By Claudia Puig/Gannett News Service
“Strange Magic” is strange all right, but hardly magical.
An oddly tone-deaf jukebox musical and computer-animated fantasy, it aims at a target audience that’s unclear. Kids aren’t likely to know or care much about the bulk of the love songs, which span six decades.
Producer-writer George Lucas has said his goal was to use lyrics from his favorite tunes to tell a fairy tale about two creatures from warring magical worlds who fall in love.
“Strange Magic” is directed by Gary Rydstrom, a seven-time Oscar winner for sound design. Oddly, however, the music and the dialogue are sometimes overlaid in ways that distract and result in an unintelligible blur.
The story feels pieced together from a host of sources. It has echoes of Shakespeare’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” and the fantasy film/book “FernGully,” and it mashes up fairy-tale lore with the “Nutcracker” ballet. A couple of characters seem influenced by sisters Anna and Elsa from “Frozen,” and a brawny blowhard is very similar to “Beauty and the Beast’s” Gaston.
The result is a peculiar hodgepodge with jarring musical interludes. Featuring songs from Elvis Presley to Beyoncé, this uninvolving tale of fairies, elves, goblins and insect monsters centers around a love potion made of primrose petals.
Purple-winged fairy princess Marianne (Evan Rachel Wood) is about to marry the winged Roland (Sam Palladio) when she catches him kissing another fairy. Then she finds out all Roland wanted from their marriage was an army of his own. She calls off the wedding and grows bitter. Meanwhile, her sister Dawn (Meredith Anne Bull) longs to fall in love and seems to have crushes on several of the eligible males in their enchanted fairyland. But her best friend Sunny (Elijah Kelley) wishes she loved him as he loves her.
The Sugar Plum Fairy (Kristin Chenoweth) has been kidnapped and imprisoned inside the nearby Dark Forest. Only she knows how to make the love potion that Sunny and Roland decide is the answer to their problems. No one in fairyland seems to care that she’s been unfairly sequestered for years.
The one who imprisoned her, the Bog King (Alan Cumming), presides over the Dark Forest and is nasty and bitter about love, having been spurned years before. His meddlesome mother Griselda (Maya Rudolph) yearns for her son to settle down and find a nice girl. He comes off as upper-crust British while his mother sounds as though she could be from the Jersey shore (that’s New Jersey, not the city in Britain).
Always feisty, Marianne has become rebellious. She’s honed her martial skills and scorns the notion of love. When her sister gets taken by the Bog King and his minions — in retaliation for Sunny stealing the love potion — Marianne goes to the forest to rescue her. In the process she and the insect-styled Bog King set off sparks.
Nearly everything about this animated tale feels dated and cobbled together.
At the very end, a tacked-on message delivered by Marianne and Dawn’s father is so obvious that one hopes that parents would have imparted it to their children early on: “Never judge someone by how he or she looks.”
At its best, “Strange Magic” is reminiscent of the 1986 fantasy “Labyrinth,” produced by Lucas and directed by Jim Henson. But mostly it feels like a fairy tale stew.
Touchstone Pictures presents a film directed by Gary Rydstrom and written by Rydstrom, David Berenbaum and Irene Mecchi. Running time: 99 minutes. Rated PG (for some action and scary images). Now showing at local theaters.