Theater Thursday: My Strange Addiction to “Strange Magic”

While I was on vacation, I had the chance to see a little winter release that no one really knew about. It was created by (real life Jabba The Hutt) George Lucas, and animated by his team at ILM. It was a jukebox musical, featuring songs from the past 50 years of pop and rock, and it’s (loosely) based off of a Midsummer Nights Dream. Classic January disaster? Absolutely. But, I have a very awkward thing to admit…. this movie has sort of formed into a guilty pleasure for me, due to a nerdy passion of mine.

– WARNING – This goes into a bit of spoiler territory. And even though this is mostly about a movie, this is a musical, incase you were curious.

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As many of you might know, I’ve been “training” to become, in some form, a “Beauty and the Beast Expert,” specifically with regard to media adaptations. It is something I would love to make an actual career out of, but for the moment it is just a really important hobby of mine. And as part of this dream job, whenever I hear about a new adaptation, I must seek it out. Thus, that was the case with Strange Magic.

Right from the get go, this movie is pretty intense. No, not in that it is violent or challenging for its audience, but that it is a lot to handle in terms of its pacing. We’re introduced to a world that revolves around love, no matter which side you’re on. Our lead is Marianne (played by Evan Rachel Wood), a conveniently named fairy princess who is engaged to a (Elvis impersonator) fairy heartthrob named Roland. At the height of her romantic feely feels, Marianne discovers that Roland is in fact cheating on her. She then transforms herself into a kick butt warrior, one who wears smudged eyeliner and is revolted by the ideas of love. From there our story, which includes sub-plot romances and terrible jokes, trudges forward in the most dragged and predictable of ways.

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I should also mention by this point, in case you hadn’t gathered, this movie is a full-fledged musical. In fact, it is delighted so much to be part of the genre, that it likes to take any word that the characters say and uses it as an excuse to throw a new song in there. This is indeed what adds to that “intensity” I spoke of earlier, meaning that the movie feels incredibly claustrophobic within its lengthy soundtrack, which results in a huge lack of true dialogue between the cast, a.k.a there is little development here.

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But then, within the misty clouds of overacting and Glee-approved cover ballads, something snuck into this movie and turned it around: The Bog King. First off, this guy has one of the coolest character designs I’ve seen in an animated movie in a long time. A Jareth  Labyrinth bug man? Sign me up, please. Second, he’s voiced by Alan Cumming (who is a mystical creature, of some sort, like Tilda Swinton or David Bowie). And, in case you hadn’t guessed it, this is our “Beast” of the movie, one that our girl Marianne is about to fall for, big time.

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Let me get this out of my system: this is a really interesting rendition of BatB. Rather than having the typical female lead who doesn’t have an established concept of romance (like most versions of Beauty), Marianne has experienced both sides of the coin when it comes to love. The same can be said for Bog, who as we later discover, has had his heart broken in a very similar way. Though these are definitely not the most original characters in the world of animated films, it is refreshing to have the romantic leads in a kids’ movie not be the “sunshine, sparkle-covered” heroes we’re so used to. They’re damaged, honest, and bitter, and don’t rely on an ice castle to shield their feelings. (Sorry, Elsa.)

Marianne also continues a long line of female heroines within BatB related tales that are strong and can defend themselves. Though at times she comes off more like a “Mary Sue” attempt at female empowerment, this fairy princess doesn’t allow herself to sit crying in the corner during a nasty situation, and even though I wish the development of her character had been better, the attempt is surely appreciated. She easily is a 80’s TV Series Catherine rather than Phantom’s Christine.

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We also are given one of the rare examples in which our “Beast” character does not physically transform into a handsome prince. He is himself through and through, and though his attitude might shift more positively as the film progresses, the fact that his appearance never changes and Marianne is totally okay with that is refreshing, especially considering this is typical, Disney approved, fairy tale material we’re dealing with here. There could have been a curse involved in this story, and the fact that the ILM team decided against that was one of the few risks with this production that actually paid off.

Finally, it is really neat to see a new visual rendition of the Beast done on film that isn’t:

A) An Actual Animal Beast

B) A Deformed Man With Psychological Issues

C) A Teenage Jerk Bag With Tattoos

I’ve always wanted there to be a version of La Bete that had a more nature-driven theme to his design, and if The Bog King is the closest I ever get to that, I am totally and completely satisfied (visually speaking, that is).

And on a side note, for all fangirling purposes, the fact that a movie exists where Evan Rachel Wood and Alan Cumming are a couple, singing on point covers of rock ballads to each other, is seriously the nerdiest dream come true.

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*le sigh*

As a whole, Strange Magic is far from a perfect movie. It’s the sort that if I saw it as a little kid, similar to failed attempts like Don Bluth’s Thumbelina and Pebble and the Penguin, I probably would regard as one of my nostalgic favorites even though it isn’t a “good movie.” It’s one of those frustrating failures that has such promise, such potential for greatness, that you continuously stare at it, looking for the ways to rearrange the puzzle pieces that could have made it a classic.

But on the bright side, it has given us another rendition of BatB, and it’s always nice to see a new batch of creative people take a try at their own version of the “Tale As Old As Time.” It surely had some interesting additions and changes to the typical structure we’re used to for the story, and those elements deserve some sort of respect. And even though it might not be as successful of an end product as we all would have hoped, at least we can all agree…….. it’s better than Beastly.

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Yeah, that’s a pretty easy thing to agree on. 

So what are your thoughts on Strange Magic? Are you a fan of Beauty and the Beast? Comment below with your thoughts and fangirl squees! 

 

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