Once the holiday season is over, the choices for movie fare dwindles to darker and more moody fare. It’s tough to find a movie that might make you feel good about seeing it, unless you find a ton of satisfaction in being able to say you’ve seen all of the Best Picture nominees. The dregs of winter are not the time to go to the cinema in the hopes of bolstering your mood.The sure-fire blockbusters won’t start arriving for another four months and most families are starting to realize exactly how much they spent this holiday season.
When the trailers started airing nationwide for “Strange Magic”, it seemed like awfully short notice. I’m usually pretty good at keeping on top of when the new animated flicks are coming out, because that’s kind of the type of geek that I am. “Strange Magic” wasn’t even on my radar. In contrast, “Song of the Sea” has been on my radar for at least six months. There was enough in those trailers to pique my curiosity, so I decided to give it a chance.
At first, I was underwhelmed. The character design for the fairies just seems too plastic and stiff to me. Their smiles are fixed and fake and entirely too white and even. It reminded me of the cartoon “Reboot”, which had the excuse of being at the forefront of computer animation technology when it first started airing and was, therefore, imminently forgivable (it also helped that they more than made up for the odd immobility of the more humanoid denizen of Mainframe by the excellent character design for the villain Hexidecimal and the writing was fantastic). I was starting to suspect that maybe I had wasted valuable time and money going to this one.
Then, the character of Sunny was introduced. Sunny is a sweet, clever DJ elf who likes singing Bob Marley tunes. He looks much better than his fairy brethren. The transitions between his expressions are smoother and much more realistic. He’s the best friend of one of the fairy princesses and, though he pines for her, he’s pretty much invisible to her.
The other fairy princess has had an unlucky turn in her love life. Everyone is pressuring her to just get on with it and marry the most handsome guy in the kingdom. Fortunately, Marianne is much smarter than that. Fairies seem to spend most of their time in this movie throwing parties, which sets the frame-work for a near epic mishap with a love potion.
Once we get to see the dark forest kingdom, that’s where “Strange Magic” really starts to distinguish itself. The character designs for the goblins, the mushrooms, an imp, and, especially the Bog King are more inspired than the fairies. The fairies have pretty wings and the rest of them might as well be animatronic wax figures. The darker creatures, though, have real texture to their skin, from the chitinous shell of the Bog King to the amphibious gumminess of his mother, there are distinctive traits for each creature.
Of course, one thing leads to another and an invasion begins because a fairy princess needs rescued. The problem is, the Bog King really never intended to keep the fairy princess at all. They have to work their misunderstandings out before everything dissolves into a messy and unwanted war.
Alan Cumming does a surprisingly good Liam Neeson impression as the Bog King. The accent is clear and completely intelligible while also providing a mechanism to further emphasize that the Bog King is not one of the fairies, not that he really needed to. Cumming does a good job of seething when he needs to, snarling where it’s warranted, and giving the Bog King just the right touch of impatience and frustration.
Maya Rudolph’s voice is practically unrecognizable in her voiceover work for Griselda, the Bog King’s meddlesome mother. She’s got a raspy voice that will never sound girlish, no matter how much she extolls the virtues of love. As far as character design goes, Griselda appears almost dainty compared to all the other goblins. She’s ultimately a kind character, even if she’s not exactly reasonable in her outlook. Griselda is an optimist and a devoted mother.
On the other hand, Kristen Chenoweth is absolutely unmistakable as the voice behind the Sugar Plum Fairy. She’s as bubbly and perky as always, belting out the songs she sings with a phenomenal amount of lung power. Considering the role of the Sugar Plum Fairy in this particular movie, they couldn’t have cast a better actress for the role.
There’s a lot of music in this movie. Yes, indeed, “Strange Magic” is a musical. Characters sing at almost the drop of a hat. The cast are all excellent singers. The music itself is mostly pop music punctuated with some instances of heavier rock. There are a few mash-ups that work surprisingly well together. The 60’s eastern mystic vibe that they gave to the song “Love Is Strange” was my favorite in the film. It also helped that Kristen Chenoweth gave a powerhouse vocal performance of the song. The only other song that came even close was Elijah Kelley singing “Three Little Birds”. I’ll admit, there was some toe tapping going on, especially towards the end of the movie.
“Strange Magic” doesn’t have only music to offer, though. Marianne is an inspiring female character. She might have started out being flighty and twitterpated, but she’s strong enough to recognize a total jerk when she sees one. Not only that, Marianne stays true to herself during the movie. She knows what’s best for her, even though everyone around her insists that she’s just being difficult. Marianne learns how to sword fight and sets about making herself even stronger. She’s protective of her little sister, and when no one else seems willing to step in once everything starts going wrong, Marianne immediately recognizes that if anyone is going to save the day, it’s going to have to be her.
It’s a love story, so there has to be that happy ending, but “Strange Magic” does a decent job of reinforcing the idea that looks are very often superficial. After all, I could have completely dismissed this movie based on those first few minutes when the animation of the fairies bothered me so much. Instead, I persevered. Once the story started moving, “Strange Magic” became much more entertaining. If you’re looking for a movie that’s fun to watch, this one will definitely give you that.