Strange Magic: George Lucas’ strange love story

Star Wars creator George Lucas and team laboured over this animation for 15 years, but Strange Magic has gained only boos from the crowd

In Strange Magic, Marianne (right) fights through the grim Dark Forest to rescue her flirtatious sister Sunny (left)

Warning: Spoilers ahead

Many of us know this: if you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say it. Apparently, a large portion of the Internet didn’t get the memo. So I won’t say what I thought about Strange Magic – instead, I’ll let the Internet speak for the not-so-savoury verdicts on Lucasfilms’ latest feature.

One reviewer calls it an “Off-Key Kiddie Dud”. Another one complains that it’s a compilation of “animation’s worst instincts”. CartoonBrew reported that Strange Magic opened in seventh place in its week, bombing as “the all-time worst-opening ever for an animated film”.

Understandably, many were expecting something wonderfully deep and fantastical. After all, Strange Magic was written by George Lucas – also known (and worshipped) as the grand creator of the Star Wars universe.

Sadly, the film failed to meet many expectations, except for Lucas’ and his team’s own.

The head team at the Strange Magic conference in Singapore. From left: Director Gary Rydstrom, writer George Lucas, and producer Mark S Miller

“I’m not looking to make a hit movie. I’m just doing something that I want to do,” Lucas told the media at an exclusive press conference here last week. “I love it, I’ll always be happy with it.”

What do you think? Watch the trailer here:

In Love with Ugliness

Strange Magic’s universe is split into Fairy Land and The Dark Forest. A tough fairy princess, Marianne (voiced by Evan Rachel Wood), must venture into the Forest to save her ditzy sister from the goblin Bog King (Alan Cumming).

However, in a strange twist of magic (as promised in the title), everyone starts falling in love with Bog King. This would be normal in any fairy tale, but did I mention that he is butt ugly?

The Bog King, looking right at you!
According to George Lucas, even the ugly Bog King, voiced by Alan Cumming, deserves love!

Lucas confirms everyone’s thoughts: “The first thing everybody said when they saw the design (of Bog King) was, ‘She’s not actually going to kiss him, right?’… Everybody said we can’t do it… (But) our job was to say that everybody deserves to be loved.”

Producer Mark S Miller – who has seen the skeletons of blockbusters like Star Trek IV and Jurassic Park – told Weekender that the possible backlash to Bog King didn’t stop them. Over the 15 years of production, they faithfully stuck to Bog King’s original design.

He told me: “We didn’t change him physically to make you love him. He changes perception-wise to the audience with the lighting, to help him in his quest for love.”

Love According to Lucas

Lucas at the Strange Magic press conference

Through those 15 years when Lucas and team were working on Strange Magic, some other strange magic was also transpiring in Lucas’ own love life.

He eagerly shared with us: “(After) I got divorced, I never thought that I would find someone to love again… I’d basically given up.

“And then I met somebody who was very different from me… We realised we had everything in common. We’re soulmates. And that happened to me when I was 60. It’s just one of those miracles. No pixie dust was involved.”

And the fairy king, who resembles Lucas, is “so fat he can’t fly,” he explained. “Which is the same thing that happened with me.”

Lucas, you should do a full-on comedy next.

Strange Music

Fairy princess Marianne (right) falls in love with the ugly Bog King, proving that love transcends pleasing aesthetics

If anything, Strange Magic still deserves praise for its interesting soundtrack. Every song in the movie is a remix of an existing hit, from a classic like “Can’t Help Falling in Love With You” by Elvis Presley to modern pop like Kelly Clarkson’s “Stronger”.

The songs – Lucas’ self-proclaimed “top 25” hits – were the basis of Strange Magic. Lucas said: “Maybe I can tell a complete story using the lyrics from existing songs.”

And that’s how it turned out – almost the whole movie is composed purely of remixed music.

Whether Strange Magic’s soundtrack will redeem the odd story and offbeat characters, you’ll have to see it for yourself to judge. After all, as Lucas said, Star Wars was his most-criticised film, yet it’s a movie classic now. Will Strange Magic follow this strange pattern?

By Pamela Chow

Strange Magic [G]

Director: Gary Rydstrom
Starring: Alan Cumming, Evan Rachel Wood, Kristin Chenoweth
Genre: Fantasy
Run length: 99 min
Release: 29 Jan

Photos: Pamela Chow, Disney