“From the mind of George Lucas,” says the poster for Strange Magic, which should reveal what level the movie’s operating on. The reputation of his name and his creative career is largely placed on Star Wars and Indiana Jones, with the rest of his filmmaking generally being a long slog through mediocrity. But, those two properties were such successes that he can spend his days occasionally writing the stories and getting the money for lazy, inert little movies like Strange Magic. It’s the same hokey nonsense that Lucas has always pushed, just a bit more grating and stale this time around.
Directed by Gary Rydstrom — a long-time sound designer getting his first shot directing a feature film — the premise is to retell Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream — a la Lucas — with animated fairies and pop music. I don’t necessarily have any issue with this in a vacuum, but this is Lucas we’re talking about. The plot consists of the usual Lucas fairy-tale stuff, with the whimsical Fairy Kingdom invaded by the nasty — and misunderstood — Dark Forest. Everything’s so ham-fistedly foreshadowed that the mere conceit of suspense is nonexistent, and most of the film’s time is spent checking off plot points before the credits roll.
While he’s not directing, Lucas’ middlebrow sensibilities are certainly part of the deal here — to the point any sort of creative verve or spark is sucked dry from the film. The colorful visuals certainly have some cash thrown behind them, but there’s nothing memorable about the design or the look of the thing, which comes across like a cinematic cubic zirconia. There’s no style to the look of the film, something that can also be said of the karaoke versions of the pop songs (mostly ’60s and ’70s standards hand-picked by Lucas), medleys and musical numbers that show up in the film from time to time. And yes, the titular ELO song does show up in the film, and yes it’s as unfortunate as one would expect it to be. The film’s boorish approach is ultimately harmless — so much so that Strange Magic barely exists. Rated PG for some action and scary images.