peter Stormare (Thang).

Directed by Gary Rydstrom and written by Rydstrom, David Berenbaum, and Irene Mecchi.

Rated PG (action, scary images).

99 minutes.

Released on January 23, 2015.