Maybe if Miyazaki sees this movie, he’ll come out of retirement once more to save animated film. The House of Mouse, together with George Lucas, have us pining for the days of hand-drawn animated features. Nowadays, computers permit a sort of algorithmic laziness with random swoops and flurries. This creates an absence of creativity that leaves films like “Strange Magic” grating and essentially mutes its central human themes. It’s a musical, so the sonic elements are kept cute. But all video elements are filler. It’s a movie moralizing about how looks don’t matter, and yet its looks ruin it.

Strange Music

Goodrich Quality 16
Walt Disney Studios

Honestly, “looks don’t matter” is a terrible movie moral, because even toddlers recognize it as a lie. How well do you remember being a small child? Looks mattered massively in grade school. Aesthetic was a powerful predictor of what we liked and continued to revisit, a huge deciding factor in what we watched or didn’t watch, especially with respect to cartoons. Good cartoon characters demand to be hugged. For examples of computerized animation done right, see: “How To Train Your Dragon 2” and “Big Hero 6.” Avoid “Strange Magic.”

The “how” is equally out-of-place: the Bog King (Alan Cummings, “The Good Wife”) is trying to rid the world of love by eradicating the primroses, so, while the movie is trying to minimize the importance of looks, the movie is simultaneously using a pretty, sweet-smelling object to symbolize the source of love. Paradoxical details such as this are both contradictory and trifling. However, Cummings’s voice in the role of Bog King is quite excellent. His argument against love, however, is stupid enough to sound like a straw man: “It rots. It destroys order. Without order, there is chaos.” The conflict is vapid, and none of the characters are developed enough for us to care about them.

The main thrust is forced and brittle. Admittedly, it’s based on A Midsummer Night’s Dream, which is comically forced and riddled with Deus ex machina, but aside from the love potion similarities, there’s not much Shakespearian magic in “Strange Magic”, no subtlety or complexity. In short, there’s no poetry. And the pop music – despite inclusion of Broadway-acclaimed vocalist Kristin Chenoweth as the Sugar Plum Fairy – misses the bullseye that movies like “Frozen” hit.

Pop music is usually wonderful; you don’t have to be a drone or a luddite to enjoy it. It’s for everyone. But these remixes were a strange and unpleasant cocktail of old and new. Shakespeare can be retold with classic rock, but it has to be thought-out and clever. This movie showed a lack of attention to detail, like a bunch of sweet ingredients tossed in a blender and left to be drunk directly out of that blender.

If you’re a fan of the outrageous, or of childish shenanigans that can be found at camp, you may find some enjoyment to this thing. The bits where this flick goes off the deep end, are the best parts. “Straight On,” for example, was an excellent score selection. If this movie had been committed to weird, it might have found its niche. But it wasn’t, so it didn’t.

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