Posted January 24, 2015 by Daniel Hodgson in
It’s fitting that a film with so little visual appeal should be about looking past the surface for inner beauty. Strange Magic is often witty, and there are also some entertaining production numbers.
Strange Magic isn’t Pixar, or DreamWorks, or Blue Sky. It’s released by Disney, with a minimum of marketing, but the animation studio is actually the special effects company Industrial Light and Magic, which previously animated 2011’s Rango.
The story is inspired by Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, taking place in two Kingdoms, the Fairy Kingdom and the Dark Woods, where the goblins live.
Right from the start, Strange Magic makes a point about how different the two kingdoms are.
The goblins of the dark woods look hideous—and appropriately so—like frogs and lizards and icky bugs. In other words, they’re boys, made of snakes and snails, etc., gross and unappealing. Yuck!
The fairies are pretty and float on butterfly wings. They have pretty hair and pretty costumes, even the men-folk. Strange Magic is a battle of the sexes, and the fey-folk are the girls, made of sugar and spice and all that.
Well, they’re supposed to look pretty. And that is Strange Magic’s central fault.
The best way to describe how the fairy-folk look is to say that they look like homely action figures, both in their designs and their skin texture The characters designs lack simplicity and roundness to be child-friendly for the very young, and skin textures plunge into the Valley of the Uncanny, too close to real human skin so as to look unsettling, yet not quite real.
One of these fairies, Princess Marianne (Evan Rachel Wood), catches Roland with another woman on the day of their wedding. She vows never to fall in love again. To win her back, Roland (Sam Palladio) asks Sunny (Delija Kelley), a diminutive elf, to fetch a love potion from the Plumb Fairy (Kristin Chenoweth), who is held prisoner in the Dark Forest by the Bog King (Alan Cummings).
The Bog King looks like the misbegotten offspring of a man and a cockroach. He couldn’t be more grotesque in appearance. Like Marianne, he hates love. The two eventually cross swords over the love potion, and her sister Dawn (Meredith Ann Bull), whom he’s kidnapped for reasons that become clear later.
It’s fitting that a film with so little visual appeal should be about looking past the surface for inner beauty. Strange Magic is often witty, and helmer Gary Rydstrom creates the dialog rhythms of a screwball comedy, which are fitting to the story. There are also some entertaining cover songs, particularly the Bog King’s rendition of Deep Purple’s “Mistreated.”
What won me over was the unlikely romance between Marianne and the hideous Bog King. They come to understand one another, and relate to each other based on similar experiences. Very often, that is how love works. Their courtship is brief, but effective, coming towards the tail end of the film, making the story conclude itself on a satisfying note. All’s well that ends well, right?