A Midsummer Night’s Snooze, by David Bax
When I walked into the theater to see Gary Rydstrom’s Strange Magic, I was surprised not to be handed a pair of 3D glasses. Wasn’t this an animated Disney movie? Then the movie started and I was surprised again to see the Touchstone logo. You have to go back to 2011’s Gnomeo & Juliet for the last instance of Disney releasing an animated kid-targeted movie under that banner-and for that one, they ponied up for the third dimension. But it doesn’t take long to see why Disney was keen on putting as little money into and as much distance from Strange Magic as they possibly could.
Very loosely inspired by A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Strange Magic takes place in a world separated into two factions. The denizens of the bright and colorful world of fairies and elves live in a happy, monarchical, class-striated society that exists cheek by jowl with a dark forest of goblins and imps ruled by a lanky, insect-like despot known as the Bog King (Alan Cumming). At odds though they may be, both sides can agree that love potions are not cool. Luckily, the Bog King has long since imprisoned the Sugar Plum Fairy (who is obviously voiced by Kristin Chenoweth, I mean come on), the only creature capable of concocting such a solution. But when fairy princess Marianne (Even Rachel Wood) decides she’s not super into the marriage her father has arranged for her with aristocratic fairy jock douche Roland (Sam Palladio), Roland manipulates an elf named Sunny (Elijah Kelley) into venturing across the DMZ and getting the SPF to whip up a batch of No. 9.
Strange Magic strives for mediocrity from the jump, resembling the can-sorta-do spirit of a community theatre troupe who know their friends and family are in the audience and they’re all gonna go out for pie after. Even the character designs feels like a half-measure, residing somewhere between classic Disney nymphs and the uncanny valley.
The title comes from the Electric Light Orchestra song of the same name and it’s one of the many tunes performed in this jukebox musical. Like any given episode of Glee, I recognized about half the songs. Unlike Glee, though, which at least tries at times to be dynamic and novel in its arrangements, the songs in Strange Magic all have their melodies drained and flattened, like karaoke backing tracks with vocals to match.
In the midst of a plot that is overstuffed and yet still undercooked, the characters lose definition. Marianne would be a good protagonist if her independent streak included ideals beyond “I don’t wanna marry that one guy.” Also, it would be great if she learned to use a sword; she only ever seems to hit things with the hilt or the flat of the blade. But she and everyone else are just going through the motions, marking time until the whole pre-ordained ordeal is over. I can relate.