Tuesday, 15 December 2015

Strange Magic (2015) - Movie Review

When Disney absorbed LucasFilms into its gargantuan mass, sci-fi fan boys the world over let out an echoing sigh of relief. For reasons I’ll get into when I finally get around to the latest Star Wars film, I was not one of them. However, when the company changed hands, there was a project that was still in-development under George Lucas. It was a pet project of his, something he wanted to make that his daughters could watch; what Star Wars was to 12-year-old boys, this would be to 12-year-old girls. Words from the man himself, in case his lack of common sense wasn't already well known. This is something he had been working on since around the time the prequels were first being developed, going through different hands to finally realise Lucas’ vision. Since this vision includes the words ‘romance’ ‘musical’ and ‘based on the works of Shakespeare’, I can hardly wait to see the sudden realisation that just because LucasFilms changed hands, that doesn’t mean that they are immune from making failures. So, in preparation for what will be the inevitable let-down of galactic proportions in a week or so, let’s take a look at the first release from the ‘legendary’ studio post-Disney.

The plot: On the border between the land of the fairies and the land of the bog creatures, there grows a patch of Primrose flowers. These flowers are crucial in the recipe for love potions. After being repeatedly (and rightfully) rejected by fairy princess Marianne (Evan Rachel Wood), prince Roland (Sam Palladio) asks elf Sunny (Elijah Kelley) to retrieve a Primrose, under the pretence of making a potion so Sunny can win the heart of Marianne’s sister Dawn (Meredith Anne Bull). But as he delves into the bog, Sunny gets the attention of the Bog King (Alan Cumming), who never wants another love potion to be brewed.

This is easily one of the most bizarre musicals I’ve come across. Not because of its subject matter; after works like Hedwig & The Angry Inch and the South Park movie, this is extremely tame. No, this musical is bizarre because of its execution. All the songs found here, with a few possible exceptions, were picked out by Lucas himself. Given all the loathing for Lucas that exists in the world right now, it seems like this film has also caught some of it because this film hates its own musical numbers. It is perplexing to witness but the film and its characters seem to be trying their damnedest to ignore whatever singing goes on. Whether it’s awkwardly talking in-between the lyrics or watching the trolls groan in pain over how bad the singing is, this film feels like it’s being forced to be a jukebox musical at gunpoint.

Of course, the trolls are absolutely right: The music is terrible. The song choices are decent enough and work within the otherwise anaemic story, but the renditions we get here are beyond weak. It starts out on Can’t Help Falling In Love, a song that has already been performed better in an animated musical earlier this year; it only gets worse after that. From then on, Marius de Vries’ compositions just serve up bland renditions of old-school Elvis tunes and an even blander version of Kelly Clarkson’s Stronger. That should not be possible. Hell, even the songs that are actually done with some degree with competency end up failing because, quite frankly, they’re too weak in their own right for the characters they’re given to. I love Deep Purple, but Mistreated is a bit of a weeny song to give the (supposed) antagonist. As a result of how much even the film hates its own soundtrack, the film gains a certain degree of hilarity through that mutual understanding. It gets more than a little ridiculous just how the characters react to the songs.

Then there’s the voice cast, and can someone please point me in the direction of the numbnuts who said that Evan Rachel Wood was a good singer? I honestly wouldn’t mind the talk-singing she does here if she was just delegated a couple of songs, but no; she’s heard the most out of the entire cast. Same goes for Anne Bull, whom if I never hear sing Sugar Pie Honey Bunch again, it’ll forever be too soon. Palladio is essentially playing blond Elvis, and he carries that half-a-note well enough dramatically but not so much musically. Not to say that everyone is bad here, though, as there are a few that make a genuine attempt in their numbers. Alan Cumming can do no wrong as a singer, and it helps that he’s given the songs that are the best orchestrated (relatively speaking), Elijah Kelley brings some energy to his voice and Chenoweth… not only did is she the crowning jewel in this musical mush, but her treatment of Love Is Strange completely negated the gag reflex I get from that song thanks to Pitbull and co.’s mangling of it for Back In Time. In a film this milquetoast, that’s an impressive accomplishment.

Remember the disturbing Uncanny Valley effect from the Fairy Godmothers in Maleficent? Hope not, because this is eerily close to that level of quality in the facial department. I’ve seen cheap CGI give a plastic sheen to models before, but this is the first time that they literally look like they are made of plastic. It just looks like the director’s daughter was having a little too much fun with Barbie Mariposa and he decided to animate around it rather poorly. This especially sucks because the texturing on the settings actually looks decent. The sets kind of give Tim Burton’s Alice In Wonderland flashbacks something major, but they at least look more structurally sound than the characters in front of them. Kind of sums up the film in a nutshell, really.

All in all, it’s a musical where the music is awful. That really should be the final nail in the coffin for this thing, except the filmmakers treat it like a mandatory project, right down to mocking the music in-universe. As a result, it becomes kind of hilarious as the film echoes the sentiments of the audience. If anything, this attitude of acknowledging and making fun of what the film has to do because of Lucas’ involvement kind of gives some hope for The Force Awakens. At least, it does for me. It’s better than the Poltergeist remake as, despite doing a better job of reinterpreting the source material, it didn’t deliver nearly as much enjoyment as this did, however incidentally. However, since that laughter wasn’t legitimately earned, it falls short of Dumb & Dumber To which hit transcendence at one point with how clever its comedy was. It may have only gotten there at the end of the film, but it happened nonetheless.

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